All I can remember from that morning is standing in knee high grass looking up at the sky. It was a cloudless day, and the heavens were painted with light blue streaks. I saw four hot air balloons already adrift. They seemed to hang inexplicably, as if dangling from space on gossamer threads. The scene was dizzying, their height enough to make me ill, and that is where my memory fails. The rest of this account has been informed by my sister and the television.
If you’re unfamiliar with hot air balloons, I’ll do my best to explain the logic. Hopefully you are familiar with wicker baskets and can picture one secured with rope to an absurdly large and colourful bag of air. The vessel achieves flight thanks, of course, to an open flame, and is then surrendered to the mercy of the winds. The concept was pioneered in 1783 and has been given very little critical thought since then. Today, hot air balloons service the criminally insane and families who haven’t really thought the whole thing through. We fell into the latter.
My mum was suckered by a marketing campaign that championed the quaintness of balloon travel. She bought us a family pass for Christmas. I had been filled with a sense of dread since then, and have flatly refused to go higher than three stories following “the incident.” This is a detail my sister never fails to omit from her retelling, which she presents at every possible opportunity.
She begins by explaining our entry into the balloon, which was fairly routine. The four of us climbed aboard and were introduced to our guide, Phil, an older man who I apparently expressed little faith in. Phil proceeds to untether us. In my imagination he was manically dropping sandbags and slashing ropes with abandon, but my sister assures me that this was also fairly routine. We rise from the dirt.
“Like Icarus,” I say, according to my sister, “we will fly too close to the sun.”
I believe this to be an embellishment. The rest of her account is equally extremist, and so I’ll rely on the more reputable reportage of Channel Seven News for the remainder of the story.
“A close call in Camden this morning as a man has survived a fall from a hot air balloon. Mr Macdonald leapt from the basket only seconds in to the flight, when the craft was just one metre from the ground. He reportedly scrambled out of the vessel when the pilot said, “Whoops,” after accidentally stepping on another passenger’s toes. Macdonald landed on his feet but fainted from shock. Thankfully, he was uninjured and is now in good health, though he has no desire to go back in the air anytime soon. Here’s Mel with sport.”