Call It Sleep VIII

WHEN David awoke the next morning, it seemed to him that he had been lying in bed a long while with eyes open but without knowing who or where he was. Memory had never been so tardy in returning. He could almost feel his brain fill up like a bottle under a slow tap. Reluctant antennae groped feebly into the past. Where? What? One by one the shuttles stirred, awoke, knit morning to night, night to evening. Annie! Oh! Desperately he shook his head, but could not shake the memory out.

The window.… Snow still falling through the dull light of the alley, banked whitely against the sill, encroaching on the pane. David stared a while at the sinking patterns of the flakes. They fell with slow simplicity if you watched them, swiftly and devious if you looked beyond. Their monotonous descent gave him an odd feeling of being lifted higher and higher; he went floating until he was giddy. He shut his eyes.

From the street somewhere, came the frosty ring of a shovel scraping the stony sidewalk, a remote and drowsy sound.

All this stir when the world seemed trying to sleep, saddened him. Why did anyone have to clear away the snow; why did anyone disturb it? He would rather the snow were on the ground all year. The thin sound of the shovel gave him a feeling of sluggish resentment. He drew his legs up and bent his head toward his knees. Warm bed-clothes, the odor of sleep.

He would have dozed again, but the door opened. His mother came in and sat down at the edge of the bed.

“Asleep?” she asked, then bent down and kissed him. “It’s time to get up for school.” And sighing, she threw back the bed-clothes, and pivoted him to a sitting posture on the bed. He whimpered drowsily, then rose, shivering when his feet touched the cold floor and followed her. The kitchen was warm. She slipped his night gown from over his head and helped him dress. When he was washed and combed, he sat down to breakfast. He ate listlessly and without relish.

“You don’t seem to be very hungry?” she inquired. “You’ve hardly touched the oatmeal. Would you like more milk?”

“No. I’m not hungry.”

“An egg?”

He shook his head.

“I shouldn’t have kept you up so late. You look weary. Do you remember the strange dream you had last night?”


“How did such a strange dream come to you?” she mused. “A woman with a child who turned loathsome, a crowd of people following a black-bird. I don’t understand it. But my, how you screamed!”

Why did she have to remind him of it again. The vigil afterwards waiting for sleep. Annie!

“Why did you kick the table so?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it a growing pain?” she laughed. “But they say those happen only in sleep. Are you awake?” She looked at the clock. “Just a little more milk?”


“You’ll have more at lunch then,” she warned. “But it’s time now you were going.” She fetched his leggings and kneeling down buttoned them on. “Shall I go with you?”

“I can go by myself.”

“Perhaps you ought to wait for Yussie or his sister.”

The very thought made him shudder inwardly. He knew he would run from them if he met them. He shook his head.

“Will you go right into the school and not stay too long in the snow?”

“Yes.” He let down the furry ear-laps of his cap as he put it on. His books were on the wash-tub.

“Good-bye, then,” she stooped to kiss him. “Such an indifferent kiss! I don’t think you love me this morning.”

But David offered no other. He took one step through the door, started with fear, remembering. He turned. “Mama, will you leave the door open till—till I’m gone—till you hear me down-stairs?”

“Child! What’s wrong with you? Very well, I will. Does that dream still hover in your mind?”

“Yes,” he felt relieved that she had given him an excuse.

“You had better go now. I’ll wait in the door-way.”

Feeling ashamed of himself and yet not a little supported by her presence in the doorway, David hurried out. At the bottom of the stairs the cellar door was still shut. He eyed it with horror, his heart quickening in his bosom.

“Mama?” he called.


He sprang from the steps, three at a time, more than he had ever tried before, stumbled to his knees, dropping his strap of books, but the next moment shot to his feet again, and sped like a hunted thing to the pale light of the doorway.

The silent white street waited for him, snow-drifts where the curb was. Footfalls silent. Before the houses, the newly swept areas of the sidewalks, black, were greying again. Flakes cold on cheek, quickening. Narrow-eyed, he peered up. Black overhead the flakes were, black till they sank below a housetop. Then suddenly white. Why? A flake settled on his eye-lash; he blinked, tearing with the wet chill, lowered his head. Snow trodden down by passing feet into crude, slippery scales. The railings before basements gliding back beside him, white pipes of snow upon them. He scooped one up as he went. Icy, setting the blood tingling, it gathered before the plow of his palm. He pressed it into a ball, threw it from one hand to the other until he dropped it.

He turned the first corner at the end of the street, turned the second. Would it be there again? He quickened his pace. It was still hanging there beside the doorway. This was the third day he had seen it, and each time he had forgotten to ask what it meant. What could it mean? The green leaves were half concealed in snow; even the purple ribbon was covered. The poor white flowers looked frozen. He stared at them thoughtfully and passed on.

He turned the last corner. Voices of children. School a little ways off, on the other side of the street.

If he saw Annie there, what would he do? Look away. Walk by—

Must cross. Before him at the corner, children were crossing a beaten path in the snow. Beside him, the untrodden white of the gutter. He stopped. Here was a place to cross. Not a single footprint, only a wagon rut. Better not. The ridge of snow near the curb was almost as tall as himself. But none had crossed before. It would be his own, all his own path. Yes. He took a running jump, only partly cleared the first ridge, landed in snow almost as high as his knees. Behind him several voices called out, jeering, but he plunged forward, plunged forward to the lower level. Shouldn’t have done it! He would be all covered with it now, wet. But how miraculously clean it was, all about him, whiter than anything he knew, whiter than anything, whiter. The second ridge was packed harder than the first; he climbed up, almost sank, jumped for safety to the other side, hastily brushed himself off. Sidewalk snow, riddled with salt, tramped down by the feet of children, reddened with ashes, growing dirtier as it neared the school.

At the sound of laughter, he looked up. In front of him, straddled two boys, vying with each other, each squirting urine as far ahead as he could. The water sank in a ragged channel, steaming in the snow, yellowing at the margins.

Sidewalk snow never stayed white. The school door. He entered.

Walk by if he saw her, hurry by.…