Now and Forever
Рэй Дуглас Брэдбери

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‘Cardiff, ma’m.’

‘Claude,’ she called, ‘take good care of Mr Cardiff. And Mr Cardiff, you take good care of Claude. Morning!’

And the wagon jounced along the bricks under a congress of trees that laced themselves to lattice out the sun.

‘Fillmore’s next.’ Cardiff eyed the list, ready to pull on the reins when the horse stopped at a second gate.

Cardiff popped the bread in the Fillmore mailbox and raced to catch up with Claude, who had resumed his route without waiting for his driver.

So it went. Bramble. Jones. Williams. Isaacson. Meredith. Bread. Cake. Bread. Muffins. Bread. Cake. Bread.

Claude turned a final corner.

And there was a school.

‘Hold up, Claude!’

Cardiff alighted and walked into the schoolyard to find a teeter-totter, its old blue paint flaking, next to an old swingset, its splintery wooden seats suspended from rusted iron chains.

‘Well, now,’ whispered Cardiff.

The school was two stories high. Its double doors were shut, and all eight of its windows were crusted with dust.

Cardiff rattled the front doors. Locked tight.

‘It’s only May,’ Cardiff said to himself. ‘School’s not out yet.’

Claude whinnied irritably, and perhaps out of pique, began a slow glide away from the school.

‘Claude!’ Cardiff put iron in it. ‘Stay!’

Claude stayed, drumming the bricks with both forefeet.

Cardiff turned back to the building. Carved in the lintel, above the main door were the words: SUMMERTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL, DEDICATED JANUARY 1ST, 1888.

‘Eighteen eighty-eight,’ Cardiff muttered. ‘Well, now.’

He gave one last look at the dust-caked windows and the rusted swing chains and said, ‘One last go-round, Claude.’

Claude did not move.

‘We’re all out of bread and names, is that it? You only take bakery orders, nothing else?’

Even Claude’s shadow did not move.

‘Well, we’ll just stand here until you do me a favor. Your new star boarder wants to cross-section the whole blasted town. What’s it to be? No water, no oats, without a full trot.’

Water and oats did it.

Full trot.

They sailed down Clover Avenue and up Hibiscus Way and over on to Rosewood Place and right on Juneglade and left again on Sandalwood then Ravine, which ran off the edge of a shallow ravine cut by ancient rains. He stared at lawn after lawn after lawn, all of them lush, green, perfect. No baseball bats. No baseballs. No basketball hoops. No basketballs. No tennis rackets. No croquet mallets. No hopscotch chalk marks on sidewalks. No tire swings on trees.

Claude trotted him back to the Egyptian View Arms, where Elias Culpepper was waiting.

Cardiff climbed down from the bread wagon.

‘Well?’

Cardiff looked back at the summer drift of green lawns and green hedges and golden sunflowers and said, ‘Where are the children?’

ELEVEN (#ulink_ff4e2b41-9c87-5f4a-9d22-0f29eab70bbd)

Mr Culpepper did not immediately respond.

For dead ahead there was afternoon high tea, with apricot and peach tarts and strawberry delight and coffee instead of tea and then port instead of coffee and then there was dinner, a real humdinger, that lasted until well after nine and then the inhabitants of the Egyptian View Arms headed up, one by one, to their most welcome cool summer night beds, and Cardiff sat out on the croquetless and hoopless lawn, watching Mr Culpepper on the porch, smoking several small bonfire pipes, waiting.

At last Cardiff, in full brooding pace, arrived at the bottom of the porch rail and waited.

‘You were asking about no children?’ said Elias Culpepper.

Cardiff nodded.

‘A good reporter wouldn’t allow so much time to pass after asking such an important question.’

‘More time is passing right now,’ said Cardiff, gently, climbing the porch steps.

‘So it is. Here.’

A bottle of wine and two small snifters sat on the railing.

Cardiff drained his at a jolt, and went to sit next to Elias Culpepper.

Culpepper puffed smoke. ‘We have,’ he said, seeming to consider his words with care, ‘sent all the children away to school.’

Cardiff stared. ‘The whole town? Every child?’

‘That’s the sum. It’s a hundred miles to Phoenix in one direction. Two hundred to Tucson. Nothing but sand and petrified forest in between. The children need schools with proper trees. We got proper trees here, yes, but we can’t hire teachers to teach here. We did, at one time, but they got too lonesome. They wouldn’t come, so our children had to go.’

‘If I came back in late June would I meet the kids coming home for the summer?’

Culpepper held still, much like Claude.

‘I said—’

‘I heard.’ Culpepper knocked the sparking ash from his pipe. ‘If I said yes, would you believe me?’

Cardiff shook his head.
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