What a shame the world isn’t just driving over hills and never coming to a town
The sun was gone. The sky lingered its colors for a time while they sat in the clearing. At last, he heard a whispering. She was getting up. She put out her hand to take his. He stood beside her, and they looked at the woods around them and the distant hills. They began to walk away from the path and the car, away from the highway and the town. A spring moon rose over the land while they were walking.
The breath of nightfall was rising up out of the separate blades of grass, a warm sighing of air, quiet and endless. They reached the top of the hill, and without a word, sat there watching the sky.
He thought to himself that this was impossible; that such things did not happen. He wondered who she was, and what she was doing here.
Ten miles away, a train whistled in the spring night and went on its way over the dark evening earth, flashing a brief fire. And then, again, he remembered the old story, the old dream. The thing he and his friend had discussed, so many years ago.
There must be one night in your life that you will remember forever. There must be one night for everyone. And if you know that the night is coming on and that this night will be that particular night, then take it and don’t question it and don’t talk about it to anyone ever after that. For if you let it pass it might not come again. Many have let it pass, many have seen it go by and have never seen another like it, when all the circumstances of weather, light, moon and time, of night hill and warm grass and train and town and distance were balanced upon the trembling of a finger. . . .
He woke during the night. She was awake, near him.
“Who are you?” he whispered. She said nothing.
“I could stay another night,” he said.
But he knew that one can never stay another night. One night is the night, and only one. After that, the gods turn their backs.
Her eyes were closed, but she was awake.
“But I don’t know who you are,” he said.
“You could come with me,” he said, “to New York.”
But he knew that she could never be there, or anywhere but here, on this night.
“And I can’t stay here,” he said, knowing that this was the truest and most empty part of all.
He waited for a time and then said again, “Are you real? Are you really real?”
They slept. The moon went down the sky toward morning.
He walked out of the hills and the forest at dawn, to find the car covered with dew. He unlocked it and climbed in behind the wheel, and sat for a moment looking back at the path he had made in the wet grass.
He moved over, preparatory to getting out of the car again. He put his hand on the inside of the door and gazed steadily out. The forest was empty and still. The path was deserted. The highway was motionless and serene. There was no movement anywhere in a thousand miles.
He started the car motor and let it idle. The car was pointed east, where the orange sun was now rising slowly.
“All right,” he said quietly. “Everyone, here I come. What a shame you’re all still alive. What a shame the world isn’t just hills and hills, and nothing else to drive over but hills, and never coming to a town.”
He drove away east, without looking back.
— From Ray Bradbury, “One Night in Your Life,” in The Toynbee Convector