She’d paid good money to see the inevitable ... and then had to work to make it happen!
There were two important things--one, that she was very old; two, that Mr. Thirkell was taking her to God. For hadn’t he patted her hand and said: “Mrs. Bellowes, we’ll take off into space in my rocket, and go to find Him together.”
And that was how it was going to be. Oh, this wasn’t like any other group Mrs. Bellowes had ever joined. In her fervor to light a path for her delicate, tottering feet, she had struck matches down dark alleys, and found her way to Hindu mystics who floated their flickering, starry eyelashes over crystal balls. She had walked on the meadow paths with ascetic Indian philosophers imported by daughters-in-spirit of Madame Blavatsky. She had made pilgrimages to California’s stucco jungles to hunt the astrological seer in his natural habitat. She had even consented to signing away the rights to one of her homes in order to be taken into the shouting order of a temple of amazing evangelists who had promised her golden smoke, crystal fire, and the great soft hand of God coming to bear her home.
None of these people had ever shaken Mrs. Bellowes’ faith, even when she saw them sirened away in a black wagon in the night, or discovered their pictures, bleak and unromantic, in the morning tabloids. The world had roughed them up and locked them away because they knew too much, that was all.
And then, two weeks ago, she had seen Mr. Thirkell’s advertisement in New York City:
COME TO MARS!
Stay at the Thirkell Restorium for one week. And then, on into
space on the greatest adventure life can offer!
Send for Free Pamphlet: “Nearer My God To Thee.”
Excursion rates. Round trip slightly lower.
“Round trip,” Mrs. Bellowes had thought. “But who would come back after seeing Him?”
And so she had bought a ticket and flown off to Mars and spent seven mild days at Mr. Thirkell’s Restorium, the building with the sign on it which flashed: THIRKELL’S ROCKET TO HEAVEN! She had spent the week bathing in limpid waters and erasing the care from her tiny bones, and now she was fidgeting, ready to be loaded into Mr. Thirkell’s own special private rocket, like a bullet, to be fired on out into space beyond Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. And thus--who could deny it?--you would be getting nearer and nearer to the Lord. How wonderful! Couldn’t you just feel Him drawing near? Couldn’t you just sense His breath, His scrutiny, His Presence?
“Here I am,” said Mrs. Bellowes, “an ancient rickety elevator, ready to go up the shaft. God need only press the button.”
Now, on the seventh day, as she minced up the steps of the Restorium, a number of small doubts assailed her.
“For one thing,” she said aloud to no one, “it isn’t quite the land of milk and honey here on Mars that they said it would be. My room is like a cell, the swimming pool is really quite inadequate, and, besides, how many widows who look like mushrooms or skeletons want to swim? And, finally, the whole Restorium smells of boiled cabbage and tennis shoes!”
She opened the front door and let it slam, somewhat irritably.
She was amazed at the other women in the auditorium. It was like wandering in a carnival mirror-maze, coming again and again upon yourself--the same floury face, the same chicken hands, and jingling bracelets. One after another of the images of herself floated before her. She put out her hand, but it wasn’t a mirror; it was another lady shaking her fingers and saying:
“We’re waiting for Mr. Thirkell. Sh!“
“Ah,” whispered everyone.
The velvet curtains parted.
Mr. Thirkell appeared, fantastically serene, his Egyptian eyes upon everyone. But there was something, nevertheless, in his appearance which made one expect him to call “Hi!” while fuzzy dogs jumped over his legs, through his hooped arms, and over his back. Then, dogs and all, he should dance with a dazzling piano-keyboard smile off into the wings.
Mrs. Bellowes, with a secret part of her mind which she constantly had to grip tightly, expected to hear a cheap Chinese gong sound when Mr. Thirkell entered. His large liquid dark eyes were so improbable that one of the old ladies had facetiously claimed she saw a mosquito cloud hovering over them as they did around summer rain-barrels. And Mrs. Bellowes sometimes caught the scent of the theatrical mothball and the smell of calliope steam on his sharply pressed suit.
But with the same savage rationalization that had greeted all other disappointments in her rickety life, she bit at the suspicion and whispered, “This time it’s real. This time it’ll work. Haven’t we got a rocket?”
Mr. Thirkell bowed. He smiled a sudden Comedy Mask smile. The old ladies looked in at his epiglottis and sensed chaos there.
Before he even began to speak, Mrs. Bellowes saw him picking up each of his words, oiling it, making sure it ran smooth on its rails. Her heart squeezed in like a tiny fist, and she gritted her porcelain teeth.
“Friends,” said Mr. Thirkell, and you could hear the frost snap in the hearts of the entire assemblage.
“No!” said Mrs. Bellowes ahead of time. She could hear the bad news rushing at her, and herself tied to the track while the immense black wheels threatened and the whistle screamed, helpless.
“There will be a slight delay,” said Mr. Thirkell.
In the next instant, Mr. Thirkell might have cried, or been tempted to cry, “Ladies, be seated!” in minstrel-fashion, for the ladies had come up at him from their chairs, protesting and trembling.
“Not a very long delay.” Mr. Thirkell put up his hands to pat the air.
“Only a week.”
“Yes. You can stay here at the Restorium for seven more days, can’t you? A little delay won’t matter, will it, in the end? You’ve waited a lifetime. Only a few more days.”
At twenty dollars a day, thought Mrs. Bellowes, coldly.
“What’s the trouble?” a woman cried.
“A legal difficulty,” said Mr. Thirkell.
“We’ve a rocket, haven’t we?”
“But I’ve been here a whole month, waiting,” said one old lady. “Delays, delays!”
“That’s right,” said everyone.
“Ladies, ladies,” murmured Mr. Thirkell, smiling serenely.
“We want to see the rocket!” It was Mrs. Bellowes forging ahead, alone, brandishing her fist like a toy hammer.
Mr. Thirkell looked into the old ladies’ eyes, a missionary among albino cannibals.
“Well, now,” he said.
“Yes, now!” cried Mrs. Bellowes.
“I’m afraid--” he began.
“So am I!” she said. “That’s why we want to see the ship!”
“No, no, now, Mrs.--” He snapped his fingers for her name.
“Bellowes!” she cried. She was a small container, but now all the seething pressures that had been built up over long years came steaming through the delicate vents of her body. Her cheeks became incandescent. With a wail that was like a melancholy factory whistle, Mrs. Bellowes ran forward and hung to him, almost by her teeth, like a summer-maddened Spitz. She would not and never could let go, until he died, and the other women followed, jumping and yapping like a pound let loose on its trainer, the same one who had petted them and to whom they had squirmed and whined joyfully an hour before, now milling about him, creasing his sleeves and frightening the Egyptian serenity from his gaze.