Deborah Wins a Contest- Jared Schaffer

Deborah wins a radio station contest to put two of her ex-boyfriends on a hot air balloon

that will float across the Atlantic Ocean. The radio station hosts a beach party to send us off. A

rotisserie that can grill one hundred ears of corn spins, and a cook with a leaf blower full of

butter sprays the rotating corn. A local pro wrestler is throwing kids onto a moon bounce for a

quarter per throw. He throws Deborah for free, winking at her while she’s in midair, not that it’s

my business anymore.

Here we are a day later, lost over the Atlantic. The station promised Gus and me that the

balloon would be remotely steered down the coastline until it hit Atlantic City, where’d we land

and be put up in Caesars for the night, a small purse of green poker chips atop our pillows.

Gus catches us two passing seagulls. He has very quick hands. It makes me wonder about

him and Deborah, what they did in bed, whether or not she compared our hands in her mind. We

roast the seagulls beside the burner’s flame until they’re charred. The burner doesn’t seem to have

any controls, levers, or buttons that could bring us hope.

“Deborah always loved bird,” he says.

“Really? She was a vegetarian when we were together,” I say in between bites.

We spot a yacht below us, white and sleek, like a shark’s head. The people aboard wave.

“Should we jump?” I ask.

“What else can we do? We must still be out of range of their remote control,” Gus says.

His knuckles brush against mine as we leap.

A famous musician owns the yacht. Tattooed down his forearm are the faces of each of

his children. I want him to sing. There’s no guitar in sight though, and none of the women in


bikinis who surround him are asking, so I feel stupid and keep quiet. A waiter with a towel

draped over his arm serves us champagne and pain pills on silver trays. Hitting the water hurt.

“I won’t sing for you,” the musician says. “So don’t even ask.”

“What about that California song?” Gus asks. “Will you sing us that one?”

He does. Attached beneath his chair by Velcro is a mandolin. The ripping sound of

Velcro comforts me. He strums the mandolin, snapping his head this way and that. The waiter

touches his shoulder and says, “Sir. Will she approve?”

“Oh, this is good. I love this one, especially the verse about blue mountains,” I say to


Then the cabin door swings open, and Deborah steps out wearing a one-piece and

glittering silver platform sandals. Her broad shoulders remind me that she can be a violent


The women in bikinis and the waiter spin toward her and take a knee. Their neck bones,

tiny and exposed, seem to quiver. The musician leans backward, his head upside down so he can

both see her and play. He curls his toes and switches from the California song to one praising,

from what I can tell, Deborah’s pretty earlobes. His voice cracks as he sings.

Gus and I drop to our knees too. I suddenly hope that she doesn’t remember me at my

worst moments. I never put her second but maybe Gus did. As I bow my head, the musician’s

sunglasses fall onto the scrubbed deck. A platform sandal crunches them, and she says, “Only

songs about me now.”

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