September 1, 2012
“The First Night of Lent”
Where to Find It: A Medicine for Melancholy, The Stories of Ray Bradbury
First Published: Playboy, March 1956
Plot Synopsis: A young screenwriter at work in Ireland in 1953 discovers his ever-reliable regular taxicab driver has become dangerous and impaired when behind the wheel. Nick, the village driver, escorts the young writer from Dublin to the Irish countryside and the estate of the director who has hired him. Nick then waits at the local pub until the writer is ready to be driven back to the city. There is never a problem, until the first night of Lent…
Critique: Any “essential list” of Bradbury short stories must include an Irish tale (as well as a Mexico story, a Mars story and a Green Town story, for that matter). The problem is, of course, which Irish story? I chose this one for two simple reasons. First, Bradbury takes the lyrical quality of his voice and drenches it in a poetic and authentic Irish brogue.
Nick, now. See his easy hands loving the wheel in a slow clocklike turning as soft and silent as winter constellations snow down the sky. Listen to his mist-breathing voice all night-quiet as he charms the road, his foot a tenderly benevolent pat on the whispering accelerator, never a mile under thirty, never two miles over. Nick, Nick and his steady boat gentling a mild sweet lake where all Time slumbers. Look, compare. And bind such a man to you with summer grasses, gift him with silver, shake his hand warmly at each journey’s end.
“Good night, Nick,” I said at the hotel. “See you tomorrow.”
“God willing,” whispered Nick.
And he drove softly away.
The second reason I have selected this story for the “Essential Bradbury” list is that it’s the first Irish story Bradbury wrote, one newly minted from his own experience living in Dublin in autumn 1953 and winter 1954 while writing the screenplay for Moby Dick for director John Huston. From a biographical standpoint, it’s fascinating to read a work of short fiction that is, ostensibly, memoir. And with “The First Night of Lent,” Bradbury had discovered a trove of material that would continue to yield rich material, culminating in the publication of the 1992 semi-autobiographical novel, Green Shadow, White Whale, a minor-classic.
The Beginning of the Irish Stories: As Ray recalled, one night after he had returned from Ireland, he was in bed and a voice spoke to him.
Ray responded, “Who is it?”
The voice said, “It’s Nick, the cab driver who drove you back and forth from Dublin to Kilcock 80 or 90 times. Do you remember that, Ray? Do you?”
“Would you mind puttin’ it down?”
So Bradbury started writing his Irish stories, beginning with “The First Night of Lent.”
Historical Aside: A fascinating New York Times article on John Huston’s Georgian Irish Manor that ran June 12, 2012.
This is the very house where, in 1953, Nick the cab driver picked Bradbury up late at night, to drive him back to Dublin.