We probably all have stories, written or filmed, that had endings we hated. Maybe we also revisit them from time to time and come up with happier endings. For me, this is a pretty obvious one.
For those of you who’ve never seen Season 1, Episode 8 of the original Twilight Zone series, let me do a quick synopsis of Time Enough At Last, starring Burgess Meredith.
Here’s Henry Bemis, at his bank job.
When his boss catches him reading a book on the job, he berates him for even reading at lunch in the vault and threatens to fire him. His wife grabs and balls up his newspaper every night and ruins his favorite book of poetry by filling each page with criss crossing lines. What kind of monsters are these that make Henry so desperate that he’s forced to read catsup bottles to satisfy his hunger for words??
One day, Henry enters the vault and happily reads through his lunch hour, until the room starts to shake violently. When he hesitantly ventures out, he finds that the world has been destroyed by an H bomb.
In shock, he wanders around and finds a ruined grocery store with viable canned and other goods that should sustain him for a long while. But the thought of being alone with nothing to do is almost too much. He takes a gun out of a glass cabinet and is ready to end it all. Until a sign catches his eye. Public Library!
He creates stacks of books while happily imagining reading them all because now, he has time enough, at last.
Until he bends over a fallen book and his glasses tumble to the cement steps, where they crack into dozens of pieces. The despair!! Oh my God, what do I do now?? I mean, poor Henry! How can it end like this??
The Happy Ending
Our story picks up the next morning, after a calming night’s sleep. Henry refuses to give up and decides he’ll try to find his optometrist. He grabs a small bag from the grocery store and sets out into the city.
From the library, he knows the doctor’s office is only a few streets north. He picks his way through the destruction, moving agonizingly slowly because he’s nearly blind without his Coke bottle bottom glasses. But he perseveres, because he’s already seen that some glass has survived the blast and he clings to hope.
Finally, he arrives. The street is a blur of rubble but he steps over the space where the front window should have been and painstakingly makes his way toward the back of the office, where he knows the lenses are kept. The lower half of the wall shared with the next-door building seems to have withstood most of the blast and the bottom drawers of the large cabinet of lenses seems to be intact. His heart is racing!
The drawers are stuck! He forces himself to stay calm and feels around for a tool of some sort to help get the drawers to slide. Finally, he pries open the lowest drawer and begins to feel the lenses. Most are intact. Huzzah! Now to find a few that will help him to see clearly.
After rummaging through half a dozen drawers, he’s collected a bag full of lenses. Next, he searches for frames that seem to be scattered across the storeroom floor. He sits among the broken walls and furniture and takes his time to find the right combination of lenses and frames.
Hesitantly, he slips on the glasses and is both fascinated and appalled as the world around him comes into focus. Now that he has achieved his goal and the world is sharp and real again, he feels a little spooked. Quickly, he matches more lenses to frames, because he doesn’t ever want to be without his sight again. Then he makes his way back to the library and the relative safety of his new neighborhood. It’s been a long day, so he enjoys a can of beans and a package of Twinkies from the grocery and reads a book of Keats poetry until the light begins to fade.
The next day, he discovers that part of the cellar of the library will make a viable place to store all the books he can carry before the rainy season starts and will serve as a safe and comfortable homestead. Over the next few weeks, he moves books, food and all the candles he can find to his new home.
And his stash of glasses? They reside in safety deposit box 6624 in the bank vault that spared his life.
In The Twilight Zone.