Ray Bradbury In Autumn



Under the dusky red Martian sun a hazy glow seemed to make the rhythm of time itself slow down. The elderly couple clinked their chilled martini glasses, looked at the blue water rippling in their backyard pool, sat up straighter, scraping patio chairs on bleached white cement, and took their first sip. He was quiet for a moment. And because they could read each other’s quiet like a morning newspaper, she said, “The connection thing, right?”

He nodded.

The Martian wind blew tenderly warm off the endless red prairies onto the cool tree-lined, paved streets of the green-lawned and sidewalked settlement. The first of it’s kind. Now replicated like giant stepping-stones across this corner of the planet. When the first ships had arrived from earth, all those years ago, the settlements were hodgepodge mixes of architecture awkwardly blending styles from the entire American landscape circa 1930-1960. What the initial planners hadn’t taken into account was that a house in Chicago looked different from one in LA, New York, or Miami. So Clarissa and Jason lived in an orange pastel one-story home perfectly suited for small town south Florida that had somehow been plunked down in the middle of a northern Illinois forest next to a deep dark scary ravine and a burbling clear stream. All of it man-made. All of it made fast. So lives could begin again. Serene and lush, but still somehow off.

There really was no way at all to forget you were now on another planet.

Every now and then one of them slipped and said the word “home.” But they didn’t use it often, because they weren’t sure what it really meant.

“Hey!” She laughed that same soul-lifting laugh he’d been listening to for over 40 years. “At least we can drink again and it doesn’t matter because we’re old!”

“And we really don’t even know how old either. How cool is that?”

The first set of ships had in fact been pumped full of an unnamed compound that did effect memory. To leave one’s planet without the deepest of emotional scars did take planning. One really need not remember everything.

In the latter weeks of the last great war there was so very much that needed to be forgotten. That’s when the migration to Mars had begun.

It was with the Earth’s last great gasp that Clarissa and Jason had come together. Seeing each other in the crowded hold of the ship. Strangers, who without even speaking felt that there had been some other time when they belonged together. Even if they couldn’t remember when. Quiet at first, while they held back the pain of leaving. The rippling disasters across the world that had all seemed related by a bloody red thread of terror.

His thoughts mired in the killing fields of Syria. The atrocities so unspeakable that even the distance of television could not blunt the pain.

Her thoughts with the attack on the fresh water supplies of the United States. The drying up of drinkable water that prompted all restrictions on any kind of firearms to vanish because, as the pundits preached, “People got a right to protect their drinking water.”

Both of them still carrying images of the electrical wars when the power grids of nations sizzled to black, quiet and forever gone in puffs of coughing grey smoke. And then there was the day when the flowers were gone. Somewhere, something they used to call a “folk song” connected to that memory blip. But he wasn’t sure how or why. No one person could remember all of it. So it was to Mars they went to try again. Because that’s what humans do.

The ships carried health care for all. Medicine unknown to most of those in the naked dawn. Medicine that had been kept in secret storage for the 1%, should they ever need it. Mars was a cakewalk for this crew. No one even knew how long the life span was up here. Age became an afterthought.

That health-for-all meant that Clarissa and Jason could make love with their old bodies and somehow still feel the slippery, hard, wet, firm rhythm of strength in their blending, wrapped and exploding like a cascading tower of a joyful  sun. Love that had no age. Only a rhythm.

Their strange little orange pastel palace was plunked down in the settlement of Bradbury Village. An irony that made them laugh most every day. The village had a town square with a clock almost set to noon. A soda shop. A Mayor named Clem. And a 4th of July marching band. Friendly competition over whose lawn looked the best.

Bradbury Village did not have everything. That’s what prompted one of them to say to ask the other, “That connection thing.”

Sometimes they’d be able to tell what was missing. One of them could dream up an answer to just exactly what it was they missed about the earth. Of course there were no oceans on Mars. The rain came once every seven years. And buried deep inside their secret hearts was a memory of a city that had its own stop and start rhythm. Its parade of characters. Its snow-kissed January morning when the wind would howl and the feeling would be something they called “cold.” These were times they knew where that connection was broken.

But there were other times when they couldn’t figure it out. Didn’t know what was missing. The feeling was one of a loss they couldn’t put their finger on. Those times were the toughest, but those were also the times when one of them saved the other. One of them connected the other to what had vanished in the Martian breeze.

They had seen so much danger in those last days on earth, danger that overstepped every kind of boundary. Shattered all their precious crystal beliefs.  They were over danger now; so much so that when they got to Bradbury Village, they created their own place of danger. They made the dark green ravine. It was a place where they could play with danger. So they’d never have to be so scared again.

The ravine was a shadow place of tattooed October carnival barkers, circus clown shadows, and Mr. Electro, Ray Bradbury’s knight from the future who would place his sword on the shoulder of all the memories of children and shout to the Martian sun, “You will live forever!”

In Bradbury Village they created their danger as a way to keep themselves safe.

Those first settlers built their settlements in the image of what they called back on earth, “the good old days.” A manufactured world dreamed into paved roads and white picket fences by the politicians of a certain stripe in the second decade of the 21st century. A place that only really existed in dreams. But as Mars in so many ways was a dream, why not?

On Mars they would say “the good old days,” but no one would really know why.

On earth he had been a newspaperman. The Chicago Sun Times, The Miami Herald, Albuquerque, Denver and Portland and finally the Times Picayune.  All of them, of course, long gone.

She had painted. Actually sold her art. Landscapes with colors that would have made O’Keeffe put down her brush and applaud. But there wasn’t a lot to paint beyond their manufactured little stepping stone villages. The dry Martian landscape streaked only with the red and grey dust of other worlds that had crumbled.

So there they sat there with their martinis looking out at nothing. She repeated, “That connection thing,” and he answered.

“My love, we are okay. We do have everything we really need here. And it’s not like we have to go to work every morning. We can spend our day in the soda shop on the town square. We do have everything we need. I know we’re connected, to those who are left behind and those on other worlds. In fact with the earth’s core cooling, someday maybe we’ll even go back. We do have time my love. We do have time.”

To which she answered, “Okay. Nice speech, hot shot. But we’re missing something. We’ve never talked about it. Not even once. Maybe we didn’t even know how much we missed it.”

He sat up straight, swung his feet to the cement, got up and walked over to stand right in front of her. The joyful electricity of what it meant to be close, still as alive as it had always been. In both this world and the last. And he looked at her, saying nothing, but with eyes that she knew were posing the question, “Okay, now what are you talking about?”

Then, saying nothing, reaching behind herself, looking up at those eyes she’d known forever, she handed him a rolled up tube of paper.

And as both their hands touched this paper, something cold and dead came alive again.

“My God. It’s a newspaper! It is a newspaper!”

“Delivered daily now. The ship will bring it in. Right before breakfast,” she smiled like a sun from long ago.

“With our coffee!” He ran his hands over the crinkled newsprint. As if magic was somehow now on paper. Paper where the pages turned at just the right speed. Paper and ink and print.

And right then and there, Bradbury Village, Planet Mars, took one more giant step towards connecting distant stars.

One more giant step towards being home.


*in memory of Ray Bradbury, August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012…on Earth.


3 Responses to “Ray Bradbury In Autumn”

  1. toritto Says:

    Oh Roger – I so remember reading the Chronicles in the fifties and watching “Space Cadet” on our little black and white T. V. When we landed on the moon in ’69 I knew I would live to see the day a new Magellan would set a foot on Mars. I would see the great ship sail the solar wind to that distant place.

    It hasn’t worked out that way. I won’t see it…but I still can get the paper each morning.

    Beautiful tribute and nicely done as always. Regards.

  2. David Ramesh Says:

    …and as I watched, the Illustrated Man turned in his deep sleep, and I noticed one last hazy red tattoo that I had somehow missed, perhaps because it was across his eyelids, visible now only because the eyes of the great man were finally, unblinkingly, closed….

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