Marco’s hands are slender, quick and brutal. They are the hands of a man who shapes air. Together we unload the van, stake out our patch on the scorched, summer grass of the fairground. Mothers and children crowd round. ‘He’d like a giraffe,’ says a tall, red-haired woman, pushing forward a boy of about five.

I choose a long, orange balloon and pass it to Marco. He stretches it between his fingers, softening it, then eases it onto the nozzle of the air pump. The mothers shuffle closer. Marco pumps slowly at first, then a little faster, until the balloon begins to swell.

The balloon grows bigger and the mothers grow smaller. They are no longer women but gauche girls, shy and blushing, as if Marco had placed his mouth over theirs and sucked. He slips the balloon off the nozzle, ties it, and the women touch their throats, tug at the necklines of their dresses. I pass him another balloon, watch the way his foot moves up and down on the pump pedal.

Marco runs his hands over the balloons; he presses, twists, and limbs take shape. Another twist: now there is a head, a neck, and— a quick flip onto its stomach—a tail. The balloons make small, high-pitched sounds beneath his fingers. The redhaired woman mutters about the heat, looks to the sky for deliverance.

Before Marco, I knew only the muted balloons of childhood parties, soon discarded and left to wither beneath chairs. That night last summer in the Parco Savello, having watched for hours the weave of his hands, I lay down for him on the parched ground behind the marquee. The stubble of the field was rough against my skin, I heard the thud and spark of bumper cars. He moved slowly, slowly, then faster, and I felt myself expand, every stalk of dry grass needle-sharp and I feared I might burst, and still he pumped, a little more a little more, and still I swelled, my body arcing away from the earth, rising untethered, too much too much, and his mouth was on my breast and he sucked and I shattered, broke in tiny pieces all over the crushed grass.

Marco finishes the giraffe and hands it to the woman. She cradles it, resting her chin on its orange head. I hold out my hand and she stares blankly, before rummaging in her purse for coins. As she walks away, the midday sun illuminates her in silhouette and her red hair blazes. I see Marco’s hands, though empty, begin to move. They twist and dart and turn, and as the woman halts and looks back over her shoulder, I feel the air around us change.