Deal Me In Lite, Week 1: "All on a Summer's Night" by Ray Bradbury
This week, the inaugural week of my so-called Deal Me In Lite (with many apologies to Jay at Bibliophilopolis), began with the draw of the six of spades, which means a selection from Bradbury Stories.
I have never read a lot of Ray Bradbury’s work, and I am especially ignorant of many of his short stories, so this was an excellent re-entry into his work.
“All on a Summer’s Night” seems to be classic Bradbury – not in the creepy, weird way of many of his horror and science fiction stories, but in an evocative, sweet-pleasures-and-emotions-of-childhood-way. The story focuses on a Fourth of July evening of a bygone time, what seems to be a simpler time when people did things like sit on their front porches on a summer evening. Douglas, a young boy who lives in his grandparents’ boardinghouse, has fallen in love with books and their authors, thanks to the efforts of a Miss Leonora Welkes, an older lady of indeterminate age, who has a room in the boardinghouse. Miss Welkes is the town librarian, and she is responsible for introducing Douglas to new “friends” such as Longfellow, Whittier, Poe, Shakespeare, and other authors.
Part of what makes this story so affecting and so magical is the evocative language and imagery that Bradbury uses throughout:
How many nights in winter had he gone down to the stone public library and seen Miss Welkes there with the stamp pad at her elbow and the purple ink rubber stamper in her hand, and the great book sections behind her?
In winter, he trudged home through icelands of magic, in summer through bakery winds of sorcery; the seasons given substance by the readings of Miss Welkes who knew so many people and introduced them, in due time to Douglas.
Douglas basically has a noble, boyhood crush on Miss Welkes. He sees a side of her that no one else sees – everyone else in the boardinghouse thinks that she is a dried-up, cobwebby old maid. The male boarders certainly ignore her in favor of three younger ladies who capture their attention. But Douglas sees Miss Welkes as a fascinating woman who knows the fascinating people who wrote all the books in the library. He decides to act on his crush by buying her a present using money he had saved up for buying fireworks. He buys Miss Welkes a bottle of perfume, “Summer Night Odor,” which he notes costs him 97 cents for the bottle. He leaves the gift anonymously at the door of Miss Welkes’ room, and comes to realize that she thinks one of the men in the boardinghouse bought it for her.
What happens next, I will leave for you to find out when you read the story, but suffice it to say that the story ends on a bittersweet note that is absolutely perfect.
I enjoyed this story very much, and with its focus on books and libraries and the love of reading, it was a fantastic (and totally serendipitous) beginning to my Deal Me In Lite project!