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The Stories of Ray Bradbury 124

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  ‘You’re always right; there must be a clock in your head.’

  ‘I can’t be wrong, tonight. I’ll be able to tell you one second before they blast off. Look! The ten-minute warning!’

  On the western sky they saw four crimson flares open out, float shimmering down the wind above the desert, then sink silently to the extinguishing earth.

  In the new darkness the husband and wife did not rock in their chairs.

  After a while he said, ‘Eight minutes.’ A pause. ‘Seven minutes.’ What seemed a much longer pause. ‘Six…’

  His wife, her head back, studied the stars immediately above her and murmured, ‘Why?’ She closed her eyes. ‘Why the rockets, why tonight? Why all this? I’d like to know.’

  He examined her face, pale in the vast powdering light of the Milky Way. He felt the stirring of an answer, but let his wife continue.

  ‘I mean it’s not that old thing again, is it, when people asked why men climbed Mt Everest and they said, “Because it’s there”? I never understood. That was no answer to me.’

  Five minutes, he thought. Time ticking…his wristwatch…a wheel in a wheel…little wheel run by…big wheel run by…way in the middle of…four minutes!…The men snug in the rocket by now, the hive, the control board flickering with light…

  His lips moved.

  ‘All I know is it’s really the end of the beginning. The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age; from now on we’ll lump all those together under one big name for when we walked on Earth and heard the birds at morning and cried with envy. Maybe we’ll call it the Earth Age, or maybe the Age of Gravity. Millions of years we fought gravity. When we were amoebas and fish we struggled to get out of the sea without gravity crushing us. Once safe on the shore we fought to stand upright without gravity breaking our new invention, the spine, tried to walk without stumbling, run without falling. A billion years Gravity kept us home, mocked us with wind and clouds, cabbage moths and locusts. That’s what’s so God-awful big about tonight…it’s the end of old man Gravity and the age we’ll remember him by, for once and all. I don’t know where they’ll divide the ages, at the Persians, who dreamt of flying carpets, or the Chinese, who all unknowing celebrated birthdays and New Years with strung ladyfingers and high skyrockets, or some minute, some incredible second in the next hour. But we’re in at the end of a billion years trying, the end of something long and to us humans, anyway, honorable.’

  Three minutes…two minutes fifty-nine seconds…two minutes fiftyeight seconds…

  ‘But,’ said his wife, ‘I still don’t know why.’

  Two minutes, he thought. Ready? Ready? Ready? The far radio voice calling. Ready! Ready! Ready! The quick, faint replies from the humming rocket. Check! Check! Check!

  Tonight, he thought, even if we fail with this first, we’ll send a second and a third ship and move on out to all the planets and later, all the stars. We’ll just keep going until the big words like ‘immortal’ and ‘forever’ take on meaning. Big words, yes, that’s what we want. Continuity. Since our tongues first moved in our mouths we’ve asked, What does it all mean? No other question made sense, with death breathing down our necks. But just let us settle in on ten thousand worlds spinning around ten thousand alien suns and the question will fade away. Man will be endless and infinite, even as space is endless and infinite. Man will go on, as space goes on, forever. Individuals will die as always, but our history will reach as far as we’ll ever need to see into the future, and with the knowledge of our survival for all time to come, we’ll know security and thus the answer we’ve always searched for. Gifted with life, the least we can do is preserve and pass on the gift to infinity. That’s a goal worth shooting for.

  The wicker chairs whispered ever so softly on the grass.

  One minute.

  ‘One minute,’ he said aloud.

  ‘Oh!’ His wife moved suddenly to seize his hands. ‘I hope that Bob…’

  ‘He’ll be all right!’

  ‘Oh, God, take care…’

  Thirty seconds.

  ‘Watch now.’

  Fifteen, ten, five…

  ‘Watch!’

  Four, three, two, one.

  ‘There! There! Oh, there, there!’

  They both cried out. They both stood. The chairs toppled back, fell flat on the lawn. The man and his wife swayed, their hands struggled to find each other, grip, hold. They saw the brightening color in the sky and, ten seconds later, the great uprising comet burn the air, put out the stars, and rush away in fire flight to become another star in the returning profusion of the Milky Way. The man and wife held each other as if they had stumbled on the rim of an incredible cliff that faced an abyss so deep and dark there seemed no end to it. Staring up, they heard themselves sobbing and crying. Only after a long time were they able to speak.

  ‘It got away, it did, didn’t it?’

  ‘Yes…’

  ‘It’s all right, isn’t it?’

  ‘Yes…yes…’

  ‘It didn’t fall back…?’

  ‘No, no, it’s all right. Bob’s all right, it’s all right.’

  They stood away from each other at last.

  He touched his face with his hand and looked at his wet fingers. ‘I’ll be damned,’ he said. ‘I’ll be damned.’

  They waited another five and then ten minutes until the darkness in their heads, the retina, ached with a million specks of fiery salt. Then they had to close their eyes.

  ‘Well,’ she said, ‘now let’s go in.’

  He could not move. Only his hand reached a long way out by itself to find the lawn-mower handle. He saw what his hand had done and said. ‘There’s just a little more to do…’

  ‘But you can’t see.’

  ‘Well enough,’ he said. ‘I must finish this. Then we’ll sit on the porch awhile before we turn in.’

  He helped her put the chairs on the porch and sat her down and then walked back out to put his hands on the guide bar of the lawn mower. The lawn mower. A wheel in a wheel. A simple machine which you held in your hands, which you sent on ahead with a rush and a clatter while you walked behind with your quiet philosophy. Racket, followed by warm silence. Whirling wheel, then soft footfall of thought.

  I’m a billion years old, he told himself; I’m one minute old. I’m one inch, no, ten thousand miles, tall. I look down and can’t see my feet they’re so far off and gone away below.

  He moved the lawn mower. The grass showering up fell softly around him; he relished and savored it and felt that he was all mankind bathing at last in the fresh waters of the fountain of youth.

  Thus bathed, he remembered the song again about the wheels and the faith and the grace of God being way up there in the middle of the sky where that single star, among a million motionless stars, dared to move and keep on moving.

  Then he finished cutting the grass.

  Also By Ray Bradbury

  Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines

  The Anthem Sprinters

  Bradbury Speaks

  Bradbury Stories

  The Cat’s Pajamas

  Dandelion Wine

  Dark Carnival

  The Day it Rained Forever

  Death is a Lonely Business

  Driving Blind

  Fahrenheit 451

  Farewell Summer

  From the Dust Returned

  The Golden Apples of the Sun

  A Graveyard for Lunatics

  Green Shadows, White Whale

  The Halloween Tree

  I Sing the Body Electric!

  The Illustrated Man

  Lets All Kill Constance

  Long After Midnight

  The Machineries of Joy

  The Martian Chronicles

  A Medicine for Melancholy

  Moby Dick (screenplay)

  Now and Forever

  The October Country

  One More for the Road

  Quicker Than the Eye

  R is for Rocket

  Ray Bra
dbury Stories Volume 1

  Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 2

  S is for Space

  The Small Assassin

  Something Wicked This Way Comes

  A Sound of Thunder

  The Toynbee Convector

  When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

  Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Town

  The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit

  Yestermorrow

  Zen in the Art of Writing

 


 

  Ray Bradbury, The Stories of Ray Bradbury

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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