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January 29, 2012

The following flash fiction piece is based on one of those chance encounters that not only brighten our day but colour our thinking for a long time to come. 

I was in town, hurrying about my business, and didn’t really have time to stop and chat.  But so perky and expectant was the look she gave me, this young charity worker, that I couldn’t help smiling back.  She’d got me.

It was on the Sunday evening, gazing down the valley in reflective mood, that I saw the hot air balloons.  And now, whenever pondering a worthy appeal, I seem to glimpse her again, that young charity worker, urging me on with a look…



A pair of hot air balloons drift slowly up the river valley.  What was it about her that made him smile like that?  The church bell falls silent and now the doves take up their cooing again.  Lambs butt heads and tug their mums; another hour and they’ll be clustered in the hollows.  She’d told him he had the most wonderful smile, a prelude to tapping him for a donation, he’d thought.

It wasn’t that she was especially attractive or anything.  She was just another collection box rattler accosting pedestrians on the High Street.  Except that she wasn’t actually carrying a collection box.  “If I take money, I’ll be arrested,” she said, her confidential tone belied by a certain impishness.

The first balloon climbs on a tongue of flame, the second now following, the roar of their burners little marring the evening calm at this range.  Her hi-vis tabard bore the name of a cancer charity he hadn’t heard of before.  Was she after a pledge or something?  She wasn’t even carrying leaflets.  “I’m bipolar,” she said.

She told him how the charity had supported her uncle in his last months; they’d been truly marvellous.  He told her about his work with the homeless.  It was mid-day, sunny, the High Street bustling with shoppers and workers out for lunch.  He’d helped battered wives.  She’d been a battered wife herself, in and out of refuges.  He was retired now.  She thanked him for everything he’d done for women like her. “Such a lovely smile,” she sang.  “Such a lovely town.”  And like a gambolling lamb, skipped into the crowd.

The hot air balloons reflect the last rays of the sun as they drift away upriver.  She was from the city so it’s unlikely he’ll see her again.  But remember her he will, her teasing, pleading eyes and comical way.  He’ll check out the website later and maybe pop a tenner on, maybe a ton.


Copyright © Paul Beech 2011

  1. Angela permalink

    Enjoying your blog Paul. Look forward to each new story 🙂

  2. Jackie Jordan permalink

    Very well done, Paul – an enjoyable read. Was this episode true to life, or fiction?

    And please, what does “Pop a tenner on, maybe a ton” mean. Remember, I’m not only stateside, I live in the swamp and don’t get out much …

    • Thanks, Jackie. The piece is virtually flash memoir – about 95% fact, 5% fiction. I was anxious that the young charity worker shouldn’t be identifiable so withheld certain information and changed one minor detail. By “a tenner”, I meant ten pounds sterling; by “a ton”, I meant one hundred pounds sterling. Fascinating, isn’t it, how differently our shared language is used in different places? As between, for example, your Cajun County and my Cheshire!

      Regards, Paul

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