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The Stories of Ray Bradbury 119


  ‘Don’t be a tourist. You ruined that trip to the volcano for us. I want to go back up tomorrow or the next day. Go look at the sky.’

  She went out to look at the sky. It was clear and blue. She reported this. ‘The volcano dies down, sometimes for a week. We can’t afford to wait a week for it to boom again.’

  ‘Yes, we can. We will. And you’ll pay for the taxi to take us up there and do the trip over and do it right and enjoy it.’

  ‘Do you think we can ever enjoy it now?’ she asked.

  ‘If it’s the last thing we do, we’ll enjoy it.’

  ‘You insist, do you?’

  ‘We’ll wait until the sky is full of smoke and go back up.’

  ‘I’m going out to buy a paper.’ She shut the door and walked into the town.

  She walked down the fresh-washed streets and looked in the shining windows and smelled that amazingly clear air and felt very good, except for the tremoring, the continual tremoring in her stomach. At last, with a hollowness roaring in her chest, she went to a man standing beside a taxi.

  ‘Señor,’ she said.

  ‘Yes?’ said the man.

  She felt her heart stop beating. Then it began to thump again and she went on: ‘How much would you charge to drive me to Morelia?’

  ‘Ninety pesos, señora.’

  ‘And I can get the train in Morelia?’

  ‘There is a train here, señora.’

  ‘Yes, but there are reasons why I don’t want to wait for it here.’

  ‘I will drive you, then, to Morelia.’

  ‘Come along, there are a few things I must do.’

  The taxi was left in front of the Hotel de Las Flores. She walked in, alone, and once more looked at the lovely garden with its many flowers, and listened to the girl playing the strange blue-colored piano, and this time the song was the ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ She smelled the sharp crystalline air and shook her head, eyes closed, hands at her sides. She put her hand to the door, opened it softly.

  Why today? she wondered. Why not some other day in the last five years? Why have I waited, why have I hung around? Because. A thousand becauses. Because you always hoped things would start again the way they were the first year. Because there were times, less frequent now, when he was splendid for days, even weeks, when you were both feeling well and the world was green and bright blue. There were times, like yesterday, for a moment, when he opened the armor-plate and showed her the fear beneath it and the small loneliness of himself and said, ‘I need and love you, don’t ever go away, I’m afraid without you.’ Because sometimes it had seemed good to cry together, to make up, and the inevitible goodness of the night and the day following their making up. Because he was handsome. Because she had been alone all year every year until she met him. Because she didn’t want to be alone again, but now knew that it would be better to be alone than be this way because only last night he destroyed the typewriter; not physically, no, but with thoughts and words. And he might as well have picked her up bodily and thrown her from the river bridge.

  She could not feel her hand on the door. It was as if ten thousand volts of electricity had numbed all of her body. She could not feel her feet on the tiled floor. Her face was gone, her mind was gone.

  He lay asleep, his back turned. The room was greenly dim. Quickly, soundlessly, she put on her coat and checked her purse. The clothes and typewriter were of no importance now. Everything was a hollowing roar. Everything was like a waterfall leaping into clear emptiness. There was no striking, no impact, just a clear water falling into a hollow and then another hollow, followed by an emptiness.

  She stood by the bed and looked at the man there, the familiar black hair on the nape of his neck, the sleeping profile. The form stirred. ‘What?’ he asked, still asleep.

  ‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Nothing. And nothing.’

  She went out and shut the door.

  The taxi sped out of town at an incredible rate, making a great noise, and all the pink walls and blue walls fled past and people jumped out of the way and there were some few cars which almost exploded upon them, and there went most of the town and there went the hotel and that man sleeping in the hotel and there went—

  Nothing.

  The taxi motor died.

  No, no, thought Marie, oh God, no, no, no.

  The car must start again.

  The taxi driver leaped out, glaring at God in his Heaven, and ripped open the hood and looked as if he might strangle the iron guts of the car with his clawing hands, his face smiling a pure sweet smile of incredible hatred, and then he turned to Marie and forced himself to shrug, putting away his hate and accepting the Will of God.

  ‘I will walk you to the bus station,’ he said.

  No, her eyes said. No, her mouth almost said. Joseph will wake and run and find me still here and drag me back. No.

  ‘I will carry your bag, señora,’ the taxi driver said, and walked off with it, and had to come back and find her still there, motionless, saying no, no, to no one, and helped her out and showed her where to walk.

  The bus was in the square and the Indians were getting into it, some silently and with a slow, certain dignity, and some chattering like birds and shoving bundles, children, chickens’ baskets, and pigs in ahead of them. The driver wore a uniform that had not been pressed or laundered in twenty years, and he was leaning out the window shouting and laughing with people outside, as Marie stepped up into the interior of hot smoke and burning grease from the engine, the smell of gasoline and oil, the smell of wet chickens, wet children, sweating men and damp women, old upholstery which was down to the skeleton, and oily leather. She found a seat in the rear and felt the eyes follow her and her suitcase, and she was thinking: I’m going away, at last I’m going away. I’m free. I’ll never see him again in my life, I’m free, I’m free.

  She almost laughed.

  The bus started and all of the people in it shook and swayed and cried out and smiled, and the land of Mexico seemed to whirl about outside the window, like a dream undecided whether to stay or go, and then the greenness passed away, and the town, and there was the Hotel de Las Flores with its open patio, and there, incredibly, hands in pockets, standing in the open door but looking at the sky and the volcano smoke, was Joseph, paying no attention to the bus or her and she was going away from him, he was growing remote already, his figure was dwindling like someone falling down a mine shaft, silently, without a scream. Now, before she had even the decency or inclination to wave, he was no larger than a boy, then a child, then a baby, in distance, in size, then gone around a corner, with the engine thundering, someone playing upon a guitar up front in the bus, and Marie, straining to look back, as if she might penetrate walls, trees, and distances, for another view of the man standing so quietly watching the blue sky.

  At last, her neck tired, she turned and folded her hands and examined what she had won for herself. A whole lifetime loomed suddenly ahead, as quickly as the turns and whirls of the highway brought her suddenly to edges of cliffs, and each bend of the road, even as the years, could not be seen ahead. For a moment it was simply good to lie back here, head upon jouncing seat rest, and contemplate quietness. To know nothing, to think nothing, to feel nothing, to be as nearly dead for a moment as one could be, with the eyes closed, the heart unheard, no special temperature to the body, to wait for life to come get her rather than to seek, at least for an hour. Let the bus take her to the train, the train to the plane, the plane to the city, and the city to her friends, and then, like a stone dropped into a cement mixer, let that life in the city do with her as it would, she flowing along in the mix and solidifying in any new pattern that seemed best.

  The bus rushed on with a plummeting and swerving in the sweet green air of the afternoon, between the mountains baked like lion pelts, past rivers as sweet as wine and as clear as vermouth, over stone bridges, under aqueducts where water ran like clear wind in the ancient channels, past churches, through dust, and suddenly, quite suddenly the
speedometer in Marie’s mind said, A million miles, Joseph is back a million miles and I’ll never see him again. The thought stood up in her mind and covered the sky with a blurred darkness. Never, never again until the day I die or after that will I see him again, not for an hour or a minute or a second, not at all will I see him.

  The numbness started in her fingertips. She felt it flow up through her hands, into her wrists and on along the arms to her shoulders and through her shoulders to her heart and up her neck to her head. She was a numbness, a thing of nettles and ice and prickles and a hollow thundering nothingness. Her lips were dry petals, her eyelids were a thousand pounds heavier than iron, and each part of her body was now iron and lead and copper and platinum. Her body weighed ten tons, each part of it was so incredibly heavy, and, in that heaviness, crushed and beating to survive, was her crippled heart, throbbing and tearing about like a headless chicken. And buried in the limestone and steel of her robot body was her terror and crying out, walled in, with someone tapping the trowel on the exterior wall, the job finished, and, ironically, it was her own hand she saw before her that had wielded the trowel, set the final brick in place, frothed on the thick slush of mortar and pushed everything into a tightness and a self-finished prison.

  Her mouth was cotton. Her eyes were flaming with a dark flame the color of raven wings, the sound of vulture wings, and her head was so heavy with terror, so full of an iron weight, while her mouth was stuffed with invisible hot cotton, that she felt her head sag down into her immensely fat, but she could not see the fat, hands. Her hands were pillows of lead to lie upon, her hands were cement sacks crushing down upon her senseless lap, her ears, faucets in which ran cold winds, and all about her, not looking at her, not noticing, was the bus on its way through towns and fields, over hills and into corn valleys at a great racketing speed, taking her each and every instant one million miles and ten million years away from the familiar.

  I must not cry out, she thought. No! No!

  The dizziness was so complete, and the colors of the bus and her hands and skirt were now so blued over and sooted with lack of blood that in a moment she would be collapsed upon the floor, she would hear the surprise and shock of the riders bending over her. But she put her head far down and sucked the chicken air, the sweating air, the leather air, the carbon monoxide air, the incense air, the air of lonely death, and drew it back through the copper nostrils, down the aching throat, into her lungs which blazed as if she swallowed neon light. Joseph, Joseph, Joseph, Joseph.

  It was a simple thing. All terror is a simplicity.

  I cannot live without him, she thought. I have been lying to myself. I need him, oh Christ, I, I…

  ‘Stop the bus! Stop it!’

  The bus stopped at her scream, everyone was thrown forward. Somehow she was stumbling forward over the children, the dogs barking, her hands flailing heavily, falling; she heard her dress rip, she screamed again, the door was opening, the driver was appalled at the woman coming at him in a wild stumbling, and she fell out upon the gravel, tore her stockings, and lay while someone bent to her; then she was vomiting on the ground, a steady sickness; they were bringing her bag out of the bus to her, she was telling them in chokes and sobs that she wanted to go that way; she pointed back at the city a million years ago, a million miles ago, and the bus driver was shaking his head. She half sat, half lay there, her arms about the suitcase, sobbing, and the bus stood in the hot sunlight over her and she waved it on; go on, go on; they’re all staring at me, I’ll get a ride back, don’t worry, leave me here, go on, and at last, like an accordion, the door folded shut, the Indian copper-mask faces were transported on away, and the bus dwindled from consciousness. She lay on the suitcase and cried, for a number of minutes, and she was not as heavy or sick, but her heart was fluttering wildly, and she was cold as someone fresh from a winter lake. She arose and dragged the suitcase in little moves across the highway and swayed there, waiting, while six cars hummed by, and at last a seventh car pulled up with a Mexican gentleman in the front seat, a rich car from Mexico City.

  ‘You are going to Uruapan?’ he asked politely, looking only at her eyes.

  ‘Yes,’ she said at last. ‘I am going to Uruapan.’

  And as she rode in this car, her mind began a private dialogue:

  ‘What is it to be insane?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Do you know what insanity is?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘Can one tell? The coldness, was that the start?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘The heaviness, wasn’t that a part?’

  ‘Shut up.’

  ‘Is insanity screaming?’

  ‘I didn’t mean to.’

  ‘But that came later. First there was the heaviness, and the silence, and the blankness. That terrible void, that space, that silence, that aloneness, that backing away from life, that being in upon oneself and not wishing to look at or speak to the world. Don’t tell me that wasn’t the start of insanity.’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘You were ready to fall over the edge.’

  ‘I stopped the bus just short of the cliff.’

  ‘And what if you hadn’t stopped the bus? Would they have driven into a little town or Mexico City and the driver turned and said to you through the empty bus, “All right, señora, all out.” Silence. “All right, señora, all out.” Silence. “Señora?” A stare into space. “Señora!” A rigid stare into the sky of life, empty, empty, oh, empty. “Señora!” No move. “Señora.’ Hardly a breath. You sit there, you sit there, you sit there, you sit there, you sit there.

  ‘You would not even hear. “Señora,” he would cry, and tug at you, but you wouldn’t feel his hand. And the police would be summoned beyond your circle of comprehension, beyond your eyes or ears or body. You could not even hear the heavy boots in the car. “Señora, you must leave the bus.” You do not hear. “Señora, what is your name?” Your mouth is shut. “Señora, you must come with us.” You sit like a stone idol. “Let us see her passport.” They fumble with your purse which lies untended in your stone lap. “Señora Marie Elliott, from California. Señora Elliott?” You stare at the empty sky. “Where are you coming from? Where is your husband?” You were never married. “Where are you going?” Nowhere. “It says she was born in Illinois.” You were never born, “Señora, señora.” They have to carry you, like a stone, from the bus. You will talk to no one. No, no, no one. “Marie, this is me, Joseph.” No, too late. “Marie!” Too late, “Don’t you recognize me?” Too late. Joseph. No Joseph, no nothing, too late, too late.’

  ‘That is what would have happened, is it not?’

  ‘Yes.’ She trembled.

  ‘If you had not stopped the bus, you would have been heavier and heavier, true? And silenter and silenter and more made up of nothing and nothing and nothing.’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Señora,’ said the Spanish gentleman driving, breaking in on her thoughts. ‘It is a nice day, isn’t it?’

  ‘Yes,’ she said, both to him and the thoughts in her mind.

  The old Spanish gentleman drove her directly to her hotel and let her out and doffed his hat and bowed to her.

  She nodded and felt her mouth move with thanks, but she did not see him. She wandered into the hotel and found herself with her suitcase back in her room, that room she had left a thousand years ago. Her husband was there.

  He lay in the dim light of late afternoon with his back turned, seeming not to have moved in the hours since she had left. He had not even known that she was gone, and had been to the ends of the earth and had returned. He did not even know.

  She stood looking at his neck and the dark hairs curling there like ash fallen from the sky.

  She found herself on the tiled patio in the hot light. A bird rustled in a bamboo cage. In the cool darkness somewhere, the girl was playing a waltz on the piano.

  She saw but did not see two butterflies which darted and jumped and lit upon a bush near he
r hand, to seal themselves together. She felt her gaze move to see the two bright things, all gold and yellow on the green leaf, their wings beating in slow pulses as they were joined. Her mouth moved and her hand swung like a pendulum, senselessly.

  She watched her fingers tumble on the air and close on the two butterflies, tight, tighter, tightest. A scream was coming up into her mouth. She pressed it back. Tight, tighter, tightest.

  She felt her hand open all to itself. Two lumps of bright powder fell to the shiny patio tiles. She looked down at the small ruins, then snapped her gaze up.

  The girl who played the piano was standing in the middle of the garden, regarding her with appalled and startled eyes.

  The wife put out her hand, to touch the distance, to say something, to explain, to apologize to the girl, this place, the world, everyone. But the girl went away.

  The sky was full of smoke which went straight up and veered away south toward Mexico City.

  She wiped the wing-pollen from her numb fingers and talked over her shoulder, not knowing if that man inside heard, her eyes on the smoke and the sky.

  ‘You know…we might try the volcano tonight. It looks good. I bet there’ll be lots of fire.’

  Yes, she thought, and it will fill the air and fall all around us, and take hold of us tight, tighter, tightest, and then let go and let us fall and we’ll be ashes blowing south, all fire.

  ‘Did you hear me?’

  She stood over the bed and raised a fist high but never brought it down to strike him in the face.

  The Black Ferris

  The carnival had come to town like an October wind, like a dark bat flying over the cold lake, bones rattling in the night, mourning, sighing, whispering up the tents in the dark rain. It stayed on for a month by the gray, restless lake of October, in the black weather and increasing storms and leaden skies.

  During the third week, at twilight on a Thursday, the two small boys walked along the lake shore in the cold wind.

  ‘Aw, I don’t believe you,’ said Peter.