"Way in the Middle of the Air" Summary
“Way in the Middle of the Air” is a short story included in Ray Bradbury’s 1950 collection The Martian Chronicles.
- In the year 2003, a white hardware store owner named Samuel Teece learns that the Black citizens of his Southern town are boarding rockets bound for Mars.
- Teece tries to stop his Black employee, Silly, from leaving but is prevented by Grandpa Quartermain and the other white men who have been sitting on the store’s porch.
- After the Black people leave, Teece angrily drives over the possessions they have left behind and watches their rockets disappear into space.
Last Updated on January 8, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 962
In June 2003, a group of men on the porch of a hardware store are talking about the apparent flight of "every single nigger" in the South to the planet Mars. When this is announced, it is met with disdain: someone says the Black men cannot leave, but the facts have been announced on the radio. They are leaving.
Samuel Teece, the proprietor of the store, notes that he sent his Black servant, Silly, out an hour ago, and he hasn't yet returned. The men wonder whether he has simply "pedaled off to Mars."
At this juncture, the men hear a noise. Turning to the street, they see a vast tide of Black people of both sexes and all ages moving down the road. They have with them their dogs and their horses, their hens, their babies, their cats, their mattresses, even grandfather clocks.
Samuel Teece is astounded and asks how they all plan to get to Mars. Grandpa Quartermain observes that they have saved their money and secretly put together their own rockets. Teece is appalled and asks how it is allowed, but Grandpa points out that they aren't declaring war. They will gather by Loon Lake to be picked up by rockets at one o'clock.
Teece's wife, Clara, comes running down the street with other white women looking for their husbands. Clara tells Teece that he needs to come home because their servant, Lucinda, who is like a family member to Clara, is leaving. Clara says she has promised to raise Lucinda's pay and give her more nights off; Lucinda said that she loved the family, but she had to leave. She dusted and cleaned the house and made lunch for the last time and then left.
Teece tells Clara to go home and stop "makin' a sight" of herself. He then fetches a silver pistol and sits down again on his porch. At this point he sees a horse passing, ridden by Belter. Teece accosts Belter and tells him he owes him fifty dollars and that he must stay to work out the debt.
Belter looks at the flowing river of Black people moving toward the rocket launch and begs to be let go, saying he will send the money from Mars. At Teece's request, he explains that he knows only what he's been told about the launch.
Teece says that the rocket will probably explode in flight, and even if it doesn't, Mars will be cold and full of monsters. But Belter says he doesn't care, begging to be let go. At this point, an old man steps forward and asks how much is owed. He then turns to the crowd and asks them for two dollars each, saying Belter cannot miss the rocket. Belter presents the money to Teece, thanks the old man, and gets back on his horse.
Little white boys are now running up the street with news, saying that the richer Black people are helping the poorer to pay off their debtors, to help the others reach freedom. This fills Teece with rage. He begins to shout "Bang!" from his porch and bellows at the crowd that the rockets will surely explode, but the tide continues to flow until it is two o'clock and silent.
One of the men on the porch says he can't understand why the Black people are leaving now that things are looking up. At this point, Silly arrives on his bicycle. He says he is just coming to return it and asks if he can take the next day off. Teece shows him his contract of employment and says that Silly cannot break it. When Silly cries that if he doesn't leave today, he will never leave, Teece turns in appeal to the other men. Teece is appalled by the idea that a white man could do Silly's work, but Grandpa volunteers, saying he will clean the brass.
Teece won't have this, seizing Silly's arm and declaring that he will lock him in the back room until that night. Silly begins to cry as he sees his family approaching in an old Ford. The other white men slowly stand up and begin telling Teece to let Silly go. Eventually Teece relents, on condition that Silly clean out any junk he has left in the store.
When Teece asks scornfully what Silly will do on Mars, Silly says he will start his own hardware store. Teece begins to scoff that the rockets, he imagines, are named after old spirituals. He is still saying this until Silly gets into the car and it drives off, with Silly shouting out of the window, "Mr. Teece . . . What you goin' to do nights from now on?"
Teece wonders what this means. Then he remembers the many nights he has taken part in lynchings and is furious. He pulls his pistol from his pocket and declares he is going to kill Silly. Grandpa says he will get in the car with Teece, so the pair drive off along an empty road. Slowly, Teece notices that the Black people have left their old things strewn along the side of the road, put down gently, as if the owners had simply been taken up to heaven and their things left behind.
In a rage, Teece begins to drive over the items to destroy them, until the car veers off the road into a ditch and Teece realizes he will never catch the Black people who have left.
Teece and Grandpa walk back to the store, and as they arrive, they see the rockets vanishing into the sky. The hardware store and the world around it now seem very silent, until Teece cries out triumphantly: “Did you notice? Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”
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