Call It Sleep IV

“NOT a single one?” Luter was asking with some surprise. “Not in the old land either?”

The old land. David’s thoughts turned outward. Anything about the old land was always worth listening to.

“Not one,” his mother answered. “Nothing ever came to my hamlet except the snow and the rain. Not that I minded. Except once—yes. A man with a gramophone —the kind you listened to with ear pieces. It cost a penny to listen to it, and it wasn’t even worth that. I never heard anything labor so and squawk. But the peasants were awed. They swore there was a devil in the box.”

Luter laughed. “And that’s all you had seen before you came here to this turmoil?”

“I’ve seen little enough of it! I know that I myself live on one hundred and twenty-six Boddeh Stritt—”

“Bahday Street!” Her husband corrected her. “I’ve told you scores of times.”

“Boddeh Stritt,” she resumed apologetically. He shrugged. “It’s such a strange name—bath street in German. But here I am. I know there is a church on a certain street to my left, the vegetable market is to my right, behind me are the railroad tracks and the broken rocks, and before me, a few blocks away is a certain store window that has a kind of white-wash on it—and faces in the white-wash, the kind children draw. Within this pale is my America, and if I ventured further I should be lost. In fact,” she laughed, “were they even to wash that window, I might never find my way home again.”

His father made an impatient gesture. “Speaking of Yiddish plays,” he said, “I did see one. It was when I stayed with my father in Lemberg, the days of the great fair. They called it the Revenge of Samson. I can see him yet, blind, but shaggy again, waiting his time against the pagans. It moved me greatly.”

“For my part,” said Luter, “I go to the theatre to laugh. Shall I go there and be tormented when life itself is a plague? No, give me rather a mad jester or the antics of a spry wench.”

“I don’t care for that.” His father was brief.

“Well, I’m not mad about it either, you understand, but I was just saying sometimes when one is gloomy it does the heart good. Don’t you think great laughter heals the soul, Mrs. Schearl?”

“I suppose so.”

“There, you see! But listen, I have an idea. You know that the People’s Theatre always gives Dolman the job of printing its placards. Well, it has a stage that is never empty of tears—at least one good death rattle is heard every night. And if you like that sort of play, why I can talk to the agent or whatever he’s called and squeeze a whole month’s pass out of him. You know they change every week.”

“I don’t know whether I want to.” His father frowned dubiously.

“Why, certainly! It won’t be any trouble at all. And it won’t cost you a cent. I’ll get a pass for two, you watch me. I wish I had known this before.”

“Don’t trouble about me,” said his mother. “Many thanks, but I couldn’t possibly go away and leave David here alone.”

“Oh, that can be solved!” he assured her. “That’s the least of your worries. But first let me get the pass.” Luter left early that evening, before David was put to bed. And when he was gone, his father turned to his mother and said, “Well, did I make a mistake when I said this man was my friend? Did I? Here is one who knows how to express friendship, here as well as in the shop. Tell me, do I know a decent man when I see him?”

“You do,” was the mild answer.

“And you with your fear of taking strangers into the house!” he continued scornfully. “Could you ever have a better boarder than he?”

“It isn’t that. I’m glad to serve him dinners regularly. But I do know that most often it’s better for friends to be a little apart than always together.”

“Nonsense!” He retorted. “It’s your silly pride.”