In the doorway, Mom, pink, plump, and bright. Behind her, pepper-gray, Dad, his pipe in his hand.
He ran up the steps like a child to meet them.
It was a fine long afternoon. They finished a late lunch and they sat in the parlor and he told them all about his rocket and they nodded and smiled upon him and Mother was just the same and Dad bit the end off a cigar and lighted it thoughtfully in his old fashion. There was a big turkey dinner at night and time flowing on. When the drumsticks were sucked clean and lay brittle upon the plates, the captain leaned back and exhaled his deep satisfaction, Night was in all the trees and coloring the sky, and the lamps were halos of pink light in the gentle house. From all the other houses down the street came sounds of music, pianos playing, doors slammng.
Mom put a record on the victrola, and she and Captain John Black had a dance. She was wearing the same perfume he remembered from the summer when she and Dad had been killed in the train accident. She was very real in his arms as they danced lightly to the music. “It’s not every day,” she said, “you get a second chance to live.”
“I’ll wake in the morning,” said the captain. “And I’ll be in my rocket, in space, and all this will be gone.”
“No, don’t think that,” she cried softly. “Don’t question. God’s good to us. Let’s be happy.”
The record ended in a circular hissing.
“You’re tired, Son.” Dad pointed with his pipe. “Your old bedroom’s waiting for you, brass bed and all.”
“But I should report my men in.”
“Why? Well, I don’t know. No reason, I guess. No, none at all. They’re all eating or in bed. A good night’s sleep won’t hurt them.”
“Good night, Son.” Mom kissed his cheek. “It’s good to have you home.”
“It’s good to be home.”
He left the land of cigar smoke and perfume and books and gentle light and ascended the stairs, talking, talking with Edward. Edward pushed a door open, and there was the yellow brass bed and the old semaphore banners from college and a very musty raccoon coat which he stroked with muted affection. “It’s too much,” said the captain. “I’m numb and I’m tired. Too much has happened today. I feel as if I’d been out in a pounding rain for forty-eight hours without an umbrella or a coat. I’m soaked to the skin with emotion.”
Edward slapped wide the snowy linens and flounced the pillows. He slid the window up and let the night-blooming jasmine float in. There was moonlight and the sound of distant dancing and whispering.
“So this is Mars,” said the captain, undressing.
“This is it.” Edward undressed in idle, leisurely moves, drawing his shirt off over his head, revealing golden shoulders and the good muscular neck.
The lights were out; they were in bed, side by side, as in the days how many decades ago? The captain lolled and was flourished by the scent of jasmine pushing the lace curtains out upon the dark air of the room. Among the trees, upon a lawn, someone had cranked up a portable phonograph and now it was playing softly, “Always.”
The thought of Marilyn came to his mind.
“Is Marilyn here?”
His brother, lying straight out in the moonlight from the window, waited and then said, “Yes. She’s out of town. But she’ll be here in the morning.”
The captain shut his eyes. “I want to see Marilyn very much.”
The room was square and quiet except for their breathing.
“Good night, Ed.”
A pause. “Good night, John.”
He lay peacefully, letting his thoughts float. For the first time the stress of the day was moved aside; he could think logically now, It had all been emotion. The bands playing, the familiar faces. But now …
How? he wondered. How was all this made? And why? For what purpose? Out of the goodness of some divine intervention? Was God, then, really that thoughtful of his children? How and why and what for?