“You have gone mad,” she said.
“Where is the key to the closet?”
“I have it here.”
He put out his hand. “Give it to me.”
She handed it to him. “You will kill them.”
“Yes, you will. Ifeel it.”
He stood before her. “You won’t come along?”
“I’ll stay here,” she said.
“You will understand; you will see then,” he said, and smiled. He unlocked the closet. “Come, children. Follow your father.”
“Good-by, good-by, Mama!”
She stayed in the kitchen window, looking out at them, very straight and silent.
At the door of the rocket the father said, “Children, we will be gone a week. You must come back to school, and I to my business.” He took each of their hands in turn. “Listen. This rocket is very old and will fly onlyone more journey. It will not fly again. This will be the one trip of your life. Keep your eyes wide.”
“Listen, keep your ears clean. Smell the smells of a rocket.Feel. Remember. So when you return you will talk of it all the rest of your lives.”
The ship was quiet as a stopped clock. The airlock hissed shut behind them. He strapped them all, like tiny mummies, into rubber hammocks. “Ready?” he called.
“Ready!” all replied.
“Take-off!” He jerked ten switches. The rocket thundered and leaped. The children danced in their hammocks, screaming.
“Here comes the Moon!”
The moon dreamed by. Meteors broke into fireworks. Time flowed away in a serpentine of gas. The children shouted. Released from their hammocks, hours later, they peered from the ports. “There’s Earth!” “There’s Mars!”
The rocket dropped pink petals of fire while the hour dials spun; the child eyes dropped shut. At last they hung like drunken moths in their cocoon hammocks.
“Good,” whispered Bodoni, alone.
He tiptoed from the control room to stand for a long moment, fearful, at the airlock door.
He pressed a button. The airlock door swung wide. He stepped out. Into space? Into inky tides of meteor and gaseous torch? Into swift mileages and infinite dimensions?
No. Bodoni smiled.
All about the quivering rocket lay the junk yard.
Rusting, unchanged, there stood the padlocked junk-yard gate, the little silent house by the river, the kitchen window lighted, and the river going down to the same sea. And in the center of the junk yard, manufacturing a magic dream, lay the quivering, purring rocket. Shaking and roaring, bouncing the netted children like flies in a web.
Maria stood in the kitchen window.
He waved to her and smiled.
He could not see if she waved or not. A small wave, perhaps. A small smile.
The sun was rising.
Bodoni withdrew hastily into the rocket. Silence. All still slept. He breathed easily. Tying himself into a hammock, he closed his eyes. To himself he prayed, Oh, let nothing happen to the illusion in the next six days. Let all of space come and go, and red Mars come up under our ship, and the moons of Mars, and let there be no flaws in the color film. Let there be three dimensions; let nothing go wrong with the hidden mirrors and screens that mold the fine illusion. Let time pass without crisis.
Red Mars floated near the rocket.
“Papa!” The children thrashed to be free.
Bodoni looked and saw red Mars and it was good and there was no flaw in it and he was very happy.
At sunset on the seventh day the rocket stopped shuddering.
“We are home,” said Bodoni.
They walked across the junk yard from the open door of the rocket, their blood singing, their faces glowing.
“I have ham and eggs for all of you,” said Maria, at the kitchen door.
“Mama, Mama, you should have come, to see it, to see Mars, Mama, and meteors, and everything!”
“Yes,” she said.
At bedtime the children gathered before Bodoni. “We want to thank you, Papa.”
“It was nothing.”
“We will remember it for always, Papa. We will never forget.”
Very late in the night Bodoni opened his eyes. He sensed that his wife was lying beside him, watching him. She did not move for a very long time, and then suddenly she kissed his cheeks and his forehead. “What’s this?” he cried.