Dad pushed a stud. The water boat sent a humming sound up into the sky. The water shook back and the boat nosed ahead, and the family cried, “Hurrah!”

Timothy sat in the back of the boat with Dad, his small fingers atop Dad’s hairy ones, watching the canal twist, leaving the crumbled place behind where they had landed in their small family rocket all the way from Earth. He remembered the night before they left Earth, the hustling and hurrying the rocket that Dad had found somewhere, somehow, and the talk of a vacation on Mars. A long way to go for a vacation, but Timothy said nothing because of his younger brothers. They came to Mars and now, first thing, or so they said, they were going fishing.

Dad had a funny look in his eyes as the boat went up-canal. A look that Timothy couldn’t figure. It was made of strong light and maybe a sort of relief. It made the deep wrinkles laugh instead of worry or cry.

So there went the cooling rocket, around a bend, gone.

“How far are we going?” Robert splashed his hand. It looked like a small crab jumping in the violet water.

Dad exhaled. “A million years.”

“Gee,” said Robert.

“Look, kids.” Mother pointed one soft long arm. “There’s a dead city.”

They looked with fervent anticipation, and the dead city lay dead for them alone, drowsing in a hot silence of summer made on Mars by a Martian weatherman.

And Dad looked as if he was pleased that it was dead.

It was a futile spread of pink rocks sleeping on a rise of sand, a few tumbled pillars, one lonely shrine, and then the sweep of sand again. Nothing else for miles. A white desert around the canal and a blue desert over it.

Just then a bird flew up. Like a stone thrown across a blue pond, hitting, falling deep, and vanishing.

Dad got a frightened look when he saw it. “I thought it was a rocket.”

Timothy looked at the deep ocean sky, trying to see Earth and the war and the ruined cities and the men killing each other since the day he was born. But he saw nothing. The war was as removed and far off as two flies battling to the death in the arch of a great high and silent cathedral. And just as senseless.

William Thomas wiped his forehead and felt the touch of his son’s hand on his arm, like a young tarantula, thrilled. He beamed at his son. “How goes it, Timmy?”

“Fine, Dad.”

Timothy hadn’t quite figured out what was ticking inside the vast adult mechanism beside him. The man with the immense hawk nose, sunburnt, peeling—and the hot blue eyes like agate marbles you play with after school in summer back on Earth, and the long thick columnar legs in the loose riding breeches.

“What are you looking at so hard, Dad?”

“I was looking for Earthian logic, common sense, good government, peace, and responsibility.”

“All that up there?”

“No. I didn’t find it. It’s not there any more. Maybe it’ll never be there again. Maybe we fooled ourselves that it was ever there.”


“See the fish,” said Dad, pointing.

There rose a soprano clamor from all three boys as they rocked the boat in arching their tender necks to see. They oohed and ahed. A silver ring fish floated by them, undulating, and closing like an iris, instantly, around food partides, to assimilate them.

Dad looked at it. His voice was deep and quiet.

“Just like war. War swims along, sees food, contracts. A moment later—Earth is gone.”

“William,” said Mom.

“Sorry,” said Dad.

They sat still and felt the canal water rush cool, swift, and glassy. The only sound was the motor hum, the glide of water, the sun expanding the air.

“When do we see the Martians?” cried Michael.

“Quite soon, perhaps,” said Father. “Maybe tonight.”

“Oh, but the Martians are a dead race now,” said Mom.

“No, they’re not. I’ll show you some Martians, all right,” Dad said presently.

Timothy scowled at that but said nothing. Everything was odd now. Vacations and fishing and looks between people.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray