We were watching television when we heard the sound. It was strange, and yet familiar at the same time, a sudden hiss of air or water, some element let loose in a hurry. It was loud too. Graeme turned the television up and then, after the second whoosh of sound he muted the set and we both sat up, listening.
We were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, his feet pointing towards my head, my feet adjacent to the stretch of his body. It was a large corner couch and there was a lot of soft space between us. Velure. I was in my bra and pants because I liked the feel of it on my skin while I watched television and I had to reach for my dress and slip it on before following Graeme outside.
He was looking up. I squinted into the dark outline of leaves and the stars beyond them and there was the sound again and I knew what it was, suddenly, that whoosh of flames and hot wind and the little click of the torch being turned off as if it were a tap.
We had been up in a hot air balloon on our first anniversary. My treat. A surprise. I remembered darkness and dew and the sleepy warmth of a cab as we headed towards the sports grounds where the balloons rose into the air like magic mushrooms, tethered by their earthbound baskets and the ropes and their tamers, wrangling them like elephants in a circus. I remembered Graeme's face drained of its sleepy glow, paling to the colour of the moon as he saw them lit up by the park lights.
"I'm afraid of heights." He said, unsteadily but he submitted himself to the trauma of the surprise ride, fingers white on the basket as we dipped down over the silver curl of the river, relaxing, finally as the sun rose and the buildings became nothing but a patchwork quilt beneath us.
The sound of the hot air balloon was very loud. It should have been right above us there, hovering just on the other side of the tree. We looked up past other people's balconies. We saw the blue flickering lights of televisions in other apartments. I could hear the theme song from the news programme that we had been watching. There was no billow of silk, or flare of a torch, just the sound of the thing firing up. Perhaps it was on the other side of the building, out of sight but still, it seemed strange.
Graeme's fingers twitched and for a moment I thought that he might reach for my hand but he didn't. I wondered if he was remembering that morning when we drifted up above his vertigo, when he allowed me to take him somewhere unsafe and admitted eventually that he had liked it. I smiled, but it was dark and he didn't notice the change in my expression.
"We should go back inside. We are missing the programme," he said.
We sat on the couch and Graeme watched TV and I shifted on the couch making the velure rub back and forth against my skin and I remembered the times we had made love on that couch and the positions and how perhaps I would get tired of the feel of the fabric one day.
The sound of the hot air balloon continued, firing up at irregular intervals. I felt as if it were perhaps hovering right above the apartment building, looking down into our courtyard, taking photographs. I stood and walked outside and I could hear Graeme yelling at me to put some clothes on, but I just stood in the dark and listened, and it seemed like the sound was coming from one of the apartments, two floors up and a little to the right. The window was in darkness. I listened till the sound came again and the man in the unit directly above us stepped out on the balcony and leaned out and looked up. Then I stepped back inside, pulled the dress over my head and lay on the couch again.
"Anything?" Graeme didn't look up from the programme on the television.
I shook my head but he wouldn't have seen this and he didn't ask again.