“Sheila,” he said at last, tears running down his cheeks now.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“I love you,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “But it doesn’t help.”

“Yes, it does. Listen.”

She waited, hallway up to her room.

He rubbed his hand over his face as if trying to massage some truth out of it. His hand was almost frantic, searching for something hidden around his mouth or near his eyes.

Then it almost burst from him. “Sheila!”

“I’m supposed to go to my room,” she said.


“What, then?”

His face began to relax, his eyes to fix on a solution, as his hand rested on the banister leading up to where she stood with her back turned.

“If what you say is true-“

“It is,” she murmured. “Every cell, every pore, every eyelash. Nine years-“

“Yes, yes, I know, yes. But listen.”

He swallowed hard and that helped him digest the solution which he now spoke very weakly, then quietly, and then with a kind of growing certainty.

“If what you say happened-“

“It did,” she murmured, head down.

“Well, then,” he said slowly, and then, “It happened to me, too.”

“What?” Her head lifted a trifle.

“It doesn’t just happen to one person, right? It happens to all people, everyone in the world. And if that’s true, well, my body has been changing along with yours during all the last nine years. Every follicle, every fingernail, all the dermis and epidermis or whatever. I never noticed. But it must have.”

Her head was up now and her back was not slumped. He hurried on.

“And if that’s true, good Lord, then I’m new, too. The old Tom, Thomas, Tommy, Tomasino is left behind back there with the shed snakeskin.”

Her eyes opened and she listened and he finished. “So we’re both brand-new. You’re the new, beautiful woman I’ve been thinking about finding and loving in the last year. And I’m that man you were heading out to search for. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that true?”

There was the merest hesitation and then she gave the smallest, almost imperceptible nod.

“Mercy,” he called gently.

“That’s not my name,” she said.

“It is now. New woman, new body, new name. So I picked one for you. Mercy?”

After a moment she said, “What does that make you?”

“Let me think.” He chewed his lip and smiled. “How about Frank? Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.”

“Frank,” she murmured. “Frank and Mercy. Mercy and Frank.”

“It doesn’t exactly ring, but it’ll do. Mercy?”


“Will you marry me?”


“I said, will you marry me. Today. An hour from now. Noon?”

She turned at last to look down at him with a face all freshly tanned and washed.

“Oh, yes,” she said.

“And we’ll run away and be maniacs again, for a little while

“No,” she said, “here is fine. Here is wonderful.”

“Come down, then,” he said, holding his hand up to her. “We have another nine years before another change. Come down and finish your wedding breakfast. Mercy?”

She came down the steps and took his hand and smiled.

“Where’s the champagne?” she said.


Looking back now, I can’t remember a time when Bug wasn’t dancing. Bug is short for jitterbug and, of course, those were the days in the late thirties, our final days in high school and our first days out in the vast world looking for work that didn’t exist when jitterbugging was all the rage. And I can remember Bug (his real name was Bert Bagley, which shortens to Bug nicely), during a jazz-band blast at our final aud-call for our high school senior class, suddenly leaping up to dance with an invisible partner in the middle of the front aisle of the auditorium. That brought the house down. You never heard such a roar or such applause. The bandleader, stricken with Bug’s oblivious joy, gave an encore and Bug did the same and we all exploded. After that the band played “Thanks for the Memory” and we all sang it, with tears pouring down our cheeks. Nobody in all the years after could forget: Bug dancing in the aisle, eyes shut, hands out to grasp his invisible girlfriend, his legs not connected to his body, just his heart, all over the place. When it was over, nobody, not even the band, wanted to leave. We just stood there in the world Bug had made, hating to go out into that other world that was waiting for us.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85

Categories: Bradbury, Ray