Jonas was not a normal person. There, I’ve said it.
Well, he looked normal. But that was pretty much it. He was the average-looking millennial, young, mid-twenties man with a scraggly beard and a shaky job. He was a below-average paralegal at a large firm that had no use for him.
As I said, he looked normal. But inside… he was like Mr. Weasley mixed with my Uncle Vince, who eats nothing but paper and boysenberry jelly all day long.
For starters, Jonas loved balloons. Big, blue, polka-dot balloons that floated up to the ceiling and made you think of a hot-air balloon stuck in a prison. And also bubbles. He had a bubble bath each night instead of a cold shower like many of generation.
One day Jonas was sitting in Starbucks, pretending to think about this really stupid case and drink his espresso but was really mesmerized by the pink-striped balloon that a little girl was holding, that kept bobbing up and poking the mother in her face.
He was so mesmerized that he almost didn’t notice the young woman when she sat down at his table across from him.
“Hi, Jonas,” she said.
“Um, hi? Who are you?”
Jonas couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was wearing a green floaty skirt that ballooned out like a cloud—a green cloud—and a loose pink shirt to which three huge balloons were tied. The balloons were tugging at their strings, trying to break free of her shirt.
And no one else in Starbucks seemed to notice her.
“You know me,” she said. “You know me, Jonas,”
She seemed almost reproachful that he didn’t know her.
“I’m sorry…” Jonas trailed. “Should I know you?”
She laughed. She sounded like a pot boiling, a small happy sound. “No.”
She was so strange and hilarious that Jonas smiled.
“Jonas,” she began again, “You know me. I am the Bubble Queen.”
“The Bubble Queen.” Her eyes seemed to reflect his and she smiled again. It was like an upside-down rainbow, the way she smiled. And still, she was totally invisible to the others in Starbucks.
She stood and held out her hand. Jonas looked around, down at his laptop, at the barista with the three dozen piercings, the little girl with the balloon, before taking her hand.
“Um, why me?”
“Why you, Jonas? Why is it I choose you out of all in your generation?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess. Are we doing something?”
She laughed lightly. She smelled of lavender lemonade. “Only going to save the dimension, Jonas,”
Jonas stammered again, “Why me?”
He could not even voice into words the enormous WHAT!? that was flooding through his being. Instead of beating, his heart was whumping WHAT-WHAT-WHAT-WHAT-WHAT-WHAT at 60 beats a minute.
“Why you? Because you’re the only one of your generation that I’ve seen that has bubbles in his soul.”
“Um, excuse me?”
“You heard me. Now come on.”
“Wait—where are we going?”
She laughed and did not answer his question. Instead, she reached down and took the striped pink balloon from the little girl who was now begging her harassed mother for a Squeezie. When the child took no notice, the Bubble Queen plucked a hair from her shock of yellow and put it in place of the balloon string. When the hair left the Bubble Queen’s head, it turned from sunny yellow to a deep blushing purple. Jonas stared.
The Bubble Queen laughed at the expression on his face.
“Um, first. Where are we going. How long will we be gone. I have to complete the commentary here before tomorrow or else I think I’m going to be fired. The boss doesn’t like me drawing bubbles and balloons on his briefs. He says it makes him look unprofessional in court.”
“I like that,” she said, “I think it would make him look very professional in court. Perhaps the courts of this earth do not like bubbles.”
“You got that right.”
She took his hand again and marched out of the Starbucks with the balloon string pinched between her forefinger and thumb. Jonas cast a last, fleeting look at his laptop, where was held his career, and then followed the Bubble Queen.
“So, um. Why should I go with you? Because if I don’t want to, this is a kidnapping.”
She laughed again. How he loved to hear her laugh!
As soon as she was outside the balloon started lifting up, up. And, to Jonas’s shock, the Bubble Queen lifted right along with it. She was flying, floating, whatever you call it. Her hand was still gripping Jonas’s tightly.
Jonas shrugged and thought, At least this is better than reading about Mrs. HoHumm and her boring scandal. And then he was lifted just as the Bubble Queen. Jonas had time only to think, Well, I hope they don’t stop traffic for this. And, Boy, she must be really strong. And, I cannot weaken my grip one bit or I will die.—Before the Bubble Queen looked down at him and said:
“You might be wondering where I’m taking you.”
“Well, bit of a long story, that, but basically, I’m taking you UP.”
“Are you Mary Poppins?”
She laughed. “No, I am the Bubble Queen. But thank you. Mary Poppins is my mother.”
No, he did not believe her. Mary Poppins was made up. Everyone, not just those of his generation, knew that. Duh.
“Yes, really. And don’t lie to me, Jonas. I can tell you don’t believe me.”
“So… you said we’d be saving the dimension?”
“Uh, yes. Please explain that.”
When she didn’t answer, he didn’t press, for a very good reason. They were rising above the city, still going at a nice slow rising pace. Jonas gasped.
Then they were above the state, then the country, and then he could see the Amazon burning as they left the atmosphere.
Jonas had only a split-second to think, How am I still breathing up here? Before the Bubble Queen stepped onto something.
It was a star, sort of. It was an enormous lantern, hanging on a long thin string that stretched up into Nowhere, high above them. The Bubble Queen sat down on a small silvery knob at the almost-top of the lantern.
The lantern wasn’t glowing. Inside, it was dark, and Jonas could see a sort of wick far below him.
“What is this?”
“A star, Jonas.”
“Yes. Oh, do they not tell you that the stars are lanterns, down there?”
“Uh, no, I guess not.”
She tsk-tsked her tongue.
“Also… you keep saying, Down There, and You, as if you’re not from the Earth.”
She said it so matter-of-factly that Jonas barely registered the words. “Wh—what?” he gasped.
She ignored him. “See, Jonas!” she cried, pointing away, “Do you see it!”
“No, what is it?”
“The bubbles that you below mistake as the planets!”
“The planets are bubbles!”
“Of course, what else would they be!”
Jonas had no words and instead gasped like a fish out of water. He saw them indeed. They were large, silver, round thingys, far away, almost buried in the darkness of space up there. He could look across the expanse of space and see the other collections of bubbles and balloons that his Earth called constellations and galaxies. The Bubble Queen, above him, had a dreamy look on her white face, looking out across Space, staring at a particular bubble far away.
Then the Bubble Queen suddenly hopped down to where he was sitting. She took his hands and looked directly into his eyes. “Jonas,” she said.
He squirmed. This sort of eye contact always made him very uncomfortable, as whenever someone looked into his eyes he was afraid they would see that he was not Normal.
“You are special, Jonas. Never forget that. Never let them make you forget it. Always remember this, and the bubbles, and the balloons.”
Then she released his hands and walked to the edge of the lantern. Looking back at him, the Bubble Queen suddenly leaped off, plummeting straight back to Earth, that green ball of blue and light and tragedy that from afar was just another bubble in Space.
Jonas gasped, then, in a feat of mental brilliance that he would never have attempted had he not drunk that espresso that morning, he convinced himself to walk to the edge, and JUMP OFF.
Jonas screamed as he fell. Falling, falling! Down, farther and farther! He caught up with the Bubble Queen and started to pass her, just as he heard her say, “Oh, shoot.”
“What!” he screamed.
She looked at him. Her eyes were wide and purple. “I forgot the balloon. Darn it all.”
Then she plucked another hair from her head and handed the purple thing to him. As soon as he took it, he felt like he’d been hit in the chest, not unlike being shocked by a live wire, and slowed very suddenly, like he was in a parachute.
The Bubble Queen passed him in a flash before stopping rapidly and slowing, herself.
They floated, like an odd pair of parachutists, down to the Earth.
Jonas touched down first. He didn’t recognize it immediately, but then saw it was the Baskin Robbins right next to his old apartment. He didn’t live there anymore since he took a pay cut and had to move across town to the seedier part of the city, but it had been his favorite place to live.
The Bubble Queen hit the ground hard, and stumbled, but then straightened with that glorious upside-down rainbow on her face.
She smiled a little sadly. “Goodbye, Jonas. I’ve loved speaking to you.”
“Me too, I guess. Goodbye.”
She turned away, holding her purple strand of hair in her fingers, twisting it through them, before he thought to call after her, “Wait!
“Why’d you take me with you? Why’d you do this?”
She turned back to him.
“To tell you how to live. To encourage you to live yourself. You are With Bubbles, Jonas. You Are. That’s why. You ought to be creative, one among a thousand, in this place."
His eyes were wide and dry, but he had to ask-- “Is this—is this a dream?”
The Bubble Queen laughed, walking away backwards, skipping in time to the rhythm of his heart. “Of course it is! But that never means you shouldn't take it seriously! The lessons I teach are true and ought never to be forgotten. Fare you well, Jonas."
She was close again, close as kissing, and that's what she did, a light lavender kiss on Jonas's forehead-- he closed his eyes, and in a whisper and glimmer, she was gone.