Marionettes, Inc.


Ray Bradbury

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Smith has been trying to get his friend Braling to go out for a “quiet drink” for the past ten years, and tonight, Braling finally consented. Smith jokingly asks his friend if he had to put sleeping powder in Mrs. Braling’s coffee in order to sneak out of the house. Braling says of course not—“that would be unethical.”

The two men talk about their respective marriages, which have both been going on for ten years. Braling’s is particularly bad, as he was manipulated into marrying his wife—she threatened him with a rape accusation if he didn’t agree to marry her. At the time, Braling was about to embark on a trip to Rio, but with all of the drama surrounding the soon-to-be Mrs. Braling, he was never able to go.

Braling pulls out a ticket for Rio and tells Smith that things are about to change. Smith is delighted for his friend but concerned that Mrs. Braling won’t take kindly to Braling’s trip. Braling mysteriously says that he’s found a way to be gone for an entire month without his wife even knowing, but that he’ll explain it to Smith later. The men discuss how Smith’s marriage isn’t great either—his wife, Nettie, loves him too much. She almost never lets him out of her grasp, and she smothers him with unwanted affection.

When the men arrive at Braling’s house, Braling gestures to a second story window, and Smith notices a man in the window gazing down at them—and he looks exactly like Braling. When the man comes outside, Braling asks Smith to press his ear against the man’s chest. Hesitantly, Smith complies, and hears a faint ticking noise. Braling reveals that the man, whom he calls Braling Two, is a marionette made by a top-secret company called Marionettes, Inc. Braling Two produces a business card that boasts of “new humanoid plastic 1990 models […] From $7,600 to our $15,000 deluxe model.”

Braling explains that he’s kept the marionette locked in a toolbox in the cellar for the past month, but that tonight was the first night he used the marionette. Braling affirms that his plan is “highly ethical.” Smith admits that he wants a marionette for himself, so he can have a little break from his wife—maybe just one night a month.

After saying goodbye to Braling, Smith reads from the business card that “Clients must be pledged to secrecy, for while an act is pending in Congress to legalize Marionettes, Inc., it is still a felony, if caught, to use one.” The card also states that clients must have an extensive mold taken of their bodies, as well as a color index check of all of their features, and that the process takes at least two months. Smith thinks two months isn’t too bad, and that he can just slip eight thousand dollars out of his joint account with Nettie—they have fifteen thousand in total—and tell her it’s for a business venture.

When Smith gets home, he locates his bankbook, but upon opening it, he realizes that ten thousand dollars are missing from their bank account, and they only have five thousand dollars left. He begins screaming Nettie’s name, accusing her of buying more hats, perfume, and bags—or even that small vacation home on the Hudson River that she’s been dreaming about for months.

Smith wakes up his wife and begs her to tell him what she’s done with all of his money. Suddenly, he has a terrible realization and presses his ear against his wife’s chest. “Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.”

Meanwhile, Braling Two protests when it’s time to go back in the toolbox. He doesn’t like being trapped in the toolbox, thinks it’s unfair that Braling gets to go to Rio, and has also fallen in love with Braling’s wife. Realizing his marionette has gone rogue, Braling makes a mad dash out of the cellar, but the marionette grabs him with an iron grip and commands him not to run. The marionette slowly says he is going to lock Braling up, permanently lose the key, and go to Rio with Mrs. Braling. Braling tries desperately to reason with him, but the marionette chillingly says, “Good-by[e], Braling.”

Ten minutes later, Mrs. Braling wakes up, startled by a kiss on her cheek. She mumbles to her husband that he hasn’t kissed her cheek in years. “Someone” answers, “We’ll see what we can do about that.”