We are planning a summer party - with the theme A Midsummer Night's Dream, and we've invited friends for next week. So after dinner on the terrace this evening, Ben suggested we should take an inventory of all the lights we have. He had spread them out inside, on the dining room table, and the collection included a few Japanese paper lanterns and several strings of fairy lights, along with a collection of unopened lanterns called Xu Yuan lights which my sister Stephanie had given us for Christmas. They looked promising in their different sized cellophane wrappings and came in beautiful colors: turquoise, red, pink, purple and white. Each lantern came with a small paraffin block.
"I think the idea is that you light the block, and let the lanterns fly away," I said.
But Elliot thought it would be better if we could anchor the lanterns somehow. He imagined they would light up when the paraffin blocks were in place, but that we could then tie them down with tent stakes and fishing lines – or string them between the trees.
Already one lantern, the white one, had been opened. So we decided we would practice on that. We sat outside on the terrace and Elliot read Step # 1 of the instructions:
After the distribution of fuel to packaging equipment Kong Cross wire in the side of the field against deduction presses. The fuel pressure lock firmly.
"Ah," I said, "that must mean you should bend the metal tie and push it through the hole and then twist it into place."
Elliot accomplished this easily. Now what?
I read the 2nd step aloud:
A person Xu Yuan light take up a Top. Another person fuel ignited the four angle.
Elliot lit the paraffin. We stood in the middle of the moonlit garden with the beautiful white paper lantern billowing up – the lighted paraffin burning beneath it. With each second, the lantern inflated more completely, until it was a glorious oval. "Next instruction?"
Wait for that the heat enough light, lantern person lest loose. A top hand changes grips under the light to encircle, Has when the lifting force may let go releases for flying.
"Maybe you should let go of it, Elliot."
"We have no choice," said Ben, " if we want to know how they work. Let go of it and see what happens."
"Wait," I said, scanning step #3.
Should choose at the option open, calm environment released for flight. No fire ban in areas. The tall building the floor, and soon on have covers under the thing to release for flight must leave outside the airport 10 kilometers from flying.
"That’s all right," said Ben.
The heat from the paraffin base blazed and by now the fully inflated lantern looked temptingly beautiful. All around the darkened trees, fire flies glistened off and on.
Elliot let the lantern go –
Gradually it lifted, a hot air balloon in miniature, higher and higher, as the fire beneath it raged furiously.
We watched it ascend. "Whoops..." I said.
The guys laughed wildly. The lantern was completely out of reach –"there’s nothing we can do about it now."
It sailed above the trees like an alien spacecraft, and then caught a breeze and drifted over the roof of our house, like a UFO, a firefly spacecraft, a zeppelin.
I read the final instruction for all to hear:
Xu Yuan light are on the rise, that of the flying, cannot the long time not put, and the Flight not to be append the foreign body.
Ain't that the truth.
By now it was flying high above the road – lifting over our neighborhood – off into the distance, heading to Dulles Airport.
"Do you think it will be all right?" I asked. "What is going to happen? I hope it doesn’t burst into flames."
"It's too late now," said Ben. We raced through the house to the front garden, and watched it disappear – a distant light by now – like a low flying plane. "I want to find out where it's going."
"I don’t like the idea of you driving off and looking up at the sky, Mum, " said Elliot.
But I didn’t care. It was too spectacular to miss. I grabbed my bag and shot off in the car.
I headed down Great Falls Street and took a right on Haycock. The road has been newly surfaced and in the dark it was gleaming black. The sky was dark. The stars were out and I scanned the sky on all sides. It felt like I was all alone in the world, looking up at the sky. But I could see no sign of our lantern. It had completely disappeared.