Call It Sleep X

HIS mother rose, lit the gas lamp. Sudden, blue light condensed the candle flames to irrelevant kernels of yellow. He eyed them sadly, wishing that she hadn’t lit the lamp.

“They will be coming soon,” she said.

They! He started in dismay. They were coming! Luter. His father. They! Oh! The lull of peace was over. He could feel dread rising within him like a cloud—as though his mother’s words had been a stone flung on dusty ground. The hush and the joy were leaving him! Why did Luter have to come? David would be ashamed to look at him, could not look at him. Even thinking of Luter made him feel as he felt that day in school when the boy in the next seat picked his nose and rolled the snot between his fingers, then peered round with a vacant grin and wiped it off under the seat. It made his toes curl in disgust. He shouldn’t have seen him, shouldn’t have known.

“Is Mr. Luter going to come here too?”

“Of course.” She turned to look at him. “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. I just thought—I—I thought maybe he didn’t like the way you cooked.”

“The way I—? Oh! I see!” She reddened faintly. “I didn’t know you could remember so well.” She looked about as though she had forgotten something and then went up the stairs into the frontroom.

He stared out of the window into the dark. Rain still beat down. They must be hurrying toward him now in the rain, hurrying because it was raining. If only he could get away before they came, hide till Luter was gone, never come back till Luter had gone away forever. How could he go? He caught his breath. If he ran away now before his mother came back—stole out through the door silently. Like that! Opened the door, crept down the stairs. The cellar! Run by and run away, leaving upstairs an empty kitchen. She would look about, under the table, in the hall; she would call—David! David! Where are you? David! He’d be gone—

In the frontroom, the sound of a window opening, shutting again. His mother came in, bearing a grey covered pot between her hands. Rain drops on its sides, water in the hollow of the lid.

“A fearful night.” She emptied the overflowing lid into the sink. “The fish is frozen.”

Too late now.

He must stay here now, till the end, till Luter had come and gone. But perhaps his mother was wrong and perhaps Luter wouldn’t come, if only he never came again. Why should he come here again? He was here yesterday and there was nobody home. Don’t come here, his mind whispered to itself again and again. Please, Mr. Luter, don’t come here! Don’t come here any more.

The minutes passed, and just at that moment when it seemed to David that he had forgotten about Luter, the familiar tread of feet scraped through the hallway below. Voices on the stair! Luter had come. With one look at his mother’s pursed, attentive face, he sidled toward the frontroom, sneaked up the stairs and into the dark. He stood at the window, listening to the sounds behind him. The door was opened. He heard their greetings, Luter’s voice and slow speech. They must be taking their coats off now. If only they would forget about him. If only it were possible. But—

“Where’s the prayer?” he heard his father ask.

A pause and his mother’s voice. “He’s in the frontroom I think. David!”

“Yes, mama.” A wave of anger and frustration shook him.

“He’s there.”

Satisfied that he was there, they seemed to forget him for a little while, but again his father and this time with the dangerous accent of annoyance.

“Well, why doesn’t he come in? David!”

There could be no more delay. He must go in. Eyes fixed before his feet, he came out of the frontroom, shuffled to his seat and sat down, conscious all the time that the others were gazing at him curiously.

“What’s the matter with him?” asked his father sharply.

“I don’t quite know. Perhaps his stomach. He has eaten very little today.”

“Well, he’ll eat now,” said his father warningly. “You feed him too many trifles.”

“A doubtful stomach is a sad thing,” said Luter condoningly, and David hated him for his sympathy.

“Ach,” exclaimed his father, “it isn’t his stomach, Joe, it’s his palate—jaded with delicacies.”

His mother set the soup before him. “This will taste good,” she coaxed.

He dared not refuse, though the very thought of eating sickened him. Steeling himself against the first mouthful, he dipped the spoon into the shimmering red liquid, lifted it to his lips. Instead of reaching his mouth, the spoon reached only his chin, struck against the hollow under his lower lip, scalded it, fell from his nerveless fingers into the plate. A red fountain splashed out in all directions, staining his blouse, staining the white table cloth. With a feeling of terror David watched the crimson splotches on the cloth widen till they met each other.

His father lowered his spoon angrily into his plate. “Lame as a Turk!” he snapped, rapping the table with his knuckles. “Will you lift your head, or do you want that in the plate too?”

He raised frightened eyes. Luter glanced at him sidewise, sucking his teeth in wary disapproval.

“It’s nothing!” exclaimed his mother comfortingly. “That’s what table cloths were made for.”

“To splash soup on, eh?” retorted her husband sarcastically. “And that’s what shirts were made for too! Very fine. Why not the whole plate while he’s at it.”

Luter chuckled.

Without answering, his mother reached over and stroked his brow with her palm. “Go on and eat, child.”

“What are you doing now,” demanded his father, “sounding his brow for fever? Child! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the brat, except your pampering him!” He shook his finger at David ominously. “Now you swill your soup like a man, or I’ll ladle you out something else instead.”

David whimpered, eyed his plate in cowed rebellion.

“Take heed!”

“Perhaps he had better not eat,” interposed his mother.

“Don’t interfere.” And to David, “Are you going to eat?”

Trembling, and almost on the verge of nausea, David picked up the spoon and forcing himself, ate. The sickening spasm passed.

Impatiently, his father turned to Luter. “What were you saying, Joe?”

“I was saying,” said Luter in his slow voice, “that you would have to lock up the place after you left—only one door, you see. The rest I will close before I go.” He reached into his coat pocket and drawing out a ring of keys, detached one. “This one closes it. And I’ll tell you,” he handed the key to David’s father. “I’m putting it down as four hours. The whole job won’t take you more than two—three at most.”

“I see.”

“You won’t get the extra this week though. The bookkeeper—”

“Next week then.”

Luter cleared his throat. “You’re having one diner less tomorrow evening,” he said to David’s mother.

“Yes?” she asked in constrained surprise, and turning to David’s father, “Will you be so late, Albert?”

“Not I.”

“No, not Albert,” chuckled Luter, “I.”

David’s heart leaped in secret joy.

“Then I shan’t prepare dinner for you tomorrow night?”

“No, I have something to do tomorrow night,” he said vaguely. “Sunday perhaps. No, I’ll tell you. If I’m not here by seven o’clock Sunday, don’t keep the dinner waiting for me.”

“Very well.”

“I’ll pay for the week in full anyhow.”

“If you’re not coming—” she objected.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” said Luter, “that’s settled.” He nodded and picked up his spoon.

During the rest of the meal, David ate cautiously peering up furtively from time to time to see whether anything he did was displeasing his father. At Luter, he never ventured a glance for fear the very sight of the man would confuse him into further blunders. By the time his mother set the dessert before him, he was already casting about for some way to retreat, some place where he could hide and yet be thought present, or at least, be accounted for. He might feign drowsiness and his mother would put him to bed, but he could not do that now. It was too early. What would he do till then? Where could he escape for a little while? The rooms of the house passed before his mind. The frontroom? His father would say, “What is he doing in there in the dark?” The bedroom? No. His father would say the same thing. Where? The bathroom. Yes! He would sit on the toilet seat. Stay there till he heard some one call, then come out.

He had eaten the last prune, and was just about to slip from his chair when out of the corner of his eye, he saw Luter’s hand move toward his vest-pocket and draw out his watch.

“I must go!” He smacked his lips.

He was going! David could have danced for joy. It was too good to be true!

“So soon?” asked his mother.

To David’s surprise, his father laughed, and a moment later Luter joined him as if they shared some secret joke.

“I’m somewhat late as it is.” Luter pushed his chair back and rose. “But first I must pay you.”

David stared at his plate, listening. He could think of only one thing—Luter was going, would be gone in another minute. He glanced up. His father had just gone into the bedroom and in the moment of his absence Luter darted quick eyes at his mother. David shivered with revulsion and hastily looked down. Taking the coat which David’s father had just brought out, Luter got into it, and David with all the forces of his mind, tried to hasten the feet that were moving toward the door.

“Well,” Luter finally said, “a good week to you all. May the prayer,” his hat pointed at David, “recover soon.”

“Thank you,” said his mother. “Good week.”

“Lift your head,” snapped his father. David hastily looked up. “Goodnight, Joe, I’ll see you to-morrow. Good luck.” Both men laughed.

“Good night.” Luter went out.

With a quiet sigh of relief David uncurled from the tense, inner crouch his body seemed to have assumed, and looking about saw his father gazing at the door. His face had relaxed into a bare smile.

“He’s looking for trouble,” he said dryly.

“What do you mean?”

His father uttered an amused snort. “Didn’t you notice how peculiarly he behaved tonight?”

“I did—” she hesitated, watching his face inquiringly—“at least—Why?”

He turned to her; her eyes swerved back to the dishes.

“Didn’t you notice how embarrassed he was?”

“No. Well. Perhaps.”

“Then you don’t notice very much,” he chuckled shortly. “He’s off to a marriage-broker.”

“Oh!” Her brow cleared.

“Yes. It’s a secret. You understand? You know nothing about it.”

“I understand,” she smiled faintly.

“He’s free as air, and he’s looking for a stone around his neck.”

“Perhaps he does need a wife,” she reminded him. “I mean I have often heard him say he wanted a home and children.”

“Ach, children! Fresh grief! It isn’t children he’s looking for, it’s a little money. He wants to open a shop of his own. At least that’s what he says.”

“I thought you said he was looking for troubles?” she laughed.

“Certainly! He’s hurrying things too much. If he waited a few more years he’d have enough money of his own to set up a shop—without a wife. Wait! I said to him. Wait! No, he said. I need a thousand. I want a big place four or five presses. But he’ll find out what a Yiddish thousand is. If it melts no further than five hundred the morning after he ducked under the canopy, let none call him unfortunate.” He belched quietly, the adam’s apple on his neck jogging, and then looked around with knit brows as though seeking something.

“I heard him ask you to close up the shop,” she inquired.

“Yes, he’s giving me a little overtime. I won’t be home till four or five—perhaps later. Bah!” he burst out impatiently, “The man makes eighteen dollars a week—six more than I do—and he itches to pawn himself to a wife.” He paused, looked about again—“Where’s The Tageblatt?”

His wife looked up startled. “The Tageblatt”, she repeated in dismay, “Oh, where are my wits, I’ve forgotten to buy it. The rain! I put it off.”

He scowled.

Noisily setting the dishes down in the sink, she wiped her hands on a towel. “I’ll be only a minute.”

“Where are you going?”

“My shawl.”

“What’s the matter with him, hasn’t he feet?”

“But I can do it so much more quickly.”

“That’s the whole trouble with you,” he said curtly. “You do everything for him. Let him go down.”

“But it’s wet out, Albert.”

His face darkened, “Let him go down,” he repeated. “Is it any wonder he won’t eat. He moulders in the house all day! Get your coat on.” His head jerked sharply. “Shudder when I speak to you.”

David sprang from his seat, gazed apprehensively at his mother.

“Oh,” she protested, “why do you—”

“Be still! Well?”

“Very well,” she said, annoyed yet resigned, “I’ll get him his coat.”

She brought his coat out of the bedroom and helped him into it, his father meanwhile standing above them and muttering, as he always did, that he was big enough to fetch and get into his clothes by himself. Uneasily he tried to take his rubbers from her, but she insisted on helping him.

“It’s two cents,” she gave him a dime. “Here is ten. Ask for The Tageblatt and wait till they give you change.”

“Eight cents change,” his father admonished. “And don’t forget The Tageblatt.”

As David went out, his mother trailed behind him into the hall.

“Are you going down with him too?” his father inquired.

But without making a reply, she leaned over David and whispered. “Hurry down! I’ll wait!” And aloud as if giving him the last instruction. “The candy store on the corner.”

David went down as quickly as he could. The cellar door was brown in the gaslight. The raw night air met him at the end of the doorway. He went out. Rain, seen only where it blurred the distant lamps, still fell, seeking his face and the nape of his neck with icy fingers. The candy store window glimmered near the corner. His breath an evanescent plume, he hurried toward it, splashing in hidden puddles, his toes curling down against the rising chill. The streets were frightening, seen in loneliness this way, rain-swept, dark and deserted.

He didn’t like his father. He never would like him. He hated him.

The candy store at last. He opened the door, hearing overhead the familiar tinny jangle of the bell. Gnawing a frayed chicken bone the half-grown son of the storekeeper came out of the back.

“Waddayuh want?”

“De Tageblatt.”

The boy lifted a newspaper out of a small pile on the counter, handed it to David, who having taken it, turned to go.

“Where’s your money?” demanded the boy impatiently.

“Oh, hea.” David reached up and handed over the dime that he had been clutching in his hand all this time.

Clamping the bone between his teeth the boy made change and returned it, greasy fingers greasing the coins.

He went out, hurried toward the house. Walking was too slow; his mother would be waiting. He began to run. He had only taken a few strides forward when his foot suddenly landed on something that was not pavement. The sound of hollow iron warned him too late—A coal-chute cover. He slipped. With a gasp, he teetered in air, striving, clawing for a moment at a void, and then pitched forward, sprawling in the icy slush. Money and newspaper flew from his hands and now lay scattered in the dark. Frightened, knees and stockings soaked, he pushed himself to his feet, and began wildly looking about for what he had dropped.

He found the newspaper—sopping. Then a penny. More, there was more. He peered frantically in the dark. Another penny. Two cents now. But he had eight before. He plunged his hand here, there into the numbing snow, felt along the rough pavement, retraced, groped. Further ahead! Back! Nothing. Beside the curb maybe! Nothing. He would never find it. Never! He burst into tears, ran toward the house, careless now whether he fell or not. It would be better for him if he fell now, if he were hurt. Sobbing, he entered the hallway. He heard a door open upstairs, and his mother’s voice at the top of the stairs.

“Child, I’m here.”

He climbed up.

“What is it? What is it? Why, you’re soaked through!” She led him in.

“I lost the money.” He wailed. “I only have two—two cents.”

His father was staring at him angrily, “You’ve lost it, have you? I had a feeling you would. Paid yourself for your errand, have you?”

“I fell in the snow,” he sobbed.

“It’s all right,” said his mother gently, taking the newspaper and the money away from him. “It’s all right.”

“All right? Will everything he does be all right always? How long will you tell him that?” His father snatched the paper from her. “Why, it’s wringing wet. A handy young man, my son!”

His mother took his coat off. “Come sit near the stove.”

“Indulge him! Indulge him!” her husband muttered wrathfully and flung himself into a chair. “Look at that paper!” He slapped it open on the table. “My way would be a few sound cuffs.”

“He couldn’t help it,” she interposed placatingly. “It’s very slippery and he fell.”

“Bah! He couldn’t help it! That’s all I ever hear from you! He has a downright gift for stumbling into every black moment of the year. At night he breaks one’s sleep with a squalling about dreams. A little while ago he flings his spoon into his soup. Now—six cents thrown away.” He slapped his hand on the paper. “Two cents ruined. Who can read it! Beware!” he shook a menacing finger at David who cowered against his mother’s side. “There’s a good beating in store for you! I warn you! It’s been gathering for years.”

“Albert,” said his wife reddening, “you are a man without a heart.”

“I?” His father drew back, his nostrils curving out in anger. “A plague on you both—I have no heart? And have you any understanding, any knowledge of how to bring up a child?” He thrust his jaw forward.

A moment of silence followed and then “I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean it. I meant only—these things happen sometimes—I’m sorry!”

“Oh, you’re sorry,” he said bitterly. “I have no heart! Woe me, to labor as I labor, for food for the two of you and for a roof over your heads. To labor and to work overtime! In vain! I have no heart! As if I gorged myself upon my earnings, as if I drank them, wallowed in the streets. Have you ever gone without anything? Tell me!”

“No! No!”


“I meant only that you didn’t see the child all day as I did—naturally you don’t know when anything is wrong with him.”

“I see enough of him when I see him. And I know better than you what medicine he needs most.”

His mother was silent.

“You’ll be saying he needs a doctor next.”

“Perhaps he—”

But someone was knocking at the door. She stopped speaking, went over and opened it—Yussie came in; he held a wooden clothes-hanger in his hand.

“My mother wants you to go upstairs,” he said in Yiddish.

David’s mother shook her head impatiently.

“Have you taken to gadding about?” asked her husband disgustedly. “Only a few days ago, you had no neighbors at all.”

“I’ve only been there once,” she said apologetically. And to Yussie, “Tell your mother I can’t come up just now.”

“She’s waiting for you,” he answered without stirring. “She’s got a new dress to show you.”

“Not now.”

“I ain’ goin’ op,” Yussie switched into English as if to avoid any further discussion. “I’m gonna stay hea.” And apparently satisfied that his mission had been performed, he approached the uneasy David who was still seated beside the stove. “See wot I got—a bow ’n’ arrer.” He brandished the clothes hanger.

“I’ll have to go for just a minute,” she said hesitantly. “This child—she’ll be wondering—”

“Go! Go!” said her husband sullenly. “Am I stopping you?” He picked up the newspaper, plucked a match from the match-box and then stalked up into the frontroom and slammed the door behind him. David heard him fling himself down upon the couch.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” said his mother wearily, and casting a hopeless glance after her husband, went out.

“Aintcha gonna play?” asked Yussie after a pause.

“I don’ wanna,” he answered morosely.

“W’yncha wanna?”

“Cause I don’ wanna.” He eyed the clothes hanger with disgust. It had been upstairs in a closet; it was tainted.

“Aaa, c’mon!” And when David refused to be persuaded, “Den I’m gonna shootchuh!” he threatened. “Yuh wanna see me?” He lifted the clothes hanger, pulled back an imaginary string. “Bing! I’m an Innian. If you don’ have a bow ’n’ arrer, I c’n kill yuh. Bang!” Another shaft flew. “Right innee eye. W’yntcha wanna play?”

“I don’ wanna.”

“W’yntcha get a bow ’n’ arrer?”

“Lemme alone!”

“I’m gonna shootchuh again den,” he dropped to the floor. “Bing! Dot one went right inside. Yuh dead!”

“Go ’way!”

“I don’ wanna go ’way,” he had become cross. “I’m gonna shootcha all I wan’. Yuh a cowid.”

David was silent. He was beginning to tremble.

“I c’n even hitcha wit my hatchet,” continued Yussie. “Yuh a cowid.” He crawled up defiantly. “Wanna see me hitcha wit my hatchet?” He had grasped the clothes hanger at one end, “Yuh dare me?”

“Get otta here!” hissed David frantically. “Go in yuh own house!”

“I don’ wanna,” said Yussie truculently. “I c’n fight-choo. Wanna see me?” He drew back his arm, “Bing!” The point of the clothes hanger struck David in the knee, sending a flash of pain through his whole leg. He cried out. The next moment, he had kicked at Yussie’s face with all the force in his leg.

Yussie fell forward on his hands. He opened his mouth, but uttered no sound. Instead his eyes bulged as if he were strangling, and to David’s horror the blood began to trickle from under his pinched white nostrils. For moments that seemed years of agony the blood slowly branched above his lip. He stood that way tranced and rigid. Suddenly he sucked in his breath, the sound was flat, sudden, like the sound of a stone falling into water. With terrified care, he reached up his hand to touch the scarlet bead hanging from his lips, and when he beheld the red smear on his finger tips, his face knitted with fright, and he threw back his head, and uttered the most piercing scream that David had ever heard. So piercing was it that David could feel his own throat contract as though the scream were splitting from his own body and he were trying to stifle it. With the awful realization that his father was in the next room, he sprang to his feet.

“Here, Yussie,” he cried frenziedly, trying to force the clothes hanger into his hands. “Here, hit me Yussie. G’wan hit me Yussie!” And striking himself a sharp blow on the brow, “Look, Yussie, you hoited me. Ow!”

But to no avail. Once more Yussie screamed. And now David knew he was lost.

“Mama!” he moaned in terror. “Mama!” And turned toward the frontroom door as if toward doom.

It opened. His father glared at them in angry surprise. Then his features grew taut when his eyes fixed on Yussie. His nostrils broadened and grew pale.

“What have you done?” His voice was deliberate and incredulous.

“I—I—” David stammered, shrunken with fear.

“He kicked me right in duh nose!” Yussie howled.

Never taking his blazing eyes from David, his father came down the parlor stairs. “What?” he ground, towering above him. “Speak!” Slowly his arm swung toward the sobbing Yussie; it was like a dial measuring his gathering wrath. “Tell me did you do this?” With every word he uttered his lips became thinner and more rigid. His face to David seemed slowly to recede, but recede without diminishing, growing more livid with distance, a white flame bodiless. In the molten features, only the vein upon his brow was clear, pulsing like a dark levin.

Who could bear the white heat of those features? Terror numbed his throat. He gagged. His head waited for his eyes to lower, his eyes for his head. He quivered, and in quivering wrenched free of that awful gaze.

“Answer me!”

Answer me, his words rang out. Answer me, but they meant, Despair! Who could answer his father? In that dread summons the judgement was already sealed. Like a cornered thing, he shrank within himself, deadened his mind because the body would not deaden and waited. Nothing existed any longer except his father’s right hand —the hand that hung down into the electric circle of his vision. Terrific clarity was given him. Terrific leisure. Transfixed, timeless, he studied the curling fingers that twitched spasmodically, studied the printer’s ink ingrained upon the finger tips, pondered, as if all there were in the world, the nail of the smallest finger, nipped by a press, that climbed in a jagged little stair to the hangnail. Terrific absorption.

The hammer in that hand when he stood! The hammer!

Suddenly he cringed. His eyelids blotted out the light like a shutter. The open hand struck him full against the cheek and temple, splintering the brain into fragments of light. Spheres, mercuric, splattered, condensed and roared. He fell to the floor. The next moment his father had snatched up the clothes hanger, and in that awful pause before it descended upon his shoulders, he saw with that accelerated vision of agony, how mute and open mouthed Yussie stood now, with what useless silence.

“You won’t answer!” The voice that snarled was the voice of the clothes hanger biting like flame into his flesh. “A curse on your vicious heart! Wild beast! Here, then! Here! Here! Now I’ll tame you! I’ve a free hand now! I warned you! I warned you! Would you heed!”

The chopping strokes of the clothes hanger flayed his wrists, his hands, his back, his breast. There was always a place for it to land no matter where he ducked or writhed or groveled. He screamed, screamed, and still the blows fell.

“Please papa! Please! No more! No more! Darling papa! Darling papa!” He knew that in another moment he would thrust his head beneath that rain of blows. Anguish! Anguish! He must escape!

“Now bawl!” the voice raged. “Now scream! But I pleaded with you! Pleaded as I would with death! You were stubborn were you! Silent were you! Secret—”

The door was thrown open. With a wild cry, his mother rushed in, flung herself between them.

“Mama!” he screamed, clutching at her dress. “Mama!”

“Oh, God!” she cried in terror and swooped him into her arms. “Stop! Stop! Albert! What have you done to him!”

“Let him go!” he snarled. “Let him go I tell you!”

“Mama!” David clung to her frenziedly. “Don’t let him! Don’t let him!”

“With that!” she screamed hoarsely, trying to snatch the clothes hanger from him. “With that to strike a child. Woe to you! Heart of stone! how could you!”

“I haven’t struck him before!” The voice was strangled. “What I did he deserved! You’ve been protecting him from me long enough! It’s been coming to him for a long time!”

“Your only son!” she wailed, pressing David convulsively to her. “Your only son!”

“Don’t tell me that! I don’t want to hear it! He’s no son of mine! Would he were dead at my feet!”

“Oh, David, David beloved!” In her anguish over her child, she seemed to forget everyone else, even her husband. “What has he done to you! Hush! Hush!” She brushed his tears away with frantic hand, sat down and rocked him back and forth. “Hush, my beloved! My beautiful! Oh, look at his hand!”

“I’m harboring a fiend!” the implacable voice raged. “A butcher! And you’re protecting him! Those hands of his will beat me yet! I know! My blood warns me of this son! This son! Look at this child! Look what he’s done! He’ll shed human blood like water!”

“You’re stark, raving mad!” She turned upon him angrily. “The butcher is yourself! I’ll tell you that to your face! Where he’s in danger I won’t yield, do you understand? With everything else have your way, but not with him!”

“Hanh! you have your reasons! But I’ll beat him while I can.”

“You won’t touch him!”

“No? We’ll see about that!”

“You won’t touch him, do you hear?” Her voice had become as quiet and as menacing as a trigger that, locked and at rest, held back by a hair incredible will, incredible passion. “Never!”

“You tell me that?” His voice seemed amazed. “Do you know to whom you speak?”

“It doesn’t matter! And now leave us!”

“I?” Again that immense surprise. As though one had dared to question a volcanic and incalculable force, and by questioning made it question itself. “To me? You speak to me?”

“To you. Indeed to you. Go out. Or I shall go.”


“Yes, both of us.”

With terrified, tear-blurred eyes, David watched his father’s body shake as if some awful strife were going on within him, saw his head lunge forward, his mouth open to speak, once, again, then grow pale and twitch, and finally he turned without a word and stumbled up the parlor steps.

His mother sat for a moment without moving, then quivered and burst into tears, but brushed them off.

Yussie was still standing there, mute and frightened, his blood smeared over his chin.

“Sit there a moment.” She rose and set David on a chair. “Come here you poor child,” she said to Yussie.

“He kicked me righd on de nose!”

“Hush!” She led Yussie to the sink, and wiped his face with the end of a wet towel. “There, now you feel better.” And wetting the towel again, came over to David and set him on her lap.

“He hit me first.”

“Now hush! We won’t say anything more about it.” She patted the lacerated wrist with the cold towel. “Oh! my child!” she moaned biting her lips.

“I wanna go opstai’s,” blubbered Yussie. “I’m gonna tell my modder on you.” He snatched up the clothes hanger from the floor. “Waid’ll I tell my modder on you, yuh gonna gid it!” He flung the door open and ran out bawling.

His mother, sighing painfully, shut the door after him, and began undoing David’s shirt. There were angry red marks on his breast and shoulders. She touched them. He whimpered with pain.

“Hush!” she murmured again and again. “I know. I know, beloved.”

She undressed him, fetched his nightgown and slipped it over him. The cold air on his bruises had stiffened his shoulders and hands. He moved stiffly, whimpering.

“It really hurts now, doesn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes.” He felt himself wanting to sniffle.

“Poor darling, let me put you to bed.” She set him on his feet.

“I have to go now. Numbuh one.”


She led him into the bathroom, lifted the toilet-seat. Urination was painful, affording relief only as a mournful sigh affords relief. His whole body shuddered as his bladder relaxed. A new sense of shyness invaded him; he crept furtively around to stand with his back to her, contracted when she pulled the chain above his head. He went out into the bright kitchen again, into the dark bedroom, and got into bed. There was a lingering, weary sadness in the first chill of the covers.

“And now sleep,” she urged, bending down and kissing him. “And a better day.”

“Stay here.”

“Yes. Of course.” She sat down and gave him her hand.

He curled his fingers around her thumb and lay staring up at her, his eyes drawing her features out of deep shadow. From time to time a sudden gasp would shake him, as though the waves of grief and pain had run his being’s length and were returning now from some remote shore.