Read Long After Midnight Online

Authors: Ray Bradbury

Long After Midnight (41 page)

 
          
"What's
so funny, Father?"

 
          
"I
don't know but it is, it is, funny, funny!"

 
          
And
here he burst into such paroxysms of laughter as made him cry and such
floodings
of tears as made him laugh again until all
mingled in a grand
outrush
and uproar. The church
slammed back echoes of cleansing laughter. In the midst of it all he knew that,
telling all this to Bishop Kelley, his confessor, tomorrow he would be let off
easy. A church is washed well and good and fine not only by the tears of sorrow
but by the clean fresh-cut
meadowbrooms
of that
self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness which God gave only to man and called it
laughter.

 
          
It
took a long while for their mutual shouts to subside, for now the young man had
given up weeping and taken on hilarity, too, and the church rocked with the
sounds of two men who one minute had done a sad thing and now did a happy one.
The sniffle was gone. Joy banged the walls like wild birds flying to be free.

 
          
At
last, the sounds weakened. The two men sat, wiping their faces, unseen to each
other.

 
          
Then,
as if the world knew there must be a shift of mood and scene, a wind blew in
the church doors far away. Leaves drifted from trees and fell into the aisles.
A smell of autumn filled the dusky air. Summer was truly over.

 
          
Father
Malley
looked beyond to that door and the wind and
the leaves moving off and gone, and suddenly, as in spring, wanted to go with
them. His blood demanded a way out, but there was no way.

 
          
"I'm
leaving, Father."

 
          
The
old priest sat up.

 
          
"For
the time being, you mean."

 
          
"No,
I'm going away, Father. This is my last time with you."

 
          
You
can't do that! thought the priest, and almost said it.

 
          
But
instead he said, as calmly as he could:

 
          
"Where
are you off to, son?"

 
          
"Oh,
around the world, Father. Many places. I was always afraid, before. I never
went anywhere. But now, with my weight gone, I'm heading out. A new job and so
many places to be."

 
          
"How
long will you be gone, lad?"

 
          
"A
year, five years, ten. Will you be here ten years from now, Father.

 
          
"God
willing."

 
          
"Well,
somewhere along the way I'll be in Rome and buy something small but have it
blessed by the Pope and when I come back I'll bring it here and look you
up."

 
          
"Will
you do that?"

 
          
"I
will. Do you forgive me, Father?"

 
          
"For
what?"

 
          
"For
everything."

 
          
"We
have forgiven each other, dear boy, which is the finest thing that men can
do."

 
          
There
was the merest stir of feet from the other side.

 
          
"I'm
going now, Father. Is it true that good-bye means God Be With You?"

 
          
"That's
what it means."

 
          
"Well
then, oh truly, good-bye, Father."

 
          
"And
good-bye in all its original meaning to you, lad."

 
          
And
the booth next to his elbow was suddenly empty.

 
          
And
the young man gone.

 
          
Many
years later, when Father
Malley
was a very old man
indeed and full of sleep, a final thing happened to fill out his life. Late one
afternoon, dozing in the confessional, listening to rain fall out beyond the
church, he smelled a strange and familiar smell and opened his eyes.

 
          
Gently,
from the other side of the grille, the faintest odor of chocolate seeped
through.

 
          
The
confessional creaked. On the other side, someone was trying to find words.

 
          
The
old priest leaned forward, his heart beating quickly, wild with amazement and
surprise. "Yes?" he urged.

 
          
"Thank
you," said a whisper, at last.

 
          
"Beg
pardon . . . ?"

 
          
"A
long time ago," said the whisper. "You helped. Been long away. In
town only for today. Saw the church. Thanks. That's all. Your gift is in the
poor-box. Thanks."

 
          
Feet
ran swiftly.

 
          
The
priest, for the first time in his life, leaped from the confessional.

 
          
"Wait!"

 
          
But
the man, unseen, was gone. Short or tall, fat or thin, there was no telling.
The church was empty.

 
          
At
the poor-box, in the dusk, he hesitated, then reached in. There he found a
large eighty-nine-cent economy-size bar of chocolate.

 
          
Someday, Father,
he heard a long-gone
voice whisper, L
I'll bring you a gift
blessed by the Pope.

 
          
This?
This?
The old priest turned the bar
in his trembling hands. But why not? What could be more perfect?

 
          
He
saw it all. At
Castel
Gandolfo
on a summer
noon
with five thousand tourists jammed in a
sweating pack below in the dust and the Pope high up on his balcony there
waving out the rare blessings, suddenly among all the tumult, in all the sea of
arms and hands, one lone brave hand held high .. .

 
          
And
in that hand a silver-wrapped and glorious candy bar.

 
          
The
old priest nodded, not surprised.

 
          
He
locked the chocolate bar in a special drawer in his study and sometimes, behind
the altar, years later, when the weather smothered the windows and despair leaked
in the door hinges, he would fetch the chocolate out and take the smallest
nibble.

 
          
It
was not the Host, no, it was not the flesh of Christ. But it was a life. And
the life was his. And on those occasions, not often but often enough, when he
took a bite, it tasted (O thank you, God) it tasted incredibly sweet.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

 
          
 

 
          
Ray
Douglas Bradbury was born in
Waukegan
,
Illinois
, in 1920. He graduated from a
Los Angeles
high school in 1938. His formal education
ended there, but he furthered it by himself—at night in the library and by day
at his typewriter. He sold newspapers on
Los Angeles street
corners from 1938 to 1942—a modest
beginning for a man whose name would one day be synonymous with the best in
science fiction! Ray Bradbury sold his first science fiction short story in
1941, and his early reputation is based on stories published in the budding
science fiction magazines of that time. His work was chosen for best American
short story collections in 1946, 1948 and 1952. His awards include: The O.
Henry Memorial Award, The Benjamin Franklin Award in 1954 and The
Aviation-Space Writer's Association Award for best space article in an American
magazine in 1967. Mr. Bradbury has written for television, radio, the theater
and
S,
and he has been published in
every major American magazine. Editions of his novels and shorter fiction span
several continents and languages, and he has gained worldwide acceptance for
his work. His titles include:
The Martian
Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, I Sing the Body
Electricl
,
The Golden Apples of the Sun,
A
Medicine
for Melancholy
and
The Illustrated
Man.

 
          
 

 
          
 

 

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