The Mythical Fully-Inflated Balloon
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Sissy"
Originally featured on 09-18-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

We’re all so worried about being called ‘sissy.’ As if the word pierces the balloon of bravado we’ve inflated around the apple of our actual bravery to make it look bigger. It feels like the only way to deflect the flying needle, and that’s really all it is, is to inflate the balloon bigger. When our bravado pops and the room full of onlookers sees how big our real bravery is, we can only marvel at how much smaller it looks after our excessive inflations — all that blowing. Some of us can laugh at ourselves and be content for others to see just our apple. Others of us become determined to make everyone once again believe in the Mythical Fully Inflated Balloon.

 

***

 

The last thing anybody wanted to hear was that The Notorious Mustang Rider would be arriving on Wednesday. The word got around Futty’s Saloon in just a few minutes, signaled by the otherwise boisterous bar to become silent. That was around 9:30pm.

The bartender and owner of the Futty’s, Olsonis Twin, pretended organize the bottles of liquor behind the bar. The swinging doors rattled in the breeze. The George Boys raised their mugs to their respective lips and took small sips of ale. Wraith Peterson lit a wooden match, which flared up with a hiss and the whole place looked.

Sissy Goatherder got up from his stool and left his cocktail table near the dart board to walk to the bar. Olsonis, a plump Norwegian with bushy red Viking hair, furrowed his brow when he looked up to find Sissy.

Wide-eyed, Olsonis asked, “What is it?”

Sissy’s face stiffened before he spoke. “I can take him.”

For a few seconds, a room full of confused looks focused on the tall and slender Sissy Goatherder. But just for a few seconds. Olsonis tried to hold it in. But then Olsonis let out a bellowing laugh. Olsonis laughed and laughed. Then The George Boys started cackling. Wraith Peterson coughed after trying to inhale from his pipe before he had really stopped laughing. Enrique Aielle (pronounced I — L — A), a svelte Mexican tailor, kicked over the spittoon after slapping his own knee too hard. The spit juice landed on Red Benjamin’s boot, but Red immediately pardoned him so that they could both continue to enjoy the hilarity.

Sissy’s head swiveled around at their laughing faces. His hand grasped the oak handle of his pistol as he rotated. When he completed the circle, Olsonis stared at back at him, stiff-lipped.

“Now, Sissy-”

Sissy inhaled, eyes bulging. Olsonis corrected himself.

“Now, Trevor, I can understand why a man with your reputation might want to make a claim like that. But this man, The Notorious Mustang Rider, well, he’s notorious for a reason, lad. I mean, you must’ve heard what he did to those Gypsies that mis-shod his horse. And what about those lost nuns?”

Everyone in the bar watched the discussion while they wiped their eyes and let out their final snickers.

Sissy cocked his head to the side and took in a deep breath. Then nodding slightly he said, “Then soon I’ll be notorious.”

Olsonis could tell he meant it. He even outstretched his palm to The George Boys to stop their smirks from becoming howls.

But a few seconds later, Olsonis pressed his lips together and bit his lip. Then Olsonis burst out again and so did the rest of the bar. When they quieted down again. Olsonis looked sympathetic.

“Now, Sis-Trevor, I know you mean that. But have you thought about this? You’ve got spirit. But remember what happened the last-”

Sissy nodded.

“Well then why don’t I pour you another whiskey, on the house, and then we forget all about this.”

Olsonis threw his bar rag to Red for his boots and then picked up a bottle of Aielle’s Home Distilled Whiskey.

Sissy reached out his hand and took the shot. Olsonis nodded and grinned. After wincing Sissy reached into his vest pocket and pulled out two coins. He slapped them on the bar.

“This is for the Aielle’s. Now pour me another.”

 

***

 

On Wednesday morning, The George Boys woke up with nasty hangovers. Olsonis woke up next to his Mexican wife, Maria Catarina. Red Benjamin woke up on the hammock of his front porch. Enrique Aielle lay face down in the dirt behind his house, assassinated by a rival tailor over a rather wealthy and disputed customer.

Sissy Goatherder woke up with clarity. He rose from his bed with a grace and calm unknown to him. He walked to the mirror and saw a new face. He tied his tie correctly in one try. His flowing white frills looked distinguished and exciting.

The Notorious Mustang Rider had been sighted getting drunk with two friends from the Sioux tribe at a saloon in Grainsford the night before. If he continued along Ford trail, which did without fail this time of year, then he’d arrive in Nervanen at around 1pm. That’s assuming he’d stop in at the Grainsford brothel to sow his oats and then stop by Grainsford Church for a spicy confession.

It was 10am when Sissy decided to leave his house and walk around town. The George Boys pointed to him from their ladders, interrupting their painting of Nervanen Jail. Sissy just tipped his hat and kept walking.

Sissy poked his head into Futty’s and nodded at Olsonis who was polishing his rifle. Olsonis nodded back, but couldn’t help shaking his head once Sissy had disappeared.

Sissy walked into the Main Street Café and took a seat at the most visible table, right in the center of the dining room. When Gory Haggis, the prettiest girl in Nervanen, came out of the kitchen. Sissy grinned.

“Morning, Trevor. What can I get ya?”

“Coffee Miss Haggis. Coffee, Steak and Eggs.”

“Coming right up,” said Gory.

Sissy stopped her by grabbing her forearm. “How about you join me today? Sit with me and have a bite. We haven’t done that since school.”

She paused. He said it loud enough that all conversation had paused in the Main Street Café. Red chewed his chipped beef and watched intently. Then Gory nodded and smiled, before walking back into the kitchen.

 

***

 

They talked for two hours. Gory got up and took orders and then sat back down with Sissy. The clock announced 1pm and they ignored it. They discussed having dinner that night. A half hour later, galloping erupted down Main Street. Sissy let go of Gory’s hand, got up and put on his coat.

“Where are you going?” said Gory.

“I’ve gotta go take care of something. It’s real important,” he said and with a wink he headed out the door.

Gory sat alone in the Main Street Café and then began clearing tables. She jumped when she heard the sudden gunshots.

She didn’t rush out into Main Street with everyone else. Gory just dumped the leftover plate of apple sausage and eggs into the trash.

Read More By Doug Dean

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