Call It Sleep XII

LAUGHING, jabbering breathlessly, they had been hauled within two blocks of Kane Street when the wagon turned from their route. They let go. The gilded mortar and pestle loomed up—so near! Sobered in an instant, David lagged behind.

“Dontcha wann jos’ skate back now?”

“Naw!” Leo exploded eagerly. “Wotcha t’ink we came hea fuh? Nex’ block, ain’ it?”

“No,” listlessly. “It’s de one after, but I—”

“C’mon den.” Leo forged ahead. “C’mon, will ye!”

There was nothing to do but follow. His blood, which a moment before had been chiming in bright abandon, deepened its stress, weighted its rhythm to an ominous tolling. They reached the corner they were to turn—

“Hey, Leo,” David plucked at his sleeve, “w’en yuh gonna gimme it?”

“W’a’?” impatiently.

“Dat ros’ry, watchuh called it, in yuh pocket?”

“Aw, w’en we gits dere!” Leo waved him off vehemently. “Wadda-yuh worryin’ about? Show us de joint foist, will ye?”

“On dis side.” He led the way cautiously. “See w’ea de ices barrels is—by de daw?”

“Yea,” Leo scrutinized the terrain, “It’s jist a liddle dump, ain’ it? W’ea did ye—Wow!” His voice dropped in suppressed elation. “Didn’ I tell ye? Dere’s de steps under de staw right like I t’ought!” He nudged David abruptly. “Foller me, will ye.”

Heart-beat rising to a panicky thumping, David trailed him across the street. It seemed odd to him that those standing on the stoop or passing by were not aware of his growing terror.

“Take de strap off.” Leo kneeled to undo his own.

“Watchuh gonna do?” Crouching beside him, David undid the buckle with clammy fingers.

“Nutt’n! Don’ git scared.” His whisper sounded strange against the loud background of the street. “Let’s gitcher clamp.” He unloosened it, arose with both skates in his hand. “C’n ye see anybody in de staw?”

“Can’t see good f’om hea.”

“Well, sneak over dis way. Jeez! don’ be dumb. Keep goin’.”

From his momentary vantage, David squinted hurriedly into the shady doorway across the sunlit gutter. “My a’nt’s dere!” He whispered, quickening his step. “An I t’ink it’s Polly.”

“Dey’s two goils dere!” Leo countered sharply as they passed. “I seen ’em meself stannin’ in front.”

“Yea, but I don’ know de odder one.”

“An she wuzn’t dere, wot’s ’er name? De one dat went down witcha? No? Well, let’s walk back.” They retraced their steps.

“No. Couldn’t see ’er anyhow. We better go back.”

“Aw hol’ yer hosses, will ye! Can’t chuh wait here a minute till she shows up?” Disgruntled, he flung himself back at the railing beside a stoop. “You’ll have lots o’ time, wotcha worryin’ about—Hey, duck! Duck, will ye!” He pushed the startled David behind him. “Dey’re comin’ out! Stay dere or dey’ll see ye!” And after a few seconds, “Cheez, dat wuz close, but dey’re goin’ de udder way now. Awright.” He stepped to one side, giving David room to view them. “W’ich one is her sister?”

“De skinny one,” David stared furtively after the two girls. “Dat’s Polly in de yeller dress wit’ dat black ma’ket bag.”

“Wot about dem, huh?” Leo’s blue eyes widened significantly. “W’en dey come back.”

“Naa!” He drew away. “I don’t know ’em—de odder one.”

“Aw, balls!” Leo see-sawed between anger and ardor. “You ain’ game fer nutt’n, dat’s wot! C’mon, Le’s take anudder look. Maybe dat Est’er goil is in dere now.” He dragged David past the store again. No sign of her. There was only Aunt Bertha sitting behind the counter reading a newspaper. “Aw, Jesus, wot luck!”

“Yuh see, Est’er ain’ dere.” David felt that he could argue more boldly now. “An’ if we stay hea, de kids an’ ev’rybody’ll be watchin’ us.”

“Aw, de hell wit’ ’em! De street’s free, ain’ it? Who’s gonna stop me from walkin’ here, I’d like t’ know.” Nevertheless his lower lip drooped disappointedly. “She lives in de back, don’ she?”

“Yea,” he offered the information eagerly. “In de back o’ de staw. Yuh have t’ go troo w’ea my a’nt is sittin’, an’ yuh can’t do dat.”

But his advice, instead of convincing Leo of the futility of all further effort merely spurred him on. “I can’t, huh?” was his defiant answer. “Well, watch me! C’mon!” He stepped off the curb.

“Wotchuh gonna do?” He hung back in consternation.

“Jist don’t let dat fat dame see ye,” Leo took his arm confidingly, “An do wot I say, get me?” They stopped before the stoop of the next house west of the candy store. “Now w’en nobody’s lookin’, sneak over to dat cella’ and duck down. I’ll lay out, see?”


“G’wan! Be a nice guy.” He became even more confiding, “Yuh want dat ros’ry, dontcha? Well, you giz down—I comes after yuh. I’ll give it t’ye right dere.”

“Den wotcha gonna do?”

“Den we giz inta de yard.” His candor was painstaking. “An’ if she’s dere, all right, an’ if she ain’ dere all right—I gives it t’ye anyway. An’ we goes home.”

“An dat’s de last?”

“Honest t’ Gawd! Now g’wan, sneak over.”

With a scared glance about, David sidled to the cellar stairs beneath the store window.

“Duck!” Leo’s side-mouthed signal.

He slipped down the steps. A moment later, Leo followed, brushed past him toward the closed door.

“Hope t’ shit it opens.” He leaned against it. “Yea!” in subdued triumph as the door swung back.

The sudden draft through the cellar bore with it the familiar dank. At the opposite end of the corridor of the dark, the oblong of light was narrow—the door slightly ajar. “C’mon,” Leo whispered stealthily. “Don’ make no noise.”

“Yuh gonna gimme id now?” He wavered at the threshold.

“Sure! Soon as we gits in de yard.” He shut the door again as David stepped into the clinging dark. “Don’ make no noise, will ye? Wea’s de shit-house?”

“Over by dere.” The seamless dark swallowed the pointing hand. “Dere’s a daw. Waddayuh—”

“Sh! Folly me. Maybe she’s in it.”

“She don’ never comm down by huhself.”

“Let’s look anyways.”

He groped after … A bar of murk in a wall of gloom.

“Iz zat it?”


A pause. “No one’s dere.”


“Hey, hoddy ye say it again?” Leo’s breath was warm on his cheek. “Dem Jewish woids I ast yuh on de hitch?


“Yuh know! Shine—shine?”

“Shine maidel,” grudgingly.

“Yea! Shine maidel! Shine maidel. An’ de udder. Took—tookis, ain’ it?”


“Le’s go.”

They moved forward. Where the wedge of brightness pried the narrowly-opened door, Leo stopped, peered out into the yard. “She live up dere w’ea dem steps is?”


“Hea take dis, will yuh—’faw we giz out.” A skate clicked faintly as he thrust the strap into David’s hands.

“W—waddayuh wan’ I shuh do?” David held it off as if it had become dangerous.

“Nutt’n. Don’ do nutt’n.” Leo urged reassuringly, “Jis’ come out wit me and make believe you takin’ it off—make a noise, see? If she’s in de back, jis’ say I’m yuh frien’ an I lets yuh use me skates an’ ev’yting. An’ nen I’ll talk to ’er.”

“An’ nen yuh’ll gimme it?”

“Didn’ I say I would? C’mon.” He glanced boldly around at the gaping windows. “Nobody’s watchin’.” And both climbed up into the brilliant yard.

“Now!” He whispered, dropping to one knee and dragging David down beside him. “Like yuh jis’ come—a lotta noise. G’wan!” He clashed his skate on the ground. “Yea! Gee!” His voice rose in loud, pretended bluster. “Can I beatchoo? Wow! Anytime! Two blocks? Wut’s two blocks. I’ll race yuh ten—Say sumpt’n fer Chris’ sake!”

“Yea! Yea!” David contributed quaveringly. “Ten blocks, yuh can’t. Yea! Yea!”

“G’wan I c’n too!” His bragging grew even louder. “Waddayuh wanna bet! A dolla’? Le’s see yer dough—” The click of the latch in the door. “Sure I c’n. Run ye ragged—”

Midway up in the widening groove of the doorway, two eyes peered out. A loose pigtail swung into sun. Esther, picture-magazine in hand, looked out startled and angry.

“You!” To David. “Waddayuh doin’ in my yod.”

“N-nutt’n, I—”

“Hello, Kid!” Leo pleasant and unfeazed.

“Shott op!” Indignantly. “I’ll tell my modder on—Ma—!”

“Hey!” Leo’s quick cry cut her short. “Wait a secon’ will ye?” And when she paused to pout. “Dis guy’s yuh cousin ain’ he?”

“So wadda you wan’?”

“Well,” in grieved surprise. “Can’t he come into yaw yard?”

“No, he can’t”. She thrust her head out emphatically. “W’y didn’t he come troo de front? Mama!”

“I’ll tell yuh.” Leo strove desperately to engage her. “Give us a chanct, will ye?”

“W’a’?” in contemptuous disbelief.

“It’s like dis,” Leo drew near the steps, lowered his voice confidentially. “He’s too bashful.”

“Wot’s he bashful about?”

“Yuh see,” he grinned up at her, winked. “He had to do sumpt’n, dat’s all—you know wot!”

“I don’ know wot.” Appeased somewhat, she was still emphatic.

“Dintcha Davy? Yuh had to go t’ de terlit.”

“Yea I had tuh.” David followed the lead. “I had tuh go.”

“Ye see?” Leo rested his case soberly. “Dat’s why.”

“So wyntcha comm beck to duh frond?” Suspicion still lingered in her face.

“Aw!” Leo flipped an admiring grin up at her. “He says he had a real good-looker fer a cousin. So I says I don’ believe it. So he says I’ll show ’er t’ye. Boy!” His confirmation was intense. “Oh boy!”

“Pooh!” Shut eyes and tossed pig-tails. “Smott alick.”

“Sure he did, dintcha, Davy?”

“Yea,” He grinned uneasily at the ground.

“See? So I says if she’s a real good-looker like you says I’ll let ’er use me skates.”

“So who wants yuh skates.”

“Yuh don’?” He swung an injured look at David, “Wadja say she did fer?”


“He says to me,” his crestfallen voice blocked David’s. “He says she wants t’loin, so I says, awright—if she’s a real good-looker I’ll loin ’er. Cheez! Wot a guy! I t’oughtcha wuz me frien’.”

“Aaaa! Yuh a lodda hoss-cops!” Esther’s disbelief wavered—She smiled. “Yuh bedder ged oud, ’faw I tell my modder on ye.”

“Now I know w’y y’ast me t’come hea.” Leo still clung fast to his resentment at David. “Yuh jis’ wanned t’ lend me skates so’s yuh could come up hea easier, dat’s all. Yer a fine guy! I’m goin’!” He moved in no particular direction.

“Whose skates are dey?” She took a step down the wooden stairs. “Yaw’s?”

“Sure dey’re mine. Ball-bearin’s’ n’ ev’yting. Go like lightnin’. Yuh wanna loin?”

“Wat’s yuh name?”

“Leo—uh—Leo Ginzboig.”

“You ain’ a Jew!”

“Who ain’!” In his vehemence he still had time to dart a triumphant glance at David, “Cantcha tell by me name?”

“Aaa, yuh a lia’,” she giggled.

“W’at d’ye wanna bet? Dontcha believe a guy?”

“Yea, g’wan!”

“I can’t talk so good ’cause we alw’ys lived over on de Wes’ side. But I c’n say sumpt’n. Wanna hea’ me?”

“Yea!” derisively.

“Shine maidel, dere! Dat’s wutchoo are. see? Tookis! Mm! Oh boy! Ain’ dat good.”

“Oooh! W’otchoo said!”

“Tookis. Wud of it?”

“Eee!” Her shrill squeal was more delighted than shocked.

“Hey, woddy yuh say.” Leo became earnest. “W’y d’ntcha come down into de yard an’ skate?”

“Naa, I can’t.”

“Dontcha wanna loin?”


“Sure yuh do! I’ll loin yuh in one lesson. C’mon!”

“Naa, can’t skate hea.” She threw a glance over her shoulder. “My modder’ll call me.”

“Well, you c’n go up if she wants yuh,” Leo suggested generously. “Nobody’s gonna stop ye.”

“Yea,” her eyes sought the windows overhead. “Bot ev’ybody c’n look.”

“Oh, I see! Yea. Well w’y dontcha come outside, see? We’ll wait fer ye in de street—nobody’ll watch yuh.” And when he saw that she was wavering, he indicated David and himself arrogantly. “Us two is goin’ outside, see? We’ll wait fer ye acrosst de street. Waddayuh say?”


“Den we skates yuh aroun’ de block—w’ea nobody knows us. Wotchuh scared of? C’mon, ’faw he has t’ go t’ dat place.”

“W’a’ place?”

“You know—wadduh yuh call it, Davy?”

“Yuh mean cheder?”


“Bot you don’ go dere!” she jeered.

“Well, he does.” Leo grinned. “So yuh better shoot! C’mon Davy!” Linking his arm into David’s, “We’ll be waitin’ fuh yuh outside across de street, don’ fergit!”

A coy giggle was the only response they got.