“Well, well, Bodoni.”
On a milk crate, by the silent river, sat an old man who also watched the rockets through the midnight hush.
“Oh, it’s you, Bramante!”
“Do you come out every night, Bodoni?”
“Only for the air.”
“So? I prefer the rockets myself,” said old Bramante. “I was a boy when they started. Eighty years ago, and I’ve never been on one yet.”
“I will ride up in one someday,” said Bodoni.
“Fool!” cried Bramante. “You’ll never go. This is a rich man’s world.” He shook his gray head, remembering. “When I was young they wrote it in fiery letters: THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE! Science, Comfort, and New Things for All! Ha! Eighty years. The Future becomes Now! Do we fly rockets? No! We live in shacks like our ancestors before us.”
“Perhaps mysons ——” said Bodoni.
“No, northeir sons!” the old man shouted. “It’s the rich who have dreams and rockets!”
Bodoni hesitated. “Old man, I’ve saved three thousand dollars. It took me six years to save it. For my business, to invest in machinery. But every night for a month now I’ve been awake. I hear the rockets. I think. And tonight I’ve made up my mind. One of us will fly to Mars!” His eyes were shining and dark.
“Idiot,” snapped Bramante. “How will you choose? Who will go? If you go, your wife will hate you, for you will be just a bit nearer God, in space. When you tell your amazing trip to her, over the years, won’t bitterness gnaw at her?”
“Yes! And your children? Will their lives be filled with the memory of Papa, who flew to Mars while they stayed here? What a senseless task you will set your boys. They will think of the rocket all their lives. They will lie awake. They will be sick with wanting it. Just as you are sick now. They will want to die if they cannot go. Don’t set that goal, I warn you. Let them be content with being poor. Turn their eyes down to their hands and to your junk yard, not up to the stars.”
“Suppose your wife went? How would you feel, knowing she hadseen and you had not? She would become holy. You would think of throwing her in the river. No, Bodoni, buy a new wrecking machine, which you need, and pull your dreams apart with it, and smash them to pieces.”
The old man subsided, gazing at the river in which, drowned, images of rockets burned down the sky.
“Good night,” said Bodoni.
“Sleep well,” said the other.
When the toast jumped from its silver box, Bodoni almost screamed. The night had been sleepless. Among his nervous children, beside his mountainous wife, Bodoni had twisted and stared at nothing. Bramante was right. Better to invest the money. Why save it when only one of the family could ride the rocket, while the others remained to melt in frustration?
“Fiorello, eat your toast,” said his wife, Maria.
“My throat is shriveled,” said Bodoni.
The children rushed in, the three boys fighting over a toy rocket, the two girls carrying dolls which duplicated the inhabitants of Mars, Venus, and Neptune, green mannequins with three yellow eyes and twelvc fingers.
“I saw the Venus rocket!” cried Paolo.
“It took off,whoosh!” hissed Antonello.
“Children!” shouted Bodoni, hands to his ears. They stared at him. He seldom shouted. Bodoni arose. “Listen, all of you,” he said. “I have enough money to take one of us on the Mars rocket.”
“You understand?” he asked. “Onlyone of us. Who?”
“Me, me, me!” cried the children.
“You,” said Maria.
“You,” said Bodoni to her. They all fell silent.
The children reconsidered. “Let Lorenzo go—he’s oldest.”
“Let Miriamne go—she’s a girl!”
“Think what you would see,” said Bodoni’s wife to him. But her eyes were strange. Her voice shook. “The meteors, like fish. The universe. The Moon. Someone should go who could tell it well on returning. You have a way with words.”
“Nonsense. So have you,” he objected.
“Here,” said Bodoni unhappily. From a broom he broke straws of various lengths. “The short straw wins.” He held out his tight fist. “Choose.”