Call It Sleep V

TRINKETS held in the mortar of desire, the fancy a trowel, the whim the builder. A wall, a tower, stout, secure, incredible, immuring the spirit from a flight of arrows, the mind, experience, shearing the flow of time as a rock shears water. The minutes skirted by, unknown.

His mother and father had left for the theatre, and he was alone with Luter. He would not see his mother again until morning, and morning, with his mother gone, had become remote and tentative. The tears had started to his eyes when she left, and Luter had said “Come child, do you begrudge your mother the little pleasure she may get to-night?” David had stared sullenly at the floor, aware that a great resentment against Luter was gathering within him. Had not Luter been the agent of his mother’s going? And now how dared he reprove him for weeping when she was gone! How did he know what it felt like to be left alone? It wasn’t his mother.

“Now you look just like your father.” Luter had laughed. “He has just such lips when he frowns.”

There had been something in his voice that had had a peculiar sting to it. Hurt, David had turned away and gotten out his box in the pantry in which he saved both the calendar leaves he collected and whatever striking odds and ends he found in the street. His mother called them his gems and often asked him why he liked things that were worn and old. It would have been hard to tell her. But there was something about the way in which the link of a chain was worn or the thread on a bolt or a castor-wheel that gave him a vague feeling of pain when he ran his fingers over them. They were like worn shoe-soles or very thin dimes. You never saw them wear, you only knew they were worn, obscurely aching.

He fingered one of his newly-found acquisitions. It was one of those perforated metal corks that the barber used to squirt perfumed water on one’s head. One could blow through it, peep through it, it could be strung on a thread. He dropped it back into the box and picked up instead the stretched helix of a small window-shade spring. If one had these on one’s feet instead of shoes, one might bound instead of walk. High as the roof; far away at once. Like Puss in Boots. But if the mouse changed back into an ogre inside the puss—just before he died—I’m a mouse—an ogre!— Then poor Puss would have swelled and swelled and—

Luter sighed. Startled, David looked up. I’m a mouse—I’m an ogre! The thought lingered. He eyed Luter furtively. Unaware that he was being watched, Luter had put down his paper and was staring ahead of him. Something curious had happened to his expression. The usually upturned, affable lines of his face either curved the other way now, downward, or where not curved were sharp, wedge-shaped at the eyes and mouth. And the eyes themselves, which were always so round and soft, had narrowed now, so narrow, the eyeballs looked charred, remote. His upper teeth gnawed the skin of his lips, drawing his face into a brooding frown. It worried David. A faint thrill of disquiet ran through him. He suddenly felt an intense desire to have someone else present in his house. It didn’t have to be his mother. Anybody would do—Yussie from upstairs. Even his father.

Luter rose. David hastily dropped his gaze. Deliberate, brown-clad legs approached (what?) passed by him (he relaxed) stopped before the wall (peered over his shoulder) the calendar. Luter thumbed the leaves (black, black, black, red, black, black) held up a thin sheaf, and with puckered lips, stared at the date as though something far more intricate and absorbing than the mere figures were depicted there. Then he lowered the upturned leaves slowly, cautiously (Why? Why so carefully? They had only one place they could fall to) and rubbed his hands.

On his way back to the chair, he glanced down at the empty shoe-box between David’s knees, emptied of everything except its calendar-leaves.

“Well!” His voice seemed amused, yet not entirely so, as if crossed by a slight start of surprise. “What are those? Do you get them from there?”

“Yes.” David looked up uneasily. “I save them.”

“Yesterday’s days? What do you want with them? To scribble on?”

“No. Just save.”

“Chm!” His laughing snort sounded unpleasant to David. “If I had so few days as you have I wouldn’t bother about them. And when you’re as old as I am—” he stopped, indulged in a short chuckle that pecked like a tiny hammer— “you’ll know that the only thing that matters are the days ahead.”

David tried not to look resentful for fear Luter would accuse him again of looking like his father. He wished he would go away. But instead Luter nodded, and smiling to himself, glanced at the clock.

“It’s time for you to go to bed now. It’s long after eight.”

He poured the various trinkets back into the box, went over to the pantry and stowed them away in the corner.

“Do you know how to undress yourself?”


“You’d better go in and ‘pee’ first,” he advised, smiling. “How does your mother say it?”

“She says numbuh one.”

Luter chuckled. “Then she’s learned a little English.”

After he had gone to the bathroom, David went into his bedroom, and undressed and got into his night-gown.

Luter looked in. “All right?” he asked.

“Yes,” he answered climbing into bed.

Luter shut the door.

Darkness was different without his mother near. People were different too.