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Good-Bye and Thank You, Mr. Bradbury

“Well, what do you make of it?”

A small boy, stunned by the circus-poster effect of the old man’s attire, blinked, in need of nudging. The old man nudged:

“My shirt, boy! What do you see!?”

“Horses!” the child blurted, at last. “Dancing horses!”

“Bravo!” The doctor beamed, patted him, and strode on. “And you, sir?”

A young man, quite taken with the forthrightness of this invader from some summer world, said:

“Why … clouds, of course.”

“Cumulus or nimbus?”

“Er … not storm clouds, no, no. Fleecy, sheep clouds.”

“Well done!”

The psychiatrist plunged on.

“Mademoiselle?”

“Surfers!” A teen-age girl stared. “They’re the waves, big ones. Surfboards. Super!”

“And so it went, on down the length of the bus and as the great man progressed a few scraps and titters of laughter sprang up, then, grown infectious, turned to roars of hilarity. By now a dozen passengers had heard the first repsonses and so fell in with the game. This woman saw skyscrapers! The doctor scowled at her suspiciously. The doctor winked. That man saw crossword puzzles. The doctor shook his hand. This child found zebras all optical illusion on an African wild. The doctor slapped the animals and made them jump! This old woman saw vague Adams and misty Eves being driven from half-seen Gardens. The doctor scooched in on the seat with her awhile; they talked in fierce whispered elations, then up he jumped and forged on. Had the old woman seen an eviction? This young one saw the couple invited back in!

Dogs, lightnings, cats, cars, mushroom clouds, man-eating tiger lilies!

Each person, each response, brought greater outcries. We found ourselves all laughing together. This fine old man was a happening of nature, a caprice, God’s rambunctious will, sewing all our separateness up in one.

Elephants! Elevators! Alarums! Dooms!

When first he had bounded aboard we had wanted naught of each other. But now like an immense snowfall which we must gossip on or an electrical failure that blacked out two million homes and so thrown us all together in communal chat, laugh, guffaw, we felt the tears clean up our souls even as they cleaned down our cheeks.

Each answer seemed funnier than the previous, and no one shouted louder his great torments of laughter than this grand tall and marvelous physician who asked for, got, and cured us of our hairballs on the spot. Whales. Kelp. Grass meadows. Lost cities. Beauteous women. He paused. He wheeled. He sat. He rose. He flapped his wildly colored shirt, until at last he towered before me and said:

“Sir, what do you find?”

“Why, Dr. Brokaw, of course!”

— Ray Bradbury, “The Man in the Rorschach Shirt

Photo: Svennevenn/Flickr

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