Me, I Must
To ask her to marry him, and to be sure she said yes, Don Chambers took Jenny Staley for a ride in a hot air balloon.
Both of them were divorced, Don for five years, Jenny for twelve.
Both of them sold real estate.
Once she said that when she was a little girl what she wanted was a star to put under her pillow. Now what she wanted most was to go up in a balloon. So soon after that, the sooner the better his desire advised, Don contracted with a balloon company and popped for $250 for an hour’s ride and set the date and picked Jenny up that afternoon at five and drove her to a dusty lot on the outskirts of north Phoenix, Arizona. Parking in front of the acreage’s only tenant, a one-room, concrete-block shack painted hot pink, he led her around back past the building’s rooftop sign –
“Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams”
Dawn Ascensions & Late Afternoons
DAILY – INQUIRE WITHIN
And there was her surprise – a yellow, white, and purple bag fifty-five feet in circumference inflated with 56,000 cubic feet of hot air and hanging seven stories high and underneath, a wicker basket waiting. “Oh, Don!” she cried, and clapped her hands. “It’s what I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little girl.”
He grinned and caught a tear in her eye and disbelieved she could be so beautiful unless she loved him. “Then today’s your lucky day, let’s go!”
The balloon tugged at the ropes, which were held by a man and woman who were members of the crew and would follow to landing in the “chase vehicle,” a pickup truck. From the basket, a bearded young man beckoned. Like children, Don and Jenny went hand in hand to the basket and clambered aboard. The beard said his name was Max and that he’d be their pilot. Were they ready? But before they could respond, the ropes were suddenly let go and shoosh! Up, up, straight and silently up! The basket swayed and they swallowed their hearts and grabbed for each other and also the grab bar around the top of the basket.
It was as though the great hand of God reached down to earth and snatched Don Chambers, age forty-two, and Jenny Staley, age thirty-eight, suddenly up, up, straight and divinely up into a new life.
Deus ex $250.
“Wow!” admired Jenny.
“You like?” asked Max.
“Sensational. What a view!” agreed Don.
One, Max talked all the time. Two, the basket was small, only three by four feet, and crammed with propane gas tanks and instruments and Max. Three, when he pulled a handle overhead and ignited the dual burners in the throat of the bag, they couldn’t hear themselves think, much less converse. They sailed along the south slope of Camelback Mountain at five hundred feet, and the sight of the big, smoggy city and its suburbs supine under a blue sky was sensational. Max talked about piloting. You steered with the wind, which varied in velocity and direction according to altitude. You ascended by “burning,” by cutting in the burners, which put out 12 million Btus between them, and descended by pulling the deflation line, which released air out a vent near the top of the bag.
It was April, the citrus trees were in bloom, and they wafted along on the fragrance of orange blossoms. Max asked if they’d like to play Peeping Tom, and when they asked what that meant, he said he’d show ‘em. He pulled a line and the balloon descended slowly till they drifted sixty to seventy feet above the ground, almost at treetop level. From this height they could spy into houses through windows and arcadia doors. This was an affluent section of Phoenix, most of the plush homes had walled patios with swimming pools, and as they lurked above one patio, a fat lady, in the nude and wearing hair curlers, sunbathing on a plastic raft in her pool, looked up and let out a shriek and tipped over the raft. On another patio, on a lounge chair, a bare-assed guy was banging a bare-assed girl until three Peeping Toms looking down deflated his frugal. Outraged, the guy jumped off the girl and hurled a full can of beer up at the basket.
“Get outta here, you bastards!” he roared.
Max burned gas and took them up to five hundred feet again. Don was embarrassed and frustrated. Watching patio pornography and listening to Max and his big mouth was not the romantic moment he had blown a bundle for, and not only that, the ride was running down by now. He had to get things organized. Since he was damned if he’d put the question in front of a stranger, he decided to use the burner sound as cover.
Max talked about his instruments and burned. Don put his arm around Jenny’s waist and spoke into her ear. “Jenny, I love you.”
She shook her head.
He raised his voice. “I love you.”
She couldn’t hear.
“I love you!”
She heard that.
Max stopped burning and said he had two important instruments. One showed him the rate of climb. He burned. Don shouted.
“I’ve only been out with you eight times, but I knew the second time you were the one!”
The other, Max said, was a pyrometer, a gauge that showed the temperature in the bag so that the pilot could control it. He burned.
Jenny cried in Don’s ear. “You haven’t even kissed me!”
“I know! On purpose! So you’d know how special I think you are! How serious I am!”
Max stopped burning too soon, and Don could have killed the gassy sonofabitch. Max said the only real danger with a balloon was power lines -- you put power lines and propane gas together and you have a problem.
“Why’re we going down?” Don demanded.
“Not too long till landing. I’ll rip the top in about ten minutes.”
“Well, I’m not ready!” Don couldn’t stop shouting. “Take us up again, goddammit!”
Max pulled the handle and his beard.
“Anyway, I love you and I think – I hope – you love me!” Don shouted in Jenny’s ear. “And what I got us up here for was to ask you to marry me! Jenny, will you please marry me?”
She turned his head in order to cry in his ear. He waited.