Sometimes, in the quieter moments, when things have settled, outside of the school runs and the frenetic office meetings, I have this recurring image that runs through my head. It's of a hot air balloon.
I see it now as I lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling. It is shrouded in darkness and the colours, so vibrant in daylight, are lost to the blue-black sky. It hovers there, far above my house, moving gently in the wind.
There are mooring cables that extend from the basket and find anchoring points far below. Several run from the balloon straight down to my house. They disappear through the windows and front door. One even snakes down through the chimney. That one is the mortgage cable and it is particularly thick and unwieldy. Others stretch in taut descending tightropes towards my office, the hospital where my wife nurses, and the school my kids attend.
In the darkness I raise my arm towards the ceiling. I form a ring with middle finger and thumb and take aim at each cable. With a deft flick I imagine severing each mooring, one by one. Flick I go, and a cable snaps. The balloon shifts a little as the restraints fall away, till eventually they are all gone and it floats free.
I imagine it rising on a warm current of air, leaving the city, its office blocks and suburbs far below, catching a favourable wind that takes it effortlessly, and at silent speed across the wide Atlantic, or south perhaps towards the equator.
My wife stirs beside me and I lower my outstretched arm.
"You're awake," she says sleepily.
I can see her watching me in the darkness.
"Something bothering you?" she asks.
"No…too much coffee today probably. Just can’t seem to drift off." There’s my balloon again.
We lapse into silence. I stare at the ceiling. She resumes her sleep and I feel the moment slipping. “Sarah,” I whisper. She doesn’t answer and I say her name again, louder this time and she wakes with a muffled “What?” into the pillow.
"I've been thinking," I say. "Why don't we go away for a while. All of us I mean. Take the kids out of school for a few months. I take leave from work. Just drop everything and go. See where the four winds take us."
She doesn't say anything. I struggle on, looking for the right words.
"We could go travelling and rent out the house. That would almost take care of the mortgage. It’d be a chance for us to spend time together…to…to get away from it all.”
I'm sitting up on the bed now, looking down at her.
"So what do you think?"
She turns and stares up at me. In the darkness I can make out her expression. Equal parts bemusement and irritation. She reaches out and touches my cheek.
* * *
Martin Cronin graduated from University College Dublin with a degree in English and Art History and postgraduate qualifications in education and in IT. He lives in Dublin and works in IT.