Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Ray Bradbury. The Smile.
Ray Bradbury
The Smile

     In the town square the queue had formed at five in the morning, while cocks
were  crowing  far  out in the rimed country and there were no fires. All about,
among  the  ruined  buildings, bits of mist had clung at first, but now with the
new  light of seven o’clock it was beginning to disperse. Down the road, in twos
and  threes,  more  people were gathering in for the day of marketing the day of
     The  small bay stood immediately behind two men who had been talking loudly
in  the  clear air, and all of the sounds they made seemed twice as loud because
of  the cold. The small boy stamped his feet and blew on his red, chapped hands,
and  looked  up  at the soiled gunny-sack clothing of the men, and down the long
line of men and women ahead.
     ‘Here, boy, what’re you doing out so early?’ said the man behind him.
     ‘Got my place in line, I have,’ said the boy.
     ‘Whyn’t you run off, give your place to someone who appreciates?’
     ‘Leave the boy alone,’ said the man ahead, suddenly turning.
     ‘I  was  joking.’  The  man  behind put his hand on the boy’s head. The boy
shook it away coldly. ‘I just thought it strange, a boy out of bed so early.’
     ‘This  boy’s  an  appreciator  of arts, I’ll have you know,’ said the boy’s
defender, a man named Grigsby, ‘What’s your name, lad?’
     ‘Tom here is going to spit clean and true, right, Tom?’
     ‘I sure am!’
     Laughter passed down the line.
     A  man  was selling cracked cups of hot coffee up ahead. Tom looked and saw
the  little  hot  fire  and  the  brew bubbling in a rusty pan. It wasn’t really
coffee.  It  was  made from some berry that grew on the meadowlands beyond town,
and  it sold a penny a cup to warm their stomachs; but not many were buying, not
many had the wealth.
     Tom  stared  ahead  to  the place where the line ended, beyond a bombed-out
stone wall.
     ‘They say she _smiles,’ _said the boy.
     ‘Aye, she does,’ said Grigsby.
     ‘They say she’s made of oil and canvas.’
     ‘True.  And  that’s  what  makes  me  think she’s not the original one. The
original, now, I’ve heard, was painted on wood a long time ago.’
     ‘They say she’s four centuries old.’
     ‘Maybe more. No one knows what year this is, to be sure.’
     ‘It’s 2061’
     ‘That’s what they say, boy, yes. Liars. Could be 3,000 or 5,000, for all we
know.  Things  were  in a fearful mess there for a while. All we got now is bits
and pieces.’
     They shuffled along the cold stones of the street.
     ‘How much longer before we see her?’ asked Tom, uneasily.
     ‘Just  a  few more minutes. They got her set up with four brass poles and a
velvet  rope to keep folks back. Now mind, no rocks, Tom; they don’t allow rocks
thrown at her.’
     ‘Yes, sir.’
     The  sun  rose higher in the heavens, bringing heat which made the men shed
their grimy coats and greasy hats.
     ‘Why’re  we  all  here in line?’ asked Tom, at last. ‘Why’re we all here to
     Grigsby  did  not  glance  clown  at  him,  but judged the sun. ‘Well, Tom,
there’s  lots of reasons.’2 He reached absently for a pocket that was long gone,
for  a  cigarette  that  wasn’t there. Tom had seen the gesture a million times.
‘Tom,  it  has to do with hate. Hate for everything in the Past. I ask you, Tom,
how  did  we get in such a state, cities all junk, roads like jigsaws from bombs
and half the cornfields glowing with radio-activity at night? Ain’t that a lousy
stew, I ask you?’ _
     ‘Yes, _sir, I guess so.’
     ‘It’s this way, Tom. You hate whatever it was that got you all knocked down
and ruined. That’s human nature. Unthinking, maybe, but human nature anyway.’
     ‘There’s hardly nobody or nothing we don’t hate,’ said Tom.
     ‘Right!  The  whole  blooming  caboodle3  of the people in Past who run the
world.  So  here  we  are  on  a Thursday morning with our guts plastered to our
spines,  cold,  live  in caves and such, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t nothing
except have our festivals, Tom, our festivals.’
     And  Tom thought of the festivals in the past few years. The year they tore
up  all  the  books  in  the  square  and burned them and everyone was drunk and
laughing.  And the festival of science a month ago when they dragged in the last
motor-car  and picked lots and each lucky man who won was allowed one smash of a
sledge-hammer at the car.
     'Do  I  remember  that,  Tom?  Do  I _remember? _Why, I got smash the front
window, you hear? My God, it made a lovely sound! _Crash!’ _
     Tom could hear the glass falling in glittering heaps.
     ‘And  Bill  Henderson, he got to bash the engine. Oh, he did a smart job of
it, with great efficiency. Wham!’
     But  the  best  of all, recalled Grigsby, there was the time they smashed a
factory that was still trying to turn out aeroplanes.
     ‘Lord,  did  we  feel good blowing it up!’ said Grigsby. ‘And then we found
that newspaper plant and the munitions depot. and exploded them together. Do you
understand, Tom?’
     Tom puzzled over it. ‘I guess.’
       It  was  high noon. Now the odors of the ruined city stank on the hot air
and things crawled among the tumbled buildings.
      ‘Won’t it ever come back, mister?’
     ‘What, civilization? Nobody wants it. Not me!’ ‘I could stand a bit of it,’
said the man behind another n. ‘There were a few spots of beauty in it.’
     ‘Don’t  worry  your  heads,’  shouted  Grigsby.  ‘There’s no room for that,
     ‘Ah,’  said  the  man  behind the man. ‘Someone’ll come along some day with
imagination and patch it up. Mark my words. someone with a heart.’
     ‘No,’ said Grigsby.
     ‘I  say  yes.  Someone  with a soul for pretty things. Might give us back a
kind of _limited _sort of civilization, the kind we could live in in peace.’
     ‘First thing you know there’s war!’
     ‘But maybe next time it’d be different,’
     At  last  they stood in the main square. A man on horseback was riding from
the  distance  into the town. He had a peace of paper in his hand. In the centre
of  the  square  was  the  roped-off  area.  Tom,  Grigsby,  and the others were
collecting  their  spittle and moving forward moving forward prepared and ready,
eyes wide. Tom felt his heart beating very strongly and excitedly, and the earth
was hot under his bare feet.
     ‘Here we go, Tom, let fly!’
     Four  policemen  stood at the corners of the roped area, four men with bits
of  yellow  twine  on  their wrists to show thcir authority over other men. They
were there to prevent rocks being hurled.
     ‘This  way,’ said Grigsby at the last moment, ‘everyone. feels he’s had his
chance at her, you see, Tom? Go on, now!’
     Tom stood before the painting and looked at it for a it for a long time.
     ‘Tom, spit!’
     His mouth was dry.
     ‘Get on, Tom! Move!’
     ‘But,’ said Tom, slowly, ‘she’s _beautiful.’ _
     ‘Here,  I’ll  spit  for  you!’  Grigsby  spat  and  the missile flew in the
sunlight.  The  woman  in the portrait smiled serenely, secretly, at Tom, and he
looked  back  at  her,  his  heart  beating, a kind of music in his ears. ‘She’s
beautiful,’ he said.
     The  line  fell  silent.  One  moment they were berating Tom for not moving
forward, now they were turning to the man on horseback.
     ‘What do they call it, sir?’ asked Tom, quietly.
     ‘The picture? _'Mona Lisa',_ Tom, I think. Yes, the _'Mona Lisa'. _
     ‘I  have an announcement,’ said the man on horseback. ‘The authorities have
decreed  that  as  of  high noon today tin portrait in the square is to be given
over  into  the  hands  of  the  populace  there, so they may participate in the
destruction of —‘
     Tom  hadn’t  even  time  to  scream before the crowd bore him, shouting and
pummelling  about,  stampeding  toward  the  portrait. There was a sharp ripping
sound.  The police ran to escape. The crowd was in full cry, their hands like so
man,  hungry  birds pecking away at the portrait. Tom felt himself thrust almost
through  the  broken  thing.  Reaching  out in blind imitation of the others, he
snatched  a  scrap  of oily canvas, yanked, felt the canvas give, then fell, was
kicked,  sent  rolling  to  the outer rim of the mob. Bloody, his clothing torn,
watched  old  women  chew pieces of canvas, men break the frame, kick the ragged
cloth, and rip it into confetti.
     Only  Tom  stood  apart, silent in the moving square. He looked down at his
hand. It clutched the piece of canvas close his chest, hidden.
     ‘Hey there, Tom!’ cried Grigsby.
     Without a word, sobbing, Tom ran. He ran out and the down bomb-pitted road,
into  a  field,  across  a  shallow  stream, not looking back, his hand clenched
tightly, tucked under his coat.
     At  sunset  he  reached  the  small  village and passed on through. By nine
o’clock he came to the ruined farm dwelling. Around back, in the part that still
remained  upright,  he  heard  the  sounds of sleeping, the family — his mother,
father,  and  brother.  He slipped quickly, silently, through the small door and
lay down, panting.
     ‘Tom?’ called his mother in the dark.
     ‘Where’ve you been?’ snapped his father. ‘I’ll beat you the morning.’
     Someone  kicked  him.  His  brother, who had been left behind to work their
little patch of ground.
     ‘Go to sleep,’ cried his mother, faintly.
     Another kick.
     Tom  lay  getting  his  breath.  All  was quiet. His hand was pushed to his
chest, tight, tight. He lay for half an hour this way, eyes closed.
     Then  he  felt  something, and it was a cold white light. Th moon rose very
high and the little square of light crept slowly over Tom’s body. Then, and only
then,  did his hand relax. Slowly, carefully, listening to those who slept about
him,  Tom  drew  his  hand  forth. He hesitated, sucked in his breath, and then,
waiting, opened his hand and uncrumpled the fragment of painted canvas.
     All the world was asleep in the moonlight.
     And there on his hand was the Smile.
     He  looked  at  it  in the white illumination from the midnight sky. And he
thought, over to himself, quietly, _the Smile, the lovely Smile_.
     An  hour later he could still see it, even after he had folded it carefully
and  hidden it. He shut his eyes and the Smile was there in the darkness. And it
was still there, warm and gentle, when he went to sleep and the world was silent
and the moon sailed up and then down the cold sky towards morning.


  • 1
  • 1