The XX Factor

That Terrifying Helium Balloon

The live footage of that helium balloon gliding over Colorado is the most peaceful and terrifying sight I’ve ever seen. It looks like some kind of silver jellyfish-pulsing and alive. It looks like a scene from a 1970s sci-fi movie. It would be beautiful, if not for the kid trapped inside, no doubt crouched and terrified. This is not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory , after all. Every few seconds, the balloon seems to tip dangerously.

Just last night my 6-year-old son asked me, after we read Babar, if he could go up in a hot-air balloon one day. Now there is a 6-year-old boy apparently trapped in this handmade helium balloon. He was playing in his family’s backyard, and untethered it. Something like this happens in the first few pages Ian McEwan’s novel Enduring Love . The narrator sees the balloon careening dangerously, with a man hanging from the rope, and he can’t stop watching. We were “running towards a catastrophe,” he writes, and that stands for the end of a promising relationship.

A hot-air balloon represents romantic hope and possibility. Babar and Celeste ride away in one for their honeymoon. Oz escapes in one, too. A hot-air balloon disaster? The crashing end of hope.

Photograph of the Heeene family © ABC. All rights reserved.