Deal Me In Lite, Week 24: "Hopscotch" by Ray Bradbury
This week the half-deck of cards served up the 3 of spades, and with it, another story from the Ray Bradbury collection.
(3 of spades image by Omegalpha on deviantart.com)
To be honest, "Hopscotch" was one of those stories I had to read twice in order to even begin to appreciate it. It was first published in 1996, and the impression I sometimes get from the later Bradbury stories is that he became sort of self-indulgent in his later years. This is not any kind of criticism of Bradbury, goodness knows, because even on a bad day he could write rings around most authors, living or dead, with one typewriter tied behind his back. But this story is much, much different from "The Illustrated Man," an earlier Bradbury tale that I read last week.
For one thing, the first time I read this story, I thought that it really didn't have a typical plot. And it doesn't, not exactly -- but there once again is the genius of Bradbury. He can take a tale that doesn't seem to go anywhere, but load it up with enough imagery and symbolism that the story begins to take on a life, and a plot, in the reader's mind. Things do happen in this story, but the events of the story are as much internal as they are external.
The story focuses on Vinia, a young girl on the cusp of her 17th birthday. This border between her 16th and 17th birthdays is symbolized in the story by a hopscotch grid that someone has chalked on the sidewalk in front of Vinia's house, extending down the sidewalk and around the corner, out of sight:
Late yesterday, some child had chalked it out, immense and endlessly augmented, square upon square, line after line, numeral following numeral. You could not see the end of it. Down the street it built its crazy pattern, 3, 4, 5, on up to 10, then 30, 50, 90, on away to turn far corners. Never in all the children's world a hopscotch like this! You could jump forever toward the horizon.
At the beginning of the story, on the morning of her 17th birthday, she visualizes herself jumping along the grid, but she stops at the number 16, and can't make herself jump onto 17, not even in her mind's eye.
Then she receives a visit from her friend James, after thinking "It might be a special day. After all, it's my birthday. Anything might happen. And I hope it does." James is there to take Vinia on a walk, a walk that will last all day and which will be a kind of watershed in Vinia's life. The two roam far and wide, finally ending up inside an old hollow tree as they wait out a summer rainshower. Earlier in the day, James had asked Vinia if he could kiss her, and Vinia tells him that she'll decide if he can or not, and that she'll let him know. That kiss happens inside the hollow tree, and suddenly they are in love.
The writing in this story is typical Bradbury -- full of lush, visual language that at times simply overwhelms the reader. Here's just one small example of what I mean:
There was a smell of hot chalk highway, of dust and sky and waters flowing in a creek the color of grapes. The sun was a new lemon. The forest lay ahead with shadows stirring like a million birds under each tree, each bird a leaf-darkness, trembling. At noon, Vinia and James Conway had crossed vast meadows that sounded brisk and starched underfoot. The day had grown warm, as an iced glass of tea grows warm, the frost burning off, left in the sun.
(Notice that this story takes place in the summertime, Bradbury's high holy season.)
This is not my favorite Bradbury story, not by a long shot, but it is interesting, and is definitely worth a read (or even a re-read).