In the morning the sun was very hot.

Mr. LaFarge opened the door into the living room and glanced all about, quickly.

The hearthrugs were empty.

LaFarge sighed. “I’m getting old,” he said.

He went out to walk to the canal to fetch a bucket of clear water to wash in. At the front door he almost knocked young Tom down carrying in a bucket already filled to the brim. “Good morning, Father!”

“Morning Tom.” The old man fell aside. The young boy, barefooted, hurried across the room, set the bucket down, and turned, smiling. “It’s a fine day!”

“Yes, it is,” said the old man incredulously. The boy acted as if nothing was unusual. He began to wash his face with the water.

The old man moved forward. “Tom, how did you get here? You’re alive?”

“Shouldn’t I be?” The boy glanced up.

“But, Tom, Green Lawn Park, every Sunday, the flowers and … ” LaFarge had to sit down. The boy came and stood before him and took his hand. The old man felt of the fingers, warm and firm. “You’re really here, it’s not a dream?”

“You do want me to be here, don’t you?” The boy seemed worried.

“Yes, yes, Tom!”

“Then why ask questions? Accept me!”

“But your mother; the shock … ”

“Don’t worry about her. During the night I sang to both of you, and you’ll accept me more because of it, especially her. I know what the shock is. Wait till she comes, you’ll see.” He laughed, shaking his head of coppery, curled hair. His eyes were very blue and clear.

“Good morning, Lafe, Tom.” Mother came from the bedroom, putting her hair up into a bun. “Isn’t it a fine day?”

Tom turned to laugh in his father’s face. “You see?”

They ate a very good lunch, all three of them, in the shade behind the house. Mrs. LaFarge had found an old bottle of sunflower wine she had put away, and they all had a drink of that. Mr. LaFarge had never seen his wife’s face so bright. If there was any doubt in her mind about Tom, she didn’t voice it. It was completely natural thing to her. And it was also becoming natural to LaFarge himself.

While Mother cleared the dishes LaFarge leaned toward his son and said confidentially, “How old are you now, Son?”

“Don’t you know, Father? Fourteen, of course.”

“Who are you, really? You can’t be Tom, but you are someone. Who?”

“Don’t.” Startled, the boy put his hands to his face.

“You can tell me,” said the old man. “I’ll understand. You’re a Martian, aren’t you? I’ve heard tales of the Martians; nothing definite. Stories about how rare Martians are and when they come among us they come as Earth Men. There’s something about you—you’re Tom and yet you’re not.”

“Why can’t you accept me and stop talking?” cried the boy. His hands completely shielded his face. “Don’t doubt, please don’t doubt me!” He turned and ran from the table.

“Tom, come back!”

But the boy ran off along the canal toward the distant town.

“Where’s Tom going?” asked Anna, returning for more dishes. She looked at her husband’s face. “Did you say something to bother him?”

“Anna,” he said, taking her hand. “Anna, do you remember anything about Green Lawn Park, a market, and Tom having pneumonia?”

“What are you talking about?” She laughed.

“Never mind,” he said quietly.

In the distance the dust drifted down after Tom had run along the canal rim.

At five in the afternoon, with the sunset, Tom returned. He looked doubtfully at his father. “Are you going to ask me anything?” he wanted to know.

“No questions,” said LaFarge.

The boy smiled his white smile. “Swell.”

“Where’ve you been?”

“Near the town. I almost didn’t come back. I was almost”—the boy sought for a word—“trapped.”

“How do you mean, ‘trapped’?”

“I passed a small tin house by the canal and I was almost made so I couldn’t come back here ever again to see you. I don’t know how to explain it to you, there’s no way, I can’t tell you, even I don’t know; it’s strange, I don’t want to talk about it.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray