Artie Quirk removed his porkpie hat, laid it gently on the ground, rolled up his sleeve, and reached deep within the hat. Deeper than the hat appeared to go he reached, further and further down, until he stopped and felt around. He then withdrew his arm and out of his hat came a large hot air balloon, dark red, with a basket that looked as though it would fit just one of the three travelers, uncomfortably.
“There she is, my beautiful balloon,” Artie said. “Isn’t she a thing of beauty?”
“I’m not going in that! How do you expect us to all fit in that thing?” Daphne was certain if she agreed to go up into space in that basket, she’d get squeezed out and fall or float to her death. Josephine was less frightened, but she did look skeptical. Artie laughed.
“My dear ladies, prepare to be astounded, confounded and surprise-sounded! For this ‘little’ basket may appear to be teeny tiny smally small, but it is in point of fact, a trick of the eye. Behold!” He climbed into the basket and promptly disappeared. After a moment, he reappeared. “I said, ‘Behold!’” he repeated.
Josephine was first to climb into the basket and look down. “Daphne, darling, you must come see this,” she said before disappearing. Daphne lifted herself up and peered down into the basket. And down. And down. It reached further down than she could have imagined, with a control panel and pool table and several comfortable-looking chairs.
“Land o’ Goshen!” Daphne exclaimed. “This is traveling in style.”
The balloon ride went without a hitch. Josephine was able to get up close to the stars, but not to touch them since they were burning hot. She said they smelled almost exactly like popcorn, and if you got close enough, there was a popcorn taste in your mouth from the radiant heat. Daphne was content to relax on one of the chairs and read Huckleberry Finn from Artie’s library. Before long, they had arrived at the Sun.
The Sun’s outer surface was blindingly bright and burning hot, so they all remained in the lower portion of the basket until Artie had passed through to the interior. This was warm and bright as well, but not to the extreme the outer layer had been. It was a bit like walking through a glowing mug of hot cocoa. “I’m afraid this is where I bid you both adieus,” Artie Quick said, a little sadly. “It has been a pleasure knowing you both, and I only hope our paths cross again.”
“Well, we don’t get out to the rest of the Solar System, so. But you’re always welcome on the farm,” Daphne said, a bit sad as well.
“My dear tortoise, if you ever need me, or just wish to see me, simply call my name. That goes for you as well, Josephine.” He kissed both their hands and disappeared in a puff of smoke, as did his balloon.
“What a charming elephant,” Josie said, coughing a bit from the smoke.
“What do we do now?” Daphne asked. It was dawning on her that they were stuck in the Sun with no way to Mount Rushmore or home. Josie looked around. Unlike Saturn, the Sun’s interior was not as exciting or full of magnificent sights. It was more of a businesslike district, with strip malls and buildings that appeared to be full of attorneys and bankers and other boring professions. Then she saw a café tucked away between two buildings.
“Why don’t we get some coffee and find our bearings,” she said, grabbing Daphne’s hand and pulling her toward the café before she could respond. The sign above the café read: ‘The Dismal Demitasse: Home of the Hottest Coffee & Heavyhearted Habitués.’ Josie burst through the door grinning and laughing, but her demeanor did a 180 as soon as she stepped in.
Everyone was crying, or on the verge of crying. The menu, written on a chalkboard propped lazily at the end of the counter included items such as the Cheerless Cappuccino and Tomato Soup of Tears. Worst of all was the music, being played live on the stage in the corner. A man dressed completely in black, with a pompadour that stretched at least a foot and a half tall, was playing minor chords on a piano and singing the most depressing lyrics Josie or Daphne had ever heard. “My life, oh, it means nothing. It amounts to less than a hill of beans. Because you, oh, you won’t return my phone calls. My soul’s a billion darkened TV screens.” He ended this song with a barely audible, “Thank you.” No one applauded; they just continued to weep into their mugs and sandwiches. “My name is Morosey, the Duke of Despondent, the Sultan of Sad, the Fozzie Bear of Forlorn. Your tears make me weep, internally. The name of this next song is, ‘Your Tears Make Me Weep, Internally.’” He began playing a similar minor chord progression and singing more dreary lyrics about being depressed and inconsolable.
Josie and Daphne looked at each other and rolled their eyes. They each took a seat at the counter and were approached by a tear-stricken barista. “What’ll it be?” she sobbed.
“Two coffees, piping hot,” Josie said. “And a smile, if you can spare one.” At this, the barista wept loudly and poured two mugs with coffee that steamed so much it fogged over Daphne’s horn rims. But it was delicious, between sips and frantic fanning of the tongue.
Sitting next to them at the counter was a most unusual woman. She was wearing a tri-corner hat and navy pea coat, but she also had a beard. A woman with a beard is a strange enough sight, but this beard was made of bees! Distressingly, both the woman and the bees were crying as she ate a croissant. “Excuse me, is something the matter?” Josie asked. The woman looked up, tears welling in her green eyes.
“It’s this pastry, it’s just so good it makes me sad,” she said.
“Sad!” repeated the beard of bees in unison.
“Shucks, you’d think a pastry being good would make you happy,” Daphne said. “We’re enjoying our coffee, but you won’t see us crying about it.”
“I know,” the woman said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Sense,” repeated the beard of bees in unison. On the stage, Morosey had just finished his last song, and was taking a break to dry his tears. Josie saw an opportunity and, dragging Daphne along with her, approached the stage.
“Hello, my name is Josephine, and this is my best friend Daphne. We’d just like to take a moment to cheer you all up, if we could.” She began strumming her ukulele. Daphne was worried it might be considered rude to sing without being asked, but the crowd was so despondent that they clearly needed a pick-me-up, and that was Josie’s specialty. Daphne took out her maracas and shook to the rhythm, as Josie began singing. “The stars are bright and fuzzy and as pretty as can be. But not as lovely as when you are smiling back at me. When we’re together nothing could bring either of us down. We’re sunny adjectives, fun verbs and ecstactical nouns. I know I sound a bit foolish and just a little sappy, but to be with you just makes me oh so happy, happy, happy!”
There was a silence when they ended the song. Not just from lack of applause, but the constant weeping had stopped. Then, the woman from the counter began to clap slowly. Before long, everyone was applauding Josie and Daphne, and their faces were beaming. Josie and Daphne took a bow and went back to their coffee mugs.
“That was stupendous!” the woman at the counter exclaimed.
“Stupendous!” repeated the beard of bees in unison.
“Why, thank you! It looked like the room needed that,” Josie said. And it was true. Everyone was smiling and enjoying their food and drink. Even Morosey, in spite of himself, was happy, which made him so very sad.
“Name’s Marylou McBeebeard, and if there’s anything I can do for you two, just say the word. Anything.”
“Anything,” repeated the beard of bees in unison.
“Well, we do need a ride back to Earth,” Daphne said.