He is travelling home from his uncle’s funeral, a 12 year-old sitting in the backseat of an automobile with his family and the heavy weight of loss. He looks out the window as the tires roll beneath him. Inside the car it is silent. His parents are decent people and they mourn with decency. Down the hill, along the rim of Lake Michigan, carnival tents appear, their edges billowing like little red and yellow hands that seem to beckon to him. Pull over, he tells his father, pull over pull over. And his father does. The boy is excited enough that it looks like he’ll leap out of the moving car if he doesn’t. His father is furious as he watches the boy run down the hill, toward the carnival. He expects him to be there, in the automobile and back at home, mourning, grave-faced, solemn. But Ray Bradbury was not made to steep in the sober shades of living. He thunders down the hill with the lake wind blowing back his hair, with the sounds of the carnival — the holler of the talker, the calliope of the turning merry-go-round — whirling closer to his ears. He is running toward life.
Bradbury told this story to Sam Weller in Listen to the Echoes, Weller’s collection of interviews with the famed author, who died this Tuesday, June 5 at the age of 91. The symbolism is evident. That’s why Bradbury told the story: He spent the rest of his days — another eight decades’ worth of them — running toward life. He ran like Prometheus. Waving the fire, wanting to bring it to you. The fire Bradbury brought was the fire of life — its horrendous beauty and its beautiful horror. The Illustrated Man, the Dwarf, Uncle Einar, Montag and Clarisse, the anything-you-want-it-to-be object in “The Jar,” this was Bradbury’s menagerie of the living.