“What about—what was his name?–Parkhill, Sam Parkhill?”

“He opened a hot-dog stand.”

“It sounds just like him.”

“And went back to Earth the next week for the war.” Hathaway put his hand to his chest and sat down abruptly upon a boulder, “I’m sorry. The excitement. Seeing you again after all these years. Have to rest.” He felt his heart pound. He counted the beats. It was very bad.

“We’ve a doctor,” said Wilder. “Excuse me, Hathaway, I know you are one, but we’d better check you with our own—“ The doctor was summoned.

“I’ll be all right,” insisted Hathaway. “The waiting, the excitement.” He could hardly breathe. His lips were blue. “You know,” he said as the doctor placed a stethoscope to him, “it’s as if I kept alive all these years just for this day, and now you’re here to take me back to Earth, I’m satisfied and I can just lie down and quit.”

“Here.” The doctor handed him a yellow pellet. “We’d better let you rest.”

“Nonsense. Just let me sit a moment. It’s good to see all of you. Good to hear new voices again.”

“Is the pellet working?”

“Fine. Here we go!”

They walked on up the hill.

“Alice, come see who’s here!”

Hathaway frowned and bent into the hut. “Alice, did you hear?”

His wife appeared. A moment later the two daughters, tall and gracious, came out, followed by an even taller son.

“Alice, you remember Captain Wilder?”

She hesitated and looked at Hathaway as if for instructions and then smiled. “Of course, Captain Wilder!”

“I remember, we had dinner together the night before I took off for Jupiter, Mrs. Hathaway.”

She shook his hand vigorously. “My daughters, Marguerite and Susan. My son, John. You remember the captain, surely?”

Hands were shaken amid laughter and much talk.

Captain Wilder sniffed the air. “Is that gingerbread?”

“Will you have some?”

Everyone moved. Folding tables were hurried out while hot foods were rushed forth and plates and fine damask napkins and good silverware were laid. Captain Wilder stood looking first at Mrs. Hathaway and then at her son and her two tall, quiet-moving daughters. He looked into their faces as they darted past and he followed every move of their youthful hands and every expression of their wrinkleless faces. He sat upon a chair the son brought. “How old are you, John?”

The son replied, “Twenty-three.”

Wilder shifted his silverware clumsily. His face was suddenly pale. The man next to him whispered, “Captain Wilder, that can’t be right.”

The son moved away to bring more chairs.

“What’s that, Williamson?”

“I’m forty-three myself, Captain. I was in school the same time as young John Hathaway there, twenty years ago. He says he’s only twenty-three now; he only looks twenty-three. But that’s wrong. He should be forty-two, at least. What’s it mean, sir?”

“I don’t know.”

“You look kind of sick, sir.”

“I don’t feel well. The daughters, too, I saw them twenty years or so ago; they haven’t changed, not a wrinkle. Will you do me a favor? I want you to run an errand, Williamson. I’ll tell you where to go and what to check. Late in the breakfast, slip away. It should take you only ten minutes. The place isn’t far from here. I saw it from the rocket as we landed.”

“Here! What are you talking about so seriously?” Mrs. Hathaway ladled quick spoons of soup into their bowls. “Smile now; we’re all together, the trip’s over, and it’s like home!”

“Yes.” Captain Wilder laughed. “You certainly look very well and young Mrs. Hathaway!”

“Isn’t that like a man!”

He watched her drift away, drift with her pink face warm, smooth as an apple, unwrinkled and colorful. She chimed her laugh at every joke, she tossed salads neatly, never once pausing for breath. And the bony son and curved daughters were brilliantly witty, like their father, telling of the long years and their secret life, while their father nodded proudly to each.

Williamson slipped off down the hill.

“Where’s he going?” asked Hathaway.

“Checking the rocket,” said Wilder. “But, as I was saying, Hathaway, there’s nothing on Jupiter, nothing at all for men. That includes Saturn and Pluto.” Wilder talked mechanically, not hearing his words, thinking only of Williamson running down the hill and climbing back to tell what he had found.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray