Kill The Balloons by Anthony Joseph Morrone by Anthony Joseph Morrone - Read Online



In Kill The Balloons, Anthony Joseph Morrone takes the reader through one Saturday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The dawn of a new century has delivered opportunities on a silver platter, but for one group of friends, whatever. Where's the party?
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ISBN: 9781483528434
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Kill The Balloons - Anthony Joseph Morrone

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Copyright © 2014 by Anthony Joseph Morrone

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Book Layout © 2014

Kill The Balloons/ Anthony Joseph Morrone. -- 1st ed.

ISBN 978-0-0000000-0-0

eISBN 9781483528434

For Flowers, Ferebee, & LaLonde


I wish more people had been here to hear for themselves what you just said. Grayson hoped his voice carried to Pretty who was saying dumb things on the couch in the living area of their loft, dead in the middle of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

He flipped an empty cream-colored cardboard box that was not hiding a blue t-shirt into an unimpressive stack of hardcover books, leaving it like the ruins of a toppled column from a forgotten empire. The shirt was close. He could feel it.

Grayson began to lift the torn corner of the futon mattress that passed for his bed but dropped it immediately, feeling like a dope for even thinking the shirt could be under there. He eyed the three clean, folded shirts that posed on the corner of the faded silver record player and grabbed the top one and threw it as hard as he could out the door, hoping it would reach the landing to serve as a reminder that he needed to bring it with him when he left.

He stood on his bed and made weird sounds with his lips, saliva and air mixing in his mouth, a scribble-scratch symphony of impatience. Grayson jumped as high as he could and kicked out his legs, bouncing off the bed and bounding towards the beer can on the floor, landing with his arms out for balance. He grabbed the can of beer and drank from it to applause that wasn’t real. After the alcohol soothed his mind and soul, he took a deep breath and pushed his dark hair out of his eyes and looked around again. It wasn’t that he couldn’t have worn a clean shirt; he just wanted to wear the same blue t-shirt he wore yesterday because it made him feel good. Duh. He just couldn’t remember where the hell he threw it after he ripped it off. At least, that’s what Grayson assumed happened. He didn’t remember getting home last night.

The morning sun crashed through his only window with an obnoxious amount of light, making it painful to stare too long in any one direction. He said fuck it, and was about to check downstairs again but as he was walking out the bedroom door he saw it, the blue shirt, behind an upside-down burgundy milk crate full of vinyl records. Right where he left it.

Grayson slipped the shirt over his head and brought it down his pale, randomly tattooed body before crouching and lifting the can of PBR. He cocked his head to the side and wondered why in the hell his denim jacket had the words hi motherfuckers written in big letters on the left sleeve in permanent black marker, when he was certain that no such language had been there before. A confusing fog always throttled him when he had to get out of bed and do anything important, which was annoying because Grayson couldn’t think of one thing that made getting out of bed worth it, and that’s exactly what he had been saying to Pretty before he ran up the stairs to get dressed.

Grayson picked up a tattered gray hoodie and his marked-up jacket and walked out of his room, tripping on gaffer tape and kicking the black roll out the door and down the stairs where he knew he’d just trip on it again. Like, if I’m not gonna contribute, then what good am I? he said, coming down the first few steps and pausing to drink some beer.

Pretty was wearing white underwear made for little boys and a black t-shirt long ago imprinted with a yellow smiley face, sitting cross-legged on a beige, cracked and worn leather couch, just down the stairs from his room. The New Yorker was open and face down in her lap where scissors balanced on the binding. She had a lace ribbon in her left hand and was measuring it against a pair of granny panties, trying to wrap it around the waistband and pick up the scissors at the same time. Her black hair, parted in the middle, was full of static and flyaways, unwilling to be tamed. She pushed her bottom lip out, trying to blow her hair off her face, but just tickled her freckled button nose instead.

Can you hand me these scissors? Pretty asked, tilting her head to the side and staring at Grayson, who had been staring at her from his perch in the middle of the stairs.

Can I finish my beer first?

Aren’t you coming down here anyway, or you planning on drinking all day on the stairs again just to make another one of your half-baked points?

I’m good at drinking on the stairs. And since there are so few things I’m good at, maybe I should stick to the basics, he said, jumping the last four steps and crashing down as loudly as he could, creaking the floor and kicking up dust. He walked over to her and picked up the scissors, making like he was going to cut her ribbon. Pretty instinctively jerked back.

I swear, she said, I’ll kick you in the balls if you fuck this up right now. Just put them right here—no, right here...look at my fingers—see the one moving? There you go, OK, you can let go now. Jesus. Are you smashed already? It’s eleven, said Pretty, maneuvering the scissors into place on the beige lace ribbon and cutting it an inch longer than she thought she was going to need, just in case.

Nope, this is my first beer, Grayson said, sloshing the lager around in her direction and plopping down on the brown couch opposite her. He grabbed his ratted-out orange Converse from under the glass coffee table, careful not to cut himself on the razor blade lying across the dirty white laces. "Maybe if somebody made coffee this morning, I’d be drinking that instead."

I know you’re not talking to me, she said, pointing her scissors at the coffee mug on the coffee table with the coffee in it. There’s practically a full pot over there.

Swing and a miss, he whispered, craning his neck to look towards the stove, fridge, and sink at the far wall. I haven’t made it to the kitchen yet. I found a PBR in the back pocket of my jeans, right next to my bed, so I figured fuck it. It’s kinda still cold.

Pretty tuned him out, folding a piece of cotton lining against her chest, the scissors in her mouth and hair in her eyes. The left side of the fabric refused to line up with the right and it was pissing her the fuck off. She held it up to the window, trying to get a better angle in the sun but light wasn’t going to solve her problem, so she dropped the material to her lap and sat back into the couch and sighed.

Is that your pack or mine? he asked, pointing to the cigarettes next to her coffee mug and cell phone.

Not mine, said Pretty, tucking her hair behind her ears. You have people over last night?

Um...good question. Hell if I know, Grayson said, reaching for the pack and popping a cigarette into his mouth. You got a light?

So. Annoying. She threw her lighter across the room and he caught it in one hand, lit his cigarette and blew into the sunrays, where dust and smoke became one.

He flipped the lighter onto the seat next to Pretty where it bounced off the cushion and into her sewing kit, rattling around on pins and needles. You’re such a tool, she said, reaching for the pack of cigarettes and fishing out her lighter. I’m taking one of these.

How’s your wedding dress coming? Grayson asked, snorting.

Did you just snort? Pretty asked, laughing at his face, smoke slowly trailing from her nostrils. Isn’t it sad that you have to laugh at your own jokes since no one thinks you’re funny? What’s that like, being an unfunny person? Do you cry at night? Like right after you get done loudly jerking off, is that when you cry yourself to sleep?

OK, that’s not funny, said Grayson, I do not loudly jerk off and can you please stop saying that’s a thing I do?

Don’t you feel better now? You’ve had your morning beer and your morning cigarette and have literally come up with two things you’re good at: drinking on the stairs and lying about jerking off.

Grayson held up his hands in surrender. You win. I won’t call it a wedding dress any more.

It’s called a romper, she said, pulling on her cigarette. She raised her eyebrows at him. Do you want to say it with me?

Rommmperrrr... they said together, off pitch and out of sync.

Grayson drank some beer and they sat across from each other in the silence of Saturday morning, smoking, until he remembered the point. See, I don’t think I can have this conversation with you. You’re the only person I know who is doing anything successful.

I sell handsewn rompers on the corner of Bedford and North 6th, and only when it’s sunny out. Aren’t you setting the bar a little low this morning?

I don’t know. I woke up having a mid-life crisis.

You’re twenty-five.

Yeah, but I feel like I’m running out of time even, to like, figure it out. What? Am I still gonna DJ late-night happy hour when I’m thirty? asked Grayson, pretending to hold headphones between his shoulder and ear, scratching at air.

Stop being a weirdo. You hit your head at the bar or something? she asked, as she took her pincushion that looked like a baby duck out of her sewing kit and strapped it to her wrist.

I couldn’t tell you what I did last night, only that I woke up with a sinking feeling that I will never do anything important. Like, isn’t that why I’m here? I’ve been here for four years and I have nothing to show for it. There’s no proof I was ever here. he said, his legs stretched out into the middle shelf of the coffee table, Like, I’m not pulling my weight.

Pretty laughed out loud, hard, dropping her scissors onto the floor and coughing, as her lungs seized and her throat prevented her from taking a deep breath. She reached for her coffee mug with her eyes closed and tearing, and took a few slow sips, giggling to herself, before finally getting everything under control.

Grayson squinted at Pretty, drank the rest of his beer, and crunched the can in his fist. He threw it towards the kitchen area, tinging and binging it in a cartwheel into the wall. What’s so funny?

Pretty smiled and said, I can’t take you seriously. You’ve been spending your weekends washing dogs. Who does that? Tweedledee and Tweedledum. That’s who. She pointed her cigarette at him. I have no sympathy for either one of you.

We’re getting paid, said Grayson, raising his hand and rubbing his thumb and fingers together. We’re not washing dogs for free, y’know. He took one last pull on his cigarette and stood up, trying to blow smoke in Pretty’s face.

Grayson walked to the peeling canary-yellow table behind the brown couch and crushed the butt of his cigarette into an overflowing stone ashtray. He grabbed his lighter and thanked god that his hair-tied bundle of MetroCard, license, credit card, and cash was in a place he could find it. You seen my keys?

Pretty spit out a strip of lace into her lap. Yes, dummy. I found them in the door when I got home this morning. I put them where keys go...on the key hook.

You’re the best, he said, putting on his hoodie and denim jacket.

Pretty put her sewing equipment down and picked her coffee mug up, the sunlight soft all around her. Flower’s party is tonight.

See this? he asked, stopping at the door and waving his clean white t-shirt around his head. Grayson dropped the shirt on the floor and clapped his hands twice, fast.

Are you serious? Pretty asked. He clapped again and she swung her legs out from underneath her ass and placed The New Yorker facedown on the table and reached for the pack of cigarettes and flung it at him with all her might.

Grayson caught the pack behind his back for no reason. Text me the address. I’m gonna swing by Galapagos first and catch some of Kline’s show. Unless you want to meet me there?

What? asked Pretty, as if talking to a crazy person. His show was last night.

Maybe that’s where I was, he said, under his breath, looking up into the high ceiling, trying to remember, to grab onto the smallest detail and pull on it as hard as he could to unravel everything.

Come right to Sweet Ups, Pretty said, finishing her coffee and putting her legs up on the coffee table, her toes wiggling in rainbow-striped socks.

I am so not a good friend, said Grayson. Did you and Dris go to his show? Did you see me there? He zipped his hoodie all the way up to the base of his neck.

She laughed at him. No. We stayed in. I read a book on his floor and he painted all night, and we ate sushi and drank cheap red wine.

Animals, he said, yanking open the door to their apartment, the hinges squealing like a stuck piglet.

At least I can remember what I did. Meet us at the bar...or you can come home and do some coke by yourself. Again.

Please stop telling people that story. He let the door slam shut behind him.

Bye, Grayson. Pretty used her left foot to nudge the cell phone closer to where she could reach it without getting up, but knocked it to the floor. She tucked her hair behind her ears and reluctantly sat up and leaned over, but couldn’t see the phone. She stood and stretched her arms to the sky, her petite frame unable to touch the ceiling, her muscles making her feel good just for trying.

She cracked her neck and came back to her heels as her brown eyes came to focus on the yellow desk for no reason in particular. Pretty pushed the coffee table out, knelt, and looked under the couch. She spied her phone right next to a bag of pot, some rolling papers, and a small glass bowl, so she grabbed them all.

She fell back onto the couch with a whoosh and pressed redial on her cell phone. Driscoll’s voicemail picked up, a mix of heavy metal and harsh screaming, then hard silence followed by a man with a ridiculous British accent yelling, Leave a message, you bloody fuck!

Hey, it’s me. I know you said you were going to paint some more but if you’re just sitting there getting drunk let’s go to Relish instead and eat. Let me know.

Pretty dropped her phone into the nest of lace on the couch, and straightened the coffee table. She picked up the glass pipe, finding a half-used bowl. She shrugged her shoulders and took a hit before grabbing her coffee mug and walking to the desk, where, she lightly petted a dying plant, its soft, dehydrated leaves drooping towards the grave. She opened her laptop and tapped the space bar over and over again, impatiently, and sighed at the growing number of people who had begun to require passwords for their networks. Buncha assholes, she whispered, narrowing the list to Sick and Wrong, Turin Broken, and bush knocked down the towers.

She chose bush knocked down the towers and logged into her Gmail so she could pretend to reread Flower’s email. It was four paragraphs too long, with three of them devoted to describing all the art Flower was going to display at her art party. Pretty loved Flower more than books, but felt a strong desire to not show up tonight just to spite her and her pretentious email.

Pretty quit Safari, opened iTunes, and changed her Airport Express location to connect the computer to stereo speakers Grayson had hooked up. She clicked the play button, filling the air around her with Everyone Knows Everyone by The Helio Sequence.

She walked back to the couch, grabbed the pipe, and tried to take another hit. As usual, the childproof lighter gave her the hardest of times. Pretty hated childproof lighters, not to mention children, and told everyone she met that she slept with a coat hanger under her pillow just in case.

Why was everyone punished because some fool decided to have children? Why did she need a childproof lighter when she wasn’t a parent? She sure as fuck didn’t vote for lighters to be childproofed, or laundry detergent, or floor cleaner, and certainly not bottles of prescription medicine so well childproofed that pills were just dumped into a plastic bag instead.

That got her thinking: where was the Vicodin? She looked under the couch, the coffee table, and the yellow desk, turning up nothing. Pretty headed into the kitchen, mug in hand, and figured why not kill two birds with one stone: get more coffee and search the kitchen for pills. Saturdays were made for drugs.


The door slammed shut behind Grayson and he grimaced as the reggaeton blasting up from the street smacked him in the face like a little bitch. Sunlight barreled through the dirty, barred windows at the end of the hall, creating a zebra pattern upon the overly worn, matted black rug that covered the checkerboard-tiled landing. He leapt down the last two steps and kicked open the gray grated door like Bruce Lee, flying out into the cool October air. Summer had finally stopped overstaying her welcome. The temperature breathed a sigh of cold relief, dropping with the sinopia-tinted leaves of the five boroughs.

He crossed Irving Avenue and took a left onto the treeless plain of Jefferson Street, going around the rusted black-and-red hydrant and the six kids playing hand ball off the graffiti-covered red brick wall of the glass-and-mirror company. The red rubber ball got knocked in his direction and he stopped it with his foot, picked it up, and threw it back to a thin girl in an extra-large red shirt, as the rest of the kids made fun of him in Spanish.

You’re welcome, he muttered, blowing smoke out of his nose and hopping the crooked curb on the right side of the street. There was a chow, her fur knotted and dirty, sniffing through the litter that defined Jefferson, searching for something right. As he passed the dog he put one up. You too, huh?

Grayson looked towards the sound of a skateboard on asphalt, and saw a thin, sandy haired guy in a camouflage t-shirt a size too small, cruising past the red and tan barbed-wire-accented industrial buildings. He leapt off the board and kicked it up into his right hand, holding out his left fist.

Grayson bumped it as he stumbled, smiling, into the street. ’sup man? he asked, unable to remember the dude’s name. Shit, what the fuck happened?

I got mugged last night, the guy said, gently touching the skin around his black and citrine-colored eye socket. Ball banging against brick was the only sound echoing through the block.

What? Where?

He pointed north to the corner of Jefferson and Wyckoff where square low-rise factories slept through the weekend. Coming out of the train. Like, I walked up the stairs and got popped. The guy just calmly said ‘Now give me your wallet,’ and I did. Real fast.

Looks like it hurts like hell. You call the cops? Grayson asked, pulling out his pack of cigarettes and offering one.

Thanks, he said, as Grayson lit it for him like a pro. I’m just coming from the precinct now. Fucking pigs. They told me I should either carry pepper spray or go back to Ohio.

What time was that? Grayson asked. one-thirty, maybe two.

Man, hope you get your wallet back.

Doubt it. I gotta get all new shit now. Alright. Heads up, y’know? Thanks for the stick. the guy said, letting his skateboard fall. He hopped on, kicking at the sidewalk in the direction of Irving, as a discarded plastic donut bag skittered recklessly across his path.

Grayson stuck his headphones in and pressed play on his iPod, filling his head with Daylight by Aesop Rock. He stuck a cigarette in between his lips and crossed Wyckoff at the subway entrance and kept walking, going by the fenced-in lot where workers were putting the finishing touches on new public housing, sorely needed since every apartment in the area faced sharp increases in rent and young white kids.

At St. Nicholas he turned right under low-hanging black wires. The shadow of a stout square building blocked the sun as he stepped over the deep cracks in the poorly poured Portland cement and a pamphlet heralding the glory of god. He waited at Troutman for a white van to pass, the scalene slope of the windshield momentarily bouncing the sun into his eyes, and crossed into the arms of autumn trees, their foliage a buffer against industry.

He passed the vinyl-sided two- and three-story homes on either side, their chest-high fences turning garbage cans and bikes into prisoners. The apartment buildings across Starr Street were larger, the bricks somehow redder, supporting forest green fire escapes that reached to the tops of the mature trees. He made a quick left under four pairs of dangling Air Nikes, walked against traffic on Willoughby, then stopped at the playground of PS 162, where he watched teens playing basketball. Grayson put a knee on the ledge and clung to the fence, blowing smoke through the chain link. A small wave of jealousy rippling beneath his skin. He bet that these kids actually enjoyed playing basketball. He wanted to do something he thought was fun all the time too, but so far, one dream after another had slipped through his grasp.

At Cypress, the neighborhood settled into trimmed hedges and manicured yards carved up by Hudson brick, all of the greenery cementing the residential status of the block. Every six or seven steps was a tree lush with the fall that covered clean, uncracked sidewalks and the car-lined street. At Seneca, chain-link fences started up and ran until Onderdonk, where he made a right and walked past more brick and vinyl siding, the windows like sad eyes. There were porches with iron railings and sidewalks littered with scattered leaves, flattened water bottles, plastic bread tags, and cigarette butts. He walked towards the church spire on Stockholm that towered over the three-story apartments and quiet neighborhood. He turned left at Stanhope and saluted the dead on his right. Finally, up ahead was the shelter on the corner of Fairview, just down the row of drab apartment buildings punctuated by a wooden utility pole hoisting black and silver wires above the block.

Grayson opened the side door and was immediately greeted by his friend Willie, who was walking towards him while stretching out a tip of his blonde mustache so it pointed towards the stars. Willie pushed his ultra-thin wire-frame glasses up above the bridge of