BOX OF BALLOONS • by Robin Vandenberg Herrnfeld

Vandy takes an orange balloon from the box and blows it up, fastens it with a piece of string he cuts from the big ball of twine he bought along with the balloons for a good price at Wal-Mart. Then he takes and blows up a green one, a blue, a yellow.

From the kitchen he hears Rosie and the girls talking and laughing while they prepare the food. Out on the porch, the grandchildren have gathered. Adults now, cousins catching up on each other’s lives. Nearly the whole family has gathered here to celebrate his eightieth.

A pink balloon, a purple.

“We need eighty,” Rosie had said. “You need help?”

“Nah, I can do it. May take awhile, but I can do it.”

He can do eighty, he thinks, without helium. He’d rather do a thousand, but that would be stretching it. A thousand would be good, though — a thousand bright balloons to celebrate a thousand bright moments in his life. Or maybe three thousand, five thousand, ten thousand? How many memories make up a lifetime?

He blows up a red balloon. For the strawberry short-cake his Mom used to make. A gold balloon for the real adult watch Dad gave him on his fourteenth birthday. A balloon for the day he finally scored a point for the high-school basketball team. Another red one for the day he came back from the War and found Rosie still waiting for him. A balloon for the day he signed his first teaching contract. A pink balloon for the birth of each of his five daughters. A blue balloon for the first grandson. One for each special moment. What a good life it has been.

The room is full of balloons now. Little Manda comes running in wearing a frilly yellow dress for the occasion. He picks out a matching yellow balloon and blows it up for her. She laughs. Finger in mouth, she gazes at all the coloured balloons bobbing around.

There is only one balloon left in the box. A black one. The only black balloon in the whole box. He looks at it, considers.

“Ah, well,” he thinks, “that’s part of it all, too.”

Vandy lifts the black balloon to his mouth and starts to blow. Manda stares, and it looks like her eyes are growing as big as the balloon.

“No, don’t!” she says suddenly and pulls with her little hand at his big one holding the balloon. “That’s not a pretty one.”

The distress in her voice surprises him, and when he sees her eyes start to fill up with tears he’s even more surprised and forgets to stop blowing.

He blows so much air into the black balloon that it bursts. The explosion startles them both.

Then he sees a smile come over Manda’s face, and he feels like his heart is about to burst, too, as she buries her face in his knees.

“I love you, Great-grandpa,” he hears her say.

Robin Vandenberg Herrnfeld grew up in California but has lived in Germany for the last twenty-some years. She studied literature in the US and Germany and started writing short stories around five years ago. Her true-life account of a Neo-Nazi victim was published in 2007.

Rate this story:
 average 4.2 stars • 6 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • A sweet story, Robin. I liked it very much. Great voice and flow.


  • kcball


    Very nice. Gentle and flowing.


  • Wonderful story, Robin, showing so much without spelling out the significance of the black balloon. Very moving. Happy and sad and poignant. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • I love the idea of the balloons representing the colourful moments in a lifetime of memory and this was so beautifully written, the style matching the subject so well. Understated and elegant writing. Very nice, Robin.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Oh, nice imagery. Good work!

  • This is one wonderful story. I am going to forward this to a lot of people! Thank you!

  • Beautiful!

  • Frances G

    Lovely story, Robin.

  • mark dalligan

    A great and gentle look at life.



  • Alison Bullock

    I loved it too. Liked the memories you picked to share, and the growing tension in waiting to see what would happen. I wondered if he’d have a heart attack blowing that last one up– but the ending you chose was so much better. Ending with another memory was perfect. Great job!

  • anon

    And just what does the black balloon signify?

    It seems one could read it as a racist commentary, though I hope that wasn’t meant…

  • jennifer walmsley

    A beautiful flash.


  • Bob

    A very nice story. I love how he takes the opportunity to reflect on his life with the balloons – like giant-sized meditation beads.

    I especially liked your handling of the black balloon. His acceptance of it as a natural part of life was nicely done, and destroying its fearful connotatations by simply over-inflating was perfect!

    (An aside to Anon: I interpreted the black balloon as Death. It takes an impossible stretch of the imagination to read anything even remotely racist into this lovely story.)

  • Kathy

    Lovely story! I enjoyed the details and loved the ending.

  • Enjoyed this one. I also liked the memories he chose to recall, especially the ones about the strawberry shortcake and the adult watch because they made what could’ve been an overly sentimental listing into something much more real and personal. Well done!

  • Robin Herrnfeld

    Thank you all so much for your encouraging comments. And special thanks to Bob, who interpreted the black balloon correctly and made it clear.

  • Marie

    This is beautiful, so colorful and sweet.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Nice one Robin. I loved the imagery, but it’s all been said.


  • This story was a big golden balloon!

  • Jane Vandenberg

    How fun to see this online, and read the comments! Keep writing!

  • Engaging and deep in a simple form. Skillfully done.

  • Anne Vandenberg

    I liked it a lot even thiough it made me teary.

  • J.C. Towler

    Found this one off a link being shared on FB about the author’s passing. Gem of a story.

  • A beautiful story, chilling after hearing of this author’s passing. I hope that Robin’s life was filled with many colorful balloons.

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