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Grandmother Booth stretched out her hand toward a bamboo rake that was leaning next to the house, and then she abruptly reversed the gesture and pulled her arm to her side. Michael watched his grandmother take several deep breaths and slowly sit down on the porch steps. The color had drained from her face. (The pain she felt was not new, nor was it unexpected. However, it was usually accompanied by a shower of lights like a Fourth of July sparkler going off inside of her head. Today the pain was dull and leaden, and minus the fanfare.) For several minutes she quietly rubbed her shoulder, as if smoothing wrinkles in her robe.

Kimberly-Ann was kneeling on the lawn and working at a handstand. “We helped them look for broken glass and things on the ground that might hurt the balloons.”

“The balloons were spread on the ground?” asked Michael.

“I’m getting to that,” said Kimberly-Ann. She lost her balance, flipped over, and landed flat on her back. Michael imagined her as the clumsy scarecrow in the movie The Wizard of Oz.

The movie nostalgia and literary allusions may not appeal to everyone, but they do to editors who have spent their lives in a world of books, movies, paintings and music. The writer uses them to enhance his storytelling; they are not superfluous to building the story’s arc.

“I mean they laid the balloons out on the ground like pancakes as big as swimming pools,” Kimberly-Ann was saying.

“But how do they blow them up?”

“Michael, I’m trying to tell you if you’d shut up.”

He envisioned hordes of winged monkeys swooping out of the sky and setting upon Kimberly-Ann, tearing off her straw-filled arms and legs. His grandmother would surely hurl a fireball. . .

Grandmother Booth intervened, rising to her feet. “Let her tell her story.”

“I’m just asking,” said Michael. He was curled up in the porch swing, furiously rocking, and nearly panicked with despair that he had, without question, missed the balloon launching.

“Please stop fidgeting,” his grandmother said. “That old swing creaks and it’s giving me a headache.”

“Sorry.” He narrowed the swing’s compass by shifting his body weight.

“Okay, okay,” said Kimberly-Ann. “So can I tell my story now?” She took a deep breath, and then exhaled through pursed lips, as if smoking a cigarette. (Michael, in fact, had seen Kimberly-Ann on several occasions inhale real cigarette smoke with practiced aplomb.) “The baskets were set on the ground,” she said, “ — big wicker baskets like snake charmers use. The balloons were filled with a bit of air using a sort of electrical fan. They were still lying on the ground, filling up kind of wobbly, and you could look inside of them like a cave or tunnel all lit up and glowing from sunlight shining through. I mean it was like seeing inside of a whale. And then the fire tanks were ignited.”

“Fire tanks?” said Michael. He was looking skyward, but the balloons were drifting behind a tangle of telephone wires and tree limbs.

“When they got everything pointed upright,” said Kimberly-Ann, “those balloons were like circus tents as tall as skyscrapers. The fire tanks boomed like jet engines.”

“This is sounding very dangerous, young lady,” said Grandmother Booth. “And exhausting. I’m worn out just listening to you.”

Michael lay in the porch swing. He stared up at empty skies and remembered the vast rolling clouds in the series of drawings his grandmother used in Bible class to illustrate the Ascension. In his graceful white robe and his long flowing hair, Jesus seemed ill-equipped for liftoff.

Grandmother Booth taught Bible class during the spring and summer months. In the years before Grandfather Booth died she had also operated year-round a tiny Christian bookstore on Paquette Avenue, right across from the lake. She sold framed pictures illustrating every scriptured moment in Jesus’ life, and there were Bible verses imprinted on items as diverse as oven mittens, ashtrays, and ping-pong paddles. Michael still owned several plastic glow-in-the-dark crosses that were so bright he could read comic books by them beneath the bedsheets.

Suddenly Grandmother Booth appeared, hovering overhead. “Sweetheart, do me a favor,” she was saying. “Grab me another cup of coffee from the kitchen.”

Michael brought the swing to a halt by dragging his heels like Fred Flintstone stopping his car. He carried his grandmother’s cup into the house and poured the last of the pot from the Mr. Coffee. The brew was thick like hot chocolate, but smelled much worse. He was reminded of the scorched odor that resulted when he once leaned in too close to a Christmas candle and a lock of his hair sizzled and popped.