The Wind in the Juniper
FORESTER woke slowly. For a while he lay there, trying to identify this new feeling. A thing that was not new, really, hut the return of something known long ago and lost in time— but with a difference he couldn’t yet define.
The sense he had was that of coming back from sleep to the knowledge of earned leisure. Then he began to remember. It was the same coziness, except for that elusive difference, that used to cradle him on Sunday mornings twenty years and more ago, if the Captain had told him to sleep in.
Those were the mornings on which you could stay in bed as late as nine, lying on the soft edge of wakefulness in order to enjoy it. For an hour or two there was not a thing to do, and you felt a slow satisfaction in this, and in thinking of things done yesterday: the packed manure chopped out of the sheep-shed, the harrow’s endless scrawl on plowed land in the upper field, the ache in your shoulder from sawing birch logs with the crosscut. You could feel it all now; as you had felt it years ago, lying under the patchwork quilt watching the juniper. You could feel all that and more.
The juniper; with a small start he realized what it was that had opened the process of recognition in his mind, caused him to identify this present peace with the simple well-being of long a$*o. The tall juniper by the gate of his boyhood home, its feathered tip always slightly moving, forever curved by the southwest wind against the background of northern sky. The first thing he had seen through the window in the mornings.
He turned expectantly to this ot her window now, the window of his hospital room, and grinned in amusement. The juniper was twenty years and four thousand miles away. He would never see it again except in sleep, as he had seen it perhaps a minute or perhaps an hour ago.
That was what it was—a curved and feathery treetop, seen in sleep—that had caused the union of past and present in his waking mind. All the
years were there, the juniper the one small thing, wavering to the conscious surface, to bring the whole alive.
Nothing to do, and the thought of things done yesterday—there was only that nagging irritation. It came to him then, the element of difference between those mornings long ago and this. There had been a kind of lazy eagerness, as you lay there watching the juniper, for the things you must do tomorrow.
Tomorrow: the worm fence to finish, between
the back lot and the horse pasture; a poke to make, for the smut-faced ewe, the jumper; stone to pick and pile before you could start to sow.
That sense of tomorrow; it was this he missed.
Tomorrow— Well, you can’t have everything. He settled back with a certain curiosity. Slowly and quietly, not seeking lesson or answer, Forester liegan to explore the past of his childhood—
rÏ^HE PEAK of the attic was high enough for I headroom, and that was all. Into the inverted V where a couple of rafters met, someone had driven a square iron spike; so long ago that even the Captain, who was getting on for seventy, couldn’t tell you its purpose. Johnny Forester used it to anchor his homemade punching bag.
Whenever he had some time left over from school, barn chores or fooling around with the kids next door, and particularly when he was a little worried, Johnny liked to punch the bag.
He was worried now. He came up on the toes of his moccasins, left-jabbed, crossed with his right, covered, and caught the heavy bag in close with hook and uppercut. Johnny never merely punched the bag; he was always doing a comeback in the late rounds against Freddie Welsh or Benny Leonard.
The thing that worried him was the undercurrent, the tension between Mam and the Captain about the fur money.
The Captain was Johnny’s grandfather and Mam was the Captain’s spinster daughter, his own father’s sister. With two such people to live with, the word “orphan” didn’t mean a thing.
No one could be any better than the Captain, and that was what made it so puzzling about the cheque for the muskrat pelts.
He was going on fourteen now, and not spending much time in the house, and the things that warmed him were the sight of the Captain stooped and spry, and the Captain’s talk about old days and new, and his laughter.
Nearly always the Captain found something to be amused about as he thought back to all the things that had happened when he’d sailed in trading schooners and worked in the lumber woods, and traveled all over, before he’d come back to The Pond to live and look after his grandson.
He told Johnny about those days, but neveltried to point things up much. Now and then he would add something together in a sentence: “Don’t
matter much what you do, but it helps if it satisfies you and you know it’s some use to people.” Or, as he’d explained about the job he had once taken in a garage, although he was already middle-aged in the early days of automobiles: “It was new;
a chance to learn something.” But these were just yarns; it was only when you remembered them later that you came to know how the Captain thought.
And he never laid down the law, even when it was a matter of responsibilities. If it was a question of whether you should spend an afternoon up the mill brook after trout at a time when the woodpile was low, he wouldn’t say “No.” He’d say, “Well, Johnny, what do you think?” And you looked at him and felt what was right to do.
It was the Captain who discovered the muskrat sign, down by the shore.
Forester’s Pond was a salt-water inlet, a lagoon a half mile or so long and a couple of hundred yards wide, parallel with the sea and separated from it by a humped and narrow beach. The home place ran down to a wooded bank on the north side of the pond.
“Muskrats,” the Captain said when the small diggings of muskrat along the tide mark caught his eye. “Caught a few here myself, fifty years ago. Not worth nothing then.”
Johnny tucked this away in his mind and wrote the fur house in St. Louis for a price list. In November he got a couple of No. 1 steel traps without telling anyone and set them under the diggings in the bank, baited with sweet apples and chained to stakes. The Captain’s interest and surprise warmed him as much as the personal sense of achievement, the first time he brought home a drowned muskrat. “Looks like you went and got yourself a private income,” the old man said. He walked down to the bank with Johnny before school next morning and showed him how to set the traps on a floating piece of timber, ensuring quick death by drowning to any muskrat caught.
But after that he let the boy run the little trap line alone; a money-making enterprise, and one in which Johnny could find a sense of independence.
It was that streak of understanding in the Captain that made the matter of the cheque all the stranger.
Eighteen muskrat pelts came to fifty-seven dollars. When the cheque arrived the Captain let him hold it for a few days to look at, and then took it to the bank, bringing back only the mackinaw and size-seven rubber boots Johnny really needed.
Mam kept griping, indirectly. She’d say, on Sunday mornings, “Well Johnny, get dressed for church now. We’ve really got to get you a new suit, out of that fur money,” or “You ought to have a pair of tan oxfords; it’s not as if the money wasn’t there.”
The Captain never took any notice, and he wasn’t the kind of a fellow you could press. Johnny wished that if he needed the money to pay the store bill or something he’d come right out and say so. The way it was now, you’d think the Captain was doing something mean.
From first boyhood mornings, down the gleaming road
of time, he travelled to the glow of neutrons and a
moment which held all the tomorrows of all mankind
Absently, through the attic’s unceiled flooring, he heard the back door close, the faint swish and knock as the Captain brushed wet snow from his feet.
It was a little while before the indistinct words began to penetrate.
Johnny began to tremble with the shaking sadness that always caught him when conflict flared between people he loved.
He lay down on the attic floor, straining to hear. There was no shame in this. He had to know.
He heard the Captain’s voice then, accompanying the upward squeak of the windlass-chain, and hoarse with the outrage of a man misunderstood: “—listen to me. You know—not let him be tied to the kind of work we do for a living—in a couple of years, away to school—telling you this— hanging onto what money we get—be some use when the time comes.” The Captain’s voice stopped and changed and lowered. There was a kind of irritable apology in it. Johnny could catch only a word or two. “—don’t want to talk about it—him leaving —more than I have to.”
The back door closed. Johnny lay shaking on the attic floor. When he heard Mam setting the supper table he climbed quietly down the ladder and went out the back way to the woodpile, and began to split kindling in the gathering dark. His heart was still vibrating with the shock of relief, of faith confirmed, of knowing there was nothing mean in the Captain, only a forward-looking generosity.
He hacked at the kindling to work off the queer excitement that surged inside him. It was only gradually that the real meaning of the Captain’s words took form.
“In a couple of years—away to school.”
ON A MAY morning Johnny Forester, university senior, walked down College Street in the town of Cardinal, beset by problems.
It was too fine a morning to be worrying about sups, and trying to decide between life in a trust company looking after money, and life in a lab fooling with atoms. But Johnny was worrying.
The immediate thing was the supplementary. In three days the lists were due to go up on the bulletin board; honors in physics wouldn’t mean much to the Captain and Mam if he didn’t graduate, if he had to come back to summer school to take another crack at a thing like Latin II.
The first man he met outside Tudor Hall was Dr. Watson, Cardinal’s oneman department of classics.
“Morning Dr. Watson,” Johnny said, and hesitated.
Dr. Watson was noted for his personal courtesy. “Good morning Johnny.” Despite the fact that he had delayed writing the sup for more than a year Forester was one of the few students Dr. Watson called by his first name. Johnny remembered that with liking, even while his heart was thumping.
He said, “Doctor, I’m in kind of a funny position. There’s a—there’s someone I’ve asked up for Convocation. I—well, there’s no point in it, him coming, unless I passed that sup—”
Dr. Watson smiled diffidently. “I’m rot. permitted to tell you anything Johnny; not till the lists are posted.” He glanced down and then away studying the turrets of Centennial Hall and spoke impersonally, “I’d stop
worrying if I were you, Mr. Forester.”
Johnny walked on downtown, laughing inside; and mixed with the laughter were four years in a small-town college; they were warm and active in the mind—
He thought of that first fall and winter, when he had learned you could be lonesome in the middle of a crowd, that knowing how to swing a scythe and peel pulpwood didn’t qualify you for dancing in the gym. He thought of the first spring, and sunlight thin and winelike as it was today, and Convocation coming. And Larry Caldwell, big and handsome and Bostonian, alone on the tennis courts at chapel time.
He thought of the second fall and all the strangeness gone. Seniors who hadn’t bothered to nod the year before, calling “Hi Johnny,” as the trains pulled in. And Larry with his Harris tweeds and pigskin bags and the manner; Larry getting hack to school two days late and saying casually, “Hello, John. Look—I haven’t bothered trying for a roommate. Would you mind?—”
Johnny grinned now as he walked downtown, thinking about it. They’d had three good years in that room.
That was how he had come to see Boston. Boston to Johnny, was a big stone house on Chestnut Street, and Larry’s father who was president of the Saddler’s Trust Company, and Larry, and the girls who flocked around him. By that year the Charleston and the Black Bottom were out of fashion; dancing was in one of its conservative periods and Johnny got along all right.
There was no reason why he shouldn’t belong to that crowd, if the Saddler’s Trust was the star he should hitch a ride with. There had been Larry’s assurance: “You’ve made a hit with
Dad; it’s the contrast, a fellow who knows what ivork is— You’re coming back with me next spring— Horatio A. Forester himself.”
Well, it was next spring now; and what Larry wanted him to do was very nice, if it were not for Professor Willie Mclnnes and his ideas about fission.
Johnny had had no special interest in physics; no special passion for any of it, math or chemistry or history or lit, except for the path they blazed to the future, and the knowledge that a backwoods boy had to hit the books to justify the sacrifice that took him past high school.
Out of the three subjects in which he led the freshman class he had chosen physics as the one to ride, mainly because Professor Willie Mclnnes, a Rhodes man, had been a miler at Oxford. It must have taken guls for a little stooped guy, too near-sighted for rugger, cricket or boxing to go out and make his blue at the one thing left to him; and this appealed to Johnny.
Willie was small, religious, a bit pot-bellied and profane; he whined when he talked. “We don’t know a thing Forester. Not a thing. If you ever think you’ve got something worked out, think of a couple of simple questions: where does space end, and when did time begin? That’ll cut you down to size Forester.”
He talked that way, but the lab was his passion, a place he seemed to love and in an odd way to fear. “Fission,” he said to Johnny. “It’s a word you’ll hear, common as gravitation—We don’t know a thing. But the more we get to realize it—You’ve got a capacity for knowing you don’t know. I’m getting you a scholarship at Columbia.”
So he wasn’t sure, as he walked downtown in the early sunshine, which it was going to be—the Saddler’s Trust or fission. The question bothered him, nagged at the back of his mind, and j took the pleasure out of other things —the way he felt physically, as if he I could go ten rounds with Barney Ross; j and the soft May wind; and the ridges of the mud ruts in the dirt street,
drying on top and crumbling in little j puffs of dust when a car passed.
A choice had to be made. He thought a little wryly, “the flesh pots or the ; grindstone,” and laughed, chiding him1 self for the movie-caption turn of ; phrase in which he had couched the ! alternatives.
AND suddenly Johnny grinned. In A less than a week he would have the Captain here for Convocation. That was the solution of course. He would explain the situation about the Saddler’s Trust and fission to the Captain; and just as always the Captain would tell him to make his own mind up; and Johnny would look at him and know. He put the worry away.
Some of the college crowd were hanging around the corner of Bridge and Main, and some of them were in the drugstore lapping up cokes with the girls. Johnny halted there, looking in, and the telegraph operator came out of his office next door. The operator knew all the upper classmen in Cardinal; he looked embarrassed and anxious as he handed the yellow slip to Johnny.
JOHNNY YOUR GRANDFATHER PASSED AWAY QUIETLY LAST NIGHT STOP HIS WISH YOU REMAIN TAKE PART CONVOCATION LOVE AND LUCK
He said “thanks,” automatically, and stood there for a little while, shifting from one foot to the other. He WHS feeling only an endless emptiness. But as he walked back up the hill toward the college buildings the lonely emptiness changed to a kind of wonder; for in his mind, he found he was seeing the Captain still. Not here, where be bad hoped to have him for a day or two; not here at Cardinal, awkward in a blue serge suit, but down at Forester’s Pond, leaning on his scythe in a fence-corner, taking a breather. He could see the straps of the blue overalls crossed over stooped shoulders in a faded gray shirt.
If he listened back, he could hear the words: “Well, now, Johnny, what do you think?”
The ache was in his throat now. It. began to pulse painfully and the taste in a corner of his mouth was salt. And yet back of it all, back of the pain that now was fully realized, he could feel the pull of something else, something stronger than sorrow.
He let it flow through him as he crossed the campus to Faculty House to take his decision to Willie Mclnnes.
nR. JOHN FORESTER glanced in the mirror one morning in the little hotel where he stayed on West 103rd Street, and took a look at the stranger he’d been living with.
Thirty-four years old. The last time he had considered the matter of age was when he had quit the instructorship that followed his doctorate at Columbia to go into commercial research with a scientist named Harrison Sumner, six years ago. He had been twenty-eight then. Thirty-four now. He had to put his glasses on to really size things up.
The frown-line between his eyes ran at an angle. The brown floppy hair retreated along the temples. The shoulders stooped. Dr. Forester ran his hands over the belly, melon-shaped below his pyjama-belt. Not really a stranger; he grinned and said to the mirror, “Well, well, if it isn’t Willie Mclnnes!”
But he didn’t feel so good, after coffee, as he walked down Broadway. He
ought to have been feeling good, because it was May. And as he thought of former days it was with sadness.
There had been sadness in some of those days, but they were all forwardlooking things, those. What Johnny realized now was that he hadn’t looked up, hadn’t looked ahead, in God knows how long. Not since the spring he had quit the instruetorship, because he didn’t know enough to satisfy himself, and gone with Sumner for the sake of what he could learn.
A good many people were walking and sitting around in the sun on the Central Park west side that morning. Johnny began to feel better; it was a long time since he had paid much attention to people. He began to get a hint of the feeling again—something new.
The girl was sitting on a bench under a tree and he didn’t see her at first because his attention was caught by the tree, its outline flowing and changing in the wind. It made him think: “Everything has form.” He went up
to it to put a hand on its bark, and while he was standing there, looking up into the green lacework, he saw her out of the corner of his eye. At the moment she was looking at him.
It was a quite impersonal regard, a glance of curiosity. He said, nodding sideways at the tree, “Do you know what breed it is?”
She shook her head, “No.”
He dusted off his hands and came over and sat down.
“It’s a queer thing; I can’t learn trees. I know spruce and fir and white pine and rock maple and yellow birch —and juniper—because I was brought up with them. But darned if I can tell an oak from an elm.”
She said, on a little note of amusement, “Neither can I—when I need detail about trees and flowers I have to ask people, and when I’m through with it I forget it again.”
Her name was Joyce. Joyce Barnard. She turned out to be an English teacher from a little town in New England; in five years, working nights, mornings and summers, she had written a single novel. The critics linked her name with Rumer Godden’s. The public didn’t care.
They had lunch together, and dinner together, and when Johnny went back to 103rd Street, it was going on from there.
THEY had a lot of fun that summer. At first Johnny was a boy putting on a show for his girl. They dined at places like La Rue on 58th Street; they went to the Diamond Horseshoe and one or two of the gaudy spots on 52nd, and a couple of times ran out to Connecticut to look in on the summer theatres.
With Joyce you didn’t have to talk; she had a tranquillity that turned silence into communication, and she didn’t mind being looked at. Whenever she turned to find Johnny’s eyes on her, she laughed as if she were pleased; as if he were being childish and she liked and understood childish people.
Johnny looked long and often. While he looked, he might even be thinking of something else, something in the colored past or the hard and factual present or the vague future. Whatever he was thinking of, he liked to feel that his eyes could find her. Joyce was a small person, with warm brown eyes and hair, and faintly flushed skin. She lacked the angularity you associate with women novelists. He supposed she was the most intelligent woman he had known, but they didn't try to match intellects. It was something else that caused the blood to pound.
For the first time in years he found himself walking in the morning to a sense of eagerness.
A time came then, in early August, when for three days he could not leave the laboratory day or night. During that period there was only Sumner’s voice, and Sumner’s scribbled diagrams, and his own cold concentration on the gadgets of his trade.
In the park the Sunday after that he was both thoughtful and querulous.
Joyce .said, “Don’t look so baffled, Johnny. You’ve known it all along. That’s the way it is for you, for people like us—If it’ll make you feel any better, I’m the same way. I couldn’t let anything—oh, you, for instance —interfere with what I have to do.” She smiled.
What she said made him feel better in one way and worse in another. He wasn’t sure he believed her view of herself for instance. When he started talking again, it was about the Captain.
“He used to say it didn’t matter much what kind of work you did, as long as it was useful,” Johnny said, “But there was something else—” it was too involved to make clear. The important thing to the Captain and Mam had been himself, Johnny. The important thing to anyone you bumped into was another person. This feeling ■—it was not something you could satisfy by telling yourself that thousands of unknown people would benefit from a physical process you were working on, or a book you wrote. The personal contact wasn’t there.
Joyce said she knew all about it. “Look, Johnny, let it lie,” she said. “When there isn’t something else we have to do—because that’s the way we are—we can still have fun. We can keep on having a share of what most people always have.”
THAT was the way it was and it had a special value for them, because it was rare. And Johnny began to ask himself why it couldn’t always be that way. There were people like himself and Joyce who made compromises, With Joyce and himself it would work; each understood the de-
mands of the other’s working life; each could bring a special eagerness to the hours of living that were theirs to share.
He was thinking about this one morning in the early fall as he climbed the stairway to his office in the lab building. His mind moved in a kind of unbelieving excitement. You could divide your life into separate sections, one for work, one for warmth and kindliness, a person—he admitted to his mind the soft word “love.”
Sumner was waiting in the office, striding up and down, hands deep in his pockets, an unruly lock of white hair falling over the left eyebrow.
Sumner brushed his hair back and said, “We’re through here, Forester. We’re packing up. They need me. We leave for the southwest tomorrow.”
Not a question. Not, “How would you like to go?” or, “You’ll come? I can count on you?” No, it was just, “We leave for the southwest tomorrow.’’
Johnny found himself possessed by something that was new in his emotions, a hard resentful stubbornness.
All through dinner with Joyce he was the courtier; between the ice and the coffee, he rose and smiled. Earlier in the summer they had danced a little. Johnny, with no ear for music, had a passable sense of rhythm, and Joyce liked to dance. But later on, in the more companionable phase of friendship, they had rarely dined at places that ran to orchestras.
The piece was “Stardust,” one that always made Johnny feel tall in the saddle. They danced with perfect ease, as if an understanding that wasn’t quite translatable in words communicated itself through this conventional but strongly physical contact. When they returned to the table, Joyce looked across at him; and in her glance he saw it all; the look she had given him, often and often, in the apartment, the shared amusement, the understanding | and the love.
He felt the moment’s meaning, then; felt it lift the tension. At last he was relaxed and sure. With another woman, perhaps, he could have shared the knowledge of a “No” given to Sumner, of turning away from the thing he had to do.
From another woman, perhaps, he could have hidden it, and taken what j he wanted, and lived with its shadow in his mind alone. But not with Joyce.
He saw now, of course, that this was simply confirmation of something he had known. It wasn’t the kind of decision, depending on a sharp and living recognition, that had hurried him across the campus years ago to give his “Yes” to Willie McTnnes. It was the sum of that decision and a hundred others; the sum of the Captain and Mam and Willie and Joyce; not as individuals but as people whose qualities were woven in the fabric of himself. It wasn’t a decision at all. It was knowing what you had to do.
The trouble was, he couldn’t tell her. He couldn’t talk about it. To the bitterness of parting was added the ache of secrecy. He couldn’t tell her; he could only tell himself.
And so he found himself talking again about Forester’s Pond and the Captain. When they walked back to the apartment, Joyce stopped him at the street door with a knowing smile. “Don’t come up darling,” she said. She put her hands up and drew his face down and kissed him, and said, “Goodby. Good-by, Johnny Forester.”
THROUGHOUT the six years that :
Forester had worked with Sumner in New York, he had never got to feel that he knew his superior. It was the cold brilliance in Sumner that had wakened his enthusiasm in the first I place, but always he had kept his heart alert for the touch of human warmth that never came.
A week after Hiroshima, Sumner picked Johnny up one morning and drove out through the brown, baking country to a little town miles from the sprawling piles and laboratories. They stopped at a restaurant for coffee. Johnny’s face must have shown its puzzlement, for Sumner ran his fingers through his white hair in a small gesture of deprecation.
He said, “I thought we ought to get away from the place for a while,” and added, irrelevantly, “What did you want to do John, when you were a kid?”
Johnny said, “I wanted to lick Benny Leonard.”
Sumner laughed. “Benny was tough.” He set his coffee cup down, flexed his fingers, and looked at the backs of his hands. “I wanted to he a surgeon; there wasn’t enough money for that. Not then.” He let it go unexplained. “John, I have something in mind. Now that we’ve got this blasting done, we’ll see what the juice can do.”
That was the way Sumner talked. Any kind of radiant energy was The Juice. And he was unconsciously arrogant. When he said “we” he meant himself and two or three others.
He spoke in an off-hand manner, as though he were outlining a routine program for a day’s experimentation. “I want you to go back to school.
; Biology, and as much anatomy and pathology as you can stand. A medical degree, if you like. Fve got a hunch —but these things take time. I’ve got a hunch; I want to try combining divided knowledge in a close, selfcontained unit. That’s why I want you to study medicine. With you on the detail, and me—” Sumner waved his hands.
Johnny drove back with Sumner under the spell of a new excitement. And oddly, he didn’t know which was uppermost in his mind—the long chance they would hit on something of value to the whole mass of living people, or the chance to work with Sumner in a partnership that at last had a bit or warmth.
THIS inner excitement, this sense of something new to look ahead to, g -ew steadily in his mind in those last, days at The Hill. Around the edge of it little tantalizing thoughts flickered and curled and added to the warmth of it. There would be time, perhaps, apart from the necessary absorption in work and study, to see whether Joyce were still around. Time even, to look up Willie Mclnnes. And make a trip back to Forester’s Pond; Mam was gone now too; but neighbors had the place, and he’d be welcomed. Forester had a wish to climb the hill to the horse pasture and look out over the boyhood world he’d known—the road, the pond, the house with the tall juniper at the gate.
He was aware of these things, alive in his mind, as he entered the con ere tewalled laboratory where his work was almost finished, six days before he was due to leave The Hill.
The half dozen physicists who were there ahead of him. to take his instruction, were already grouped around the reactor that was Forester’s special gadget. For some reason, perhaps because he was so soon to leave. Forester consciously noticed individualssquat, dark Petelka, from New York’s East Side; Swanson, an Ann Arbor boy; Fraser, O’Brien—
He gestured them back to their precise positions, away from the reactor; in any demonstration involving radiation, distance is protection. Forester moved a transparent screen bet ween
himself and the potential atomic pile in front of him, and glanced at the clock. Then, carefully, he cleared his mind of the future and turned to the demonstration he was to carry out.
It was nothing new. All you had to do was measure the increase in radiation when two bodies of fissionable material were moved toward each other, to a proximity rigidly controlled. To prove, in an approach limited by a safety block, the certainty of uncontrolled hell in a meeting of their mass.
Nothing new. Inwardly, Forester was annoyed with himself. Nothing new— and yet every time he faced this blank machine, loaded with forces you could measure and still not fully understand, his stomach tightened; his nerves sang like a sensitive fighter’s before the bell.
In all these years he had never entirely escaped a sense of the sinister in disproportion; the chunks of uranium in the reactor’s arms were no bigger than the inkstands on Sumner’s desk.
He pressed the switch and they began to move. Slowly—stop. His eyes followed the climbing needle on the counter’s dial. Slowly — stop.
Slowly—stop—start. The inkstands
There was no click, no grating. Nothing to tell you that the metal sinews of robots, too, can fail. Nothing at all in the slow, smooth operation of the mechanism to tell you the thing was wrong. That nothing stood between those moving fistfuls of oblivion hut the ebbing breath of time.
Only, too late, the glow of neutrons. Too late for thought, too late for anything but instinct and the thing you had to do—
Forester kicked the screen aside, stepped into the blue glow, and swept the metal from the gadget’s closing arms.
The thing in his mind, when there was time for thought, was a kind of wonder. Almost an irritation at a fact long known and now experienced, that when you took into your flesh a thousand times as much radiation as life could stand, you felt no pain.
Absent-mindedly, he realized that someone behind him was softly swearing; it sounded like O’Brien.
SO, THOUGHT Johnny Forester in his hospital room, it was all here, from first to last; from a tumble down the back steps and the smell of Mam’s housedress, to this moment, this room, this patch of dust far up the road of time.
Forester was not quite sure about time any more; it might have been four days, or five, or six, since they had brought him here. He wasn’t sure whether it was days or hours ago that he had wakened with the sense of having seen the juniper. He had made his journey of exploration, and except for that nagging sense of tomorrow missing, he felt a certain satisfaction. The door opened quietly; it was
Sally, the nurse assigned to him.
“Hello, Dr. Forester.”
He accepted the thermometer and grinned around it. They had to chart the course of this business, but the statistics were something about which he, personally, had no curiosity.
And when she had gone, he experienced a feeling of lassitude, a not unpleasant creeping weariness. The little spells of startling clarity were less frequent now. Sally had gone, minutes or hours or days ago; he didn’t remember her going. All he remembered was looking into a face that was not disfigured with pity at all, but had a kind of laughter in it. He had thought it was Mam, tucking in the corners of his bed; and it was mixed up also with the smile on Joyce’s face, the knowing smile, even though he hadn’t told her of his going, and the tone of her voice when she said, “Good-by, Johnny Forester.”
He had had his time. It would have been nice, he thought now, if there had been something heroic in his mind, back there in the laboratory. But as a matter of fact it had been simple instinct, followed by that sense of wonder. It was only later that he had found a kind of ironic satisfaction. In the end there had been human contact, there had been something you could do for people, directly and for specific people, in the details of the job. Joyce would like that.
Johnny smiled a little. The lassitude was coming on in waves, like sleep; like waves rolling in on the beach, tossing a dark spray across the humped rocks, to fall in a fine rain on Forester’s Pond.
He had the illusion of voices. “—some use to people—a couple of years, away to school—-there’s someone I’ve asked —we don’t know a damned thing—I’d stop worrying if I were you, Mr. Forester—Good-by, Johnny—see what the juice can do—”
It was strange that you could be hurrying along a street in the Broadway toward the park, and batting back tennis balls, and lying in bed, down home at The Pond, on a Sunday morning, all at the same time.
Find the equation for that one— Where does space end, and when did time begin?
He glanced at the window. It was there all right, the juniper, graceful and feathery against the blue.
Slowly, as darkness came, the irritation in Forester’s mind dissolved. It was complete now, the identification of this present feeling with the things he had felt on those boyhood mornings. Now, again, there was something more than yesterday’s harrowing, and the birch logs and the sawhorse. Now, again, the worm fence, the jumping ewe, the muskrat dens, the gleaming road of time.
Forester closed his eyes and felt the darkness. He was thinking of all the things he must do tomorrow.