In 1973, Ray Bradbury published a short story in the December issue of Woman’s Day magazine. It later appeared in his short story collection Long After Midnight, but it was that Christmas that is forever lodged in my memory, along with Mr. Bradbury.
I wouldn’t turn 9 years old until January but that December I felt much older as I had just experienced real death for the first time. Earlier in the year I had lost my beloved Grandpa and I recall simply not being able to believe I would never see him again. He had loomed exceptionally large in my life and for an 8-years-old me, there had never been a time when he wasn’t holding my hand. But he had gone suddenly from a heart attack and I didn’t get to say goodbye, and that experience had made me feel older than myself.
But my feelings of loss were nothing to my Dad’s. He had been very close with his own Dad his entire life, and when Grandpa died, to me anyway, it seemed like part of Dad went with him. By Christmas, Dad was putting on a brave face and trying to be cheery for me and my very young siblings. But I could see he his grief was winning. Mom tried everything to bring him around from making his favorite dishes to decorating (it looked like Christmas exploded in our house that year), but Dad’s smile was watery and he spent more time than usual ‘working’ out in the garage where I suspected he shed the tears he couldn’t do in front of us.
I clearly remember Mom coming into the living room one evening in early December and handing Dad her Woman’s Day magazine, with the pages folded open particularly. She said, “I want you to read this,” and when he looked up blankly, she shook the magazine under his nose and said, “Read it,” then left the room. I remember being curious because though Mom was an avid reader of all things, Dad only read Time and the local paper, he was more of an evening news man, and I doubted there would be anything in Mom’s magazine that would interest him. But he slowly began to read, and I went back to whatever I had been doing. Awhile later he closed the magazine and put it in the rack with the others, then went into Mom’s sitting room and shut the door. I heard them talking and I thought I heard Dad crying.
I dug that Woman’s Day out of the rack and went off to my room to figure out what Dad had read. After thumbing through it a few times I decided it had probably been a story called “The Wish” by a man named Ray Bradbury. Like Mom, I was a voracious reader but did not know who he was. Fueled by curiosity, I read “The Wish” right through.
In the days that followed, Dad seemed more himself and by Christmas Eve was almost if not quite as jovial as usual. Life eventually overtook loss and missing Grandpa went from feeling like someone was squeezing my heart, to a dull ache, to the whimsical longing that pops up to this day. It took a few more years for me to fully understand why Mom had made Dad read “The Wish” and why afterwards he seemed a bit better. From that point on, I started devouring anything written by Ray Bradbury, but it wasn’t until many years later that I learned he had written “The Wish” while grieving the loss of his own father; which explained the longing, the love and a bit of horror that permeated the words. Though that Woman’s Day magazine is long gone, I never forgot “The Wish” and still have the dog-eared copy of Long After Midnight which I crack open every Christmas to read the story that is etched forever in my memory. It is a story of the loss we all feel at some point in our lives, and about how the magic of one night each year makes it possible to undo some of the sadness.
It’s been out of print for some time, but you can still find copies of Long After Midnight on Amazon and probably at your local library. However, I really wanted to share “The Wish” with you now, and after a thorough search, I found a PDF of it online, which you can read here.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.