The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

Clemens laughed. “It’s simply that your mind works on a primitive level. You can’t hold to things. You’ve got no imagination, Hitchcock old man. You’ve got to learn to hold on.”

“Why should I hold onto things I can’t use?” said Hitchcock, his eyes wide, still staring into space. “I’m practical. If Earth isn’t here for me to walk on, you want me to walk on a memory? Thathurts. Memories, as my father once said, are porcupines. To hell with them! Stay away from them. They make you unhappy. They ruin your work. They make you cry.”

“I’m walking on Earth right now,” said Clemens, squinting to himself, blowing smoke.

“You’re kicking porcupines. Later in the day you won’t be able to eat lunch, and you’ll wonder why,” said Hitchcock in a dead voice. “And it’ll be because you’ve got a footful of quills aching in you. To hell with it! If I can’t drink it, pinch it, punch it, or lie on it, then I say drop it in the sun. I’m dead to Earth. It’s dead to me. There’s no one in New York weeping for me tonight. Shove New York. There isn’t any season here; winter and summer are gone. So is spring, and autumn. It isn’t any particular night or morning; it’s space and space. The only thing right now is you and me and this rocket ship. And the only thing I’m positive of isme. That’s all of it.”

Clemens ignored this. “I’m putting a nickel in the phone slot right now,” he said, pantomiming it with a slow smile. “And calling my girl in Evanston. Hello, Barbara!”

The rocket sailed on through space.

The lunch bell rang at 1305 hours. The men ran by on soft rubber sneakers and sat at the cushioned tables.

Clemens wasn’t hungry.

“See, what did I tell you!” said Hitchcock. “You and your damned porcupines! Leave them alone, like I told you. Look at me, shoveling away food.” He said this with a mechanical, slow, and unhumorous voice. “Watch me.” He put a big piece of pie in his mouth and felt it with his tongue. He looked at the pie on his plate as if to see the texture. He moved it with his fork. He felt the fork handle. He mashed the lemon filling and watched it jet up between the tines. Then he touched a bottle of milk all over and poured out half a quart into a glass, listening to it. He looked at the milk as if to make it whiter. He drank the milk so swiftly that he couldn’t have tasted it. He had eaten his entire lunch in a few minutes, cramming it in feverishly, and now he looked around for more, but it was gone. He gazed out the window of the rocket, blankly. “Those aren’t real, either,” he said.

“What?” asked Clemens.

“The stars. Who’s ever touched one? I can see them, sure, but what’s the use of seeing a thing that’s a million or a billion miles away? Anything that far off isn’t worth bothering with.”

“Why did you come on this trip?” asked Clemens suddenly.

Hitchcock peered into his amazingly empty milk glass and clenched it tight, then relaxed his hand and clenched it again. “I don’t know.” He ran his tongue on the glass rim. “I just had to, is all. How do you know why you do anything in this life?”

“You liked the idea of space travel? Going places?”

“I don’t know. Yes. No. It wasn’t going places. It was beingbetween.” Hitchcock for the first time tried to focus his eyes upon something, but it was so nebulous and far off that his eyes couldn’t make the adjustment, though he worked his face and hands. “Mostly it was space. So much space. I liked the idea of nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, and a lot of nothing in between, and me in the middle of the nothing.”

“I never heard it put that way before.”

“Ijust put it that way; I hope you listened.”

Hitchcock took out his cigarettes and lit up and began to suck and blow the smoke, again and again.

Clemens said, “What sort of childhood did you have, Hitchcock?”

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