Solemnly each took his turn.
The children finished. The room was quiet.
Two straws remained. Bodoni felt his heart ache in him. “Now,” he whispered. “Maria.”
“The short straw,” she said.
“Ah,” sighed Lorenzo, half happy, half sad. “Mama goes to Mars.”
Bodoni tried to smile. “Congratulations. I will buy your ticket today.”
“You can leave next week,” he murmured.
She saw the sad eyes of her children upon her, with the smiles beneath their straight, large noses. She returned the straw slowly to her husband. “I cannot go to Mars.”
“But why not?”
“I will be busy with another child.”
She would not look at him. “It wouldn’t do for me to travel in my condition.”
He took her elbow. “Is this the truth?”
“Draw again. Start over.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” he said incredulously.
“I didn’t remember.”
“Maria, Maria,” he whispered, patting her face. He turned to the children. “Draw again.”
Paolo immediately drew the short straw.
“I go to Mars!” He danced wildly. “Thank you, Father!”
The other children edged away. “That’s swell, Paolo.”
Paolo stopped smiling to examine his parents and his brothers and sisters. “Ican go, can’t I?” he asked uncertainly.
“And you’lllike me when I come back?”
Paclo studied the precious broomstraw on his trembling hand and shook his head. He threw it away. “I forgot. School starts. I can’t go. Draw again.
But none would draw. A full sadness lay on them.
“None of us will go,” said Lorenzo.
“That’s best,” said Maria.
“Bramante was right,” said Bodoni.
With his breakfast curdled within him, Fiorello Bodoni worked in his junk yard, ripping metal, melting it, pouring out usable ingots. His equipment flaked apart; competition had kept him on the insane edge of poverty for twenty years. It was a very bad morning.
In the afternoon a man entered the junk yard and called up to Bodoni on his wrecking machine. “Hey, Bodoni, I got some metal for you!”
“What is it, Mr. Mathews?” asked Bodoni, listlessly.
“A rocket ship. What’s wrong? Don’t you want it?”
“Yes, yes!” He seized the man’s arm, and stopped, bewildered.
“Of course,” said Mathews, “it’s only a mockup. You know. When they plan a rocket they build a full-scale model first, of aluminum. You might make a small profit boiling her down. Let you have her for two thousand——”
Bodoni dropped his hand. “I haven’t the money.”
“Sorry. Thought I’d help you. Last time we talked you said how everyone outbid you on junk. Thought I’d slip this to you on the q.t. Well—”
“I need new equipment. I saved money for that.”
“If I bought your rocket, I wouldn’t even be able to melt it down. My aluminum furnace broke down last week——”
“I couldn’t possibly use the rocket if I bought it from you.”
Bodoni blinked and shut his eyes. He opened them and looked at Mr. Mathews. “But I am a great fool. I will take my money from the bank and give it to you.”
“But if you can’t melt the rocket down——”
“Deliver it,” said Bodoni.
“All right, if you say so. Tonight?”
“Tonight,” said Bodoni, “would be fine. Yes, I would like to have a rocket ship tonight.”
There was a moon. The rocket was white and big in the junk yard. It held the whiteness of the moon and the blueness of the stars. Bodoni looked at it and loved all of it. He wanted to pet it and lie against it, pressing it with his cheek, telling it all the secret wants of his heart.
He stared up at it. “You are all mine,” he said. “Even if you never move or spit fire, and just sit there and rust for fifty years, you are mine.”
The rocket smelled of time and distance. It was like walking into a clock. It was finished with Swiss delicacy. One might wear it on one’s watch fob. “I might even sleep here tonight,” Bodoni whispered excitedly.
He sat in the pilot’s seat.
He touched a lever.
He hummed in his shut mouth, his eyes closed.