In the black alleys, under the torches, the children sang:
“–_and when she got there, the cupboard was bare,
And so her poor dog had none!_”
“Children!” voices cried. “What was that rhyme? Where did you learn it?”
“We just thought of it, all of a sudden. It’s just words we don’t understand.”
Doors slammed. The streets were deserted. Above the blue hills a green star rose.
All over the night side of Mars lovers awoke to listen to their loved ones who lay humming in the darkness.
“What is that tune?”
And in a thousand villas, in the middle of the night, women awoke, screaming. They had to be soothed while the tears ran down their faces, “There, there. Sleep. What’s wrong? A dream?”
“Something terrible will happen in the morning.”
“Nothing can happen, all is well with us.”
A hysterical sobbing. “It is coming nearer and nearer and nearer!”
“Nothing can happen to us. What could? Sleep now. Sleep.”
It was quiet in the deep morning of Mars, as quiet as a cool and black well, with stars shining in the canal waters, and, breathing in every room, the children curled with their spiders in closed hands, the lovers arm in arm, the moons gone, the torches cold, the stone amphitheaters deserted.
The only sound, just before dawn, was a night watchman, far away down a lonely street, walking along in the darkness, humming a very strange song …
August 1999: THE EARTH MEN
Whoever was knocking at the door didn’t want to stop. Mrs. Ttt threw the door open. “Well?”
“You speak English!” The man standing there was astounded.
“I speak what I speak,” she said.
“It’s wonderful English!” The man was in uniform. There were three men with him, in a great hurry, all smiling, all dirty.
“What do you want?” demanded Mrs. Ttt.
“You are a Martian!” The man smiled. “The word is not familiar to you, certainly. It’s an Earth expression.” He nodded at his then. “We are from Earth. I’m Captain Williams. We’ve landed on Mars within the hour. Here we are, the Second Expedition! There was a First Expedition, but we don’t know what happened to it. But here we are, anyway. And you are the first Martian we’ve met!”
“Martian?” Her eyebrows went up.
“What I mean to say is, you live on the fourth planet from the sun. Correct?”
“Elementary,” she snapped, eyeing them.
“And we”—he pressed his chubby pink hand to his chest—“we are from Earth. Right, men?”
“Right, sir!” A chorus.
“This is the planet Tyrr,” she said, “if you want to use the proper name.”
“Tyrr, Tyrr.” The captain laughed exhaustedly. “What a fine name! But, my good woman, how is it you speak such perfect English?”
“I’m not speaking, I’m thinking,” she said. “Telepathy! Good day!” And she slammed the door.
A moment later there was that dreadful man knocking again.
She whipped the door open. “What now?” she wondered.
The man was still there, trying to smile, looking bewildered. He put out his hands. “I don’t think you _understand_–“
“What?” she snapped.
The man gazed at her in surprise. “We’re from Earth!”
“I haven’t time,” she said. “I’ve a lot of cooking today and there’s cleaning and sewing and all. You evidently wish to see Mr. Ttt; he’s upstairs in his study.”
“Yes,” said the Earth Man confusedly, blinking. “By all means, let us see Mr. Ttt.”
“He’s busy.” She slammed the door again.
This time the knock on the door was most impertinently loud.
“See here!” cried the man when the door was thrust open again. He jumped in as if to surprise her. “This is no way to treat visitors!”
“All over my clean floor!” she cried. “Mud! Get out! If you come in my house, wash your boots first.”
The man looked in dismay at his muddy boots, “This,” he said, “is no time for trivialities. I think,” he said, “we should be celebrating.” He looked at her for a long time, as if looking might make her understand.
“If you’ve made my crystal buns fall in the oven,” she exclaimed, “I’ll hit you with a piece of wood!” She peered into a little hot oven. She came back, red, steamy-faced. Her eyes were sharp yellow, her skin was soft brown, she was thin and quick as an insect. Her voice was metallic and sharp. “Wait here. I’ll see if I can let you have a moment with Mr. Ttt. What was your business?”