Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ray Bradbury: The Lake

One of Ray Bradbury's strengths is that he can take the simplest elements and create a memorable tale from them:  two twelve year-old children, a summer at the lake, a half-finished sand castle, a sudden parting and perhaps an equally sudden and unexpected reunion.   Bradbury tells the story much better than I can, so I will give you some excerpts from this brief tale, but haunting (that may be a pun, but I'll let you decide)  nevertheless.

"The wave shut me off from the world, from the birds in the sky, the children on the beach, my mother on the shore.  There was a moment of green silence.  Then the wave gave me back to the sky, the sand, the children yelling.  I came out of the lake and the world was waiting for me, having hardly moved since I went away. 

      I ran up on the beach.

.  .  .  .  .

It was September.  In the last days when things are getting sad for no reason.  The beach was so long and lonely with only about six people on it.  The kids quit bouncing the ball because somehow the wind made them sad, too, whistling the way it did, and the kids sat down and felt autumn come along the endless shore.

All of the hot dog stands were boarded up with strips of golden planking, sealing in all the mustard, onion, meat odors of the long, joyful summer.  It was like nailing summer into a series of coffins.  One by one the places slammed their covers down, padlocked their doors, and the wind came and touched the sand, blowing away all of the million footprints of July and August.  It got so that now, in September, there was nothing but the mark of my rubber tennis shoes and Donald and Delaus Schabold's feet, down by the water curve.

.  .  .  .  .

I called her name.  A dozen times I called it.

   'Tally!  Tally!  Oh, Tally!'

.  .  .  .  .

   I thought of Tally, swimming out into the water last May, with her pigtails trailing, blonde.  She went laughing, and the sun was on her small twelve-year-old shoulders.  I thought of the water settling quiet, of the life-guard leaping into it, of Tally's mother screaming, and of how Tally never came out. . . .

.  .  .  .  .

And now in the lonely autumn when the sky was huge and the water was huge and the beach was so very long, I had come down for the last time, alone.

.  .  .  .  .

Turning, I retreated to the sand and stood there for half an hour, hoping for one glimpse, one sign, one little bit of Tally to remember.  Then, I knelt and built a sand-castle, shaping it fine, building it as Tally and I had often built so many of them.  But this time, I only built half of it.  Then I got up.

   'Tally, if you hear me, come in and build the rest.'

.  .  .  .  .

The next day I went away on the train.
.  .  .  .  .

I lengthened my bones, put flesh on them, changed my young mind for an older one, threw away clothes as they no longer fitted, shifted from grammar to high school, to college books, to law books.  And then there was a young woman in Sacramento.  I knew her for a time, and we were married."

There is more to this story--a return to the lake and another half-finished castle and .  .  .

I won't say any more, but if you are interested--this is a link to an online version of the story.  It's a short one.


If you read it, come back and let me know what you think of it.


  1. Fred, I will try to read the story and respond to you tomorrow. Now I am in the midst of a Dickens evening. Bradbury will have to wait.

  2. Well, Bradbury's romance tale (which I call it rather than calling it a short story) strikes me as being too familiar: I also spend too much of my time remembering my life as a 12-year old, and I am reminded too often that perhaps we never escape the good, bad, and ugly memories. Then I think of Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and the narrator's intrusion near the end, suggesting to readers that perhaps Brown had only dreamed of the incident in the forest; whether or not the event happened as remembered is not as important as the effects upon the one who (actually or falsely) remembers. So, Harold -- in Bradbury's romance tale -- remains entrapped in the past. I understand and identify with Harold too well.

    1. R.T.,

      Yes, that's how I see it. When speaking of memory, it seems to matter little whether it really happened that way, what is important is what Harold remembers and how it affects him today.

      The prognosis is not good for his marriage, I should say. I think Harold is truly haunted in the truest sense of the word.