Call It Sleep XIII

“AND so you live by dis way and dat way and straight from the school?” Mimicking him, the policeman’s hand glided about.

The old woman had tricked him. She had led him to a police-station and left him. He had tried to run, but they had caught him. And now he stood weeping before a bare-headed policeman with a gold badge. A helmeted one stood behind him.

“And Boddeh Street is the name and you can’t spell it?”


“Mmm! Boddeh? Body Street, eh? Better look at the map.” He pushed himself back from the railing. “Know it?” he inquired of the helmeted one. “Body Street—sounds like the morgue.”

“Near the school on Winston Place? Boddeh? Pother? Say, I know where he lives! Barhdee Street! Sure, Barhdee! That’s near Parker and Oriol—Alex’s beat. Ain’t that it?”

“Y-yes.” Hope stirred faintly. The other names sounded familiar. “Boddeh Stritt.”

“Barhdee Street!” The helmeted one barked good-naturedly. “Be-gob, he’ll be havin’ me talk like a Jew. Sure!”

“Well!” The bareheaded one sighed. “You were just kiddin’ us, weren’t ye? But look, we ain’t mad. We’ll get your mama in a jiffy.” He nodded to the helmeted one. “See if he wants to do number one or somethin’? The mess that—last—one made—” His voice trailed off as he moved to the telephone.

“Yep!” The helmeted one patted David on the shoulder. “We could use a matron.” And heartily. “C’mon, me boy, yer all roit.” And led him under a low archway, past a flight of stairs and into a bleak, bare, high-ceilinged room. Chairs lined the walls. Bars ribbed the tall windows. They stopped before a white door, went into a tiled-floor toilet that reeked with nostril-searing cleanliness. Beside the doorless alcoves, stretched a drab grey slab, corrugated by a dark trickle of water that splashed into the trough below.

“Step up close an’ do yer dooty, sonny me boy.” He propelled the reluctant David toward the urinal. “C’mon, now. It’s recess time. Sure, I’ve a lad of me own in school.” He turned on the faucet in the wash bowl. “And ye do it with yer mittens on! Say, yer all roit! That’s the way! Git a good one out o’ ye. What would yer mama be sayin, if she found ye were after wetthin yer drawz? This is a divil of a joint, she’d say. What kind of cops are yiz at all? Sure!” He shut off the faucet. “No more’n three shakes, mind ye!”

And David was led out again into the bleak room.

“Any seat in the house, me lad—the winder there—tha-a-ts it. Yer a quiet kid. And we’ll page ye the minute yer mother comes. Ther-r-r!” He turned and went out.

Drearily, David gazed about him. The loneliness of the huge room, made ten-fold lonelier by the bare, steep walls, the long rows of vacant chairs sunken in shadow, the barred windows barring in vacancy, oppressed him with a despair so heavy, so final, it numbed him like a drug or a drowsiness. His listless eyes turned toward the window, looked out. Back yards … grey scabs of ice … on the dead grass … ended in a wall of low frame houses, all built of clapboards, all painted a mud-brown, all sawing the sky with a rip-tooth slant of gabled roofs. Shades were half drawn. From all their chimneys smoke unwreathed into the wintry blue.

Time was despair, despair beyond tears.… He understood it now, understood it all, irrevocably, indelibly. Desolation had fused into a touchstone, a crystalline, bitter, burred reagent that would never be blunted, never dissolved. Trust nothing. Trust nothing. Trust nothing. Wherever you look, never believe. Whatever anything was or did or said, it pretended. Never believe. If you played hide’n’-go-seek, it wasn’t hide’n’-go-seek, it was something else, something sinister. If you played follow the leader, the world turned upside down and an evil face passed through it. Don’t play; never believe. The man who had directed him; the old woman who had left him here; the policeman; all had tricked him. They would never call his mother, never. He knew. They would keep him there. That rat cellar underneath. That rat cellar! That boy he had pushed was still. Coffin-box still. They knew it. And they knew about Annie. They made believe they didn’t, but they knew. Never believe. Never play. Never believe. Not anything. Everything shifted. Everything changed. Even words. Words, you said. Wanna, you said. I wanna. Yea. I wanna. What? You know what. They were something else, something horrible! Trust nothing. Even sidewalks, even streets, houses, you looked at them. You knew where you were and they turned. You watched them and they turned. That way. Slow, cunning. Trust noth—

On the stairs outside, heavy feet tramped down, accompanied by a rhythmic clacking as if some hollow metal were bouncing against the uprights under the bannister rail—

“C’mon, Steve!” A loud voice dwindled into the room beyond. “Kick in fer a change!”

And a blurred reply met blurred rejoinders and laughter. Then the stalwart rap of dense heels approached. The helmeted one switched on the lights, revealing another beside him, a man in plain clothes, thick-set, lipless and impassive, who swung in his hand a large tin dinner-pail. The new-comer turned quizzically to the helmeted one.

“He did?”

“He did so.”

“Well!” ominously.

“A banana that size! And if I hadn’t winked me oiyes quicker than a flash, he’d have poked it in like a spoon into a stew!”

“A cop-fighter, hunh?”

“And a bad one, I’m tellin’ ye! Me peepers are still watherin’! And he’s afther kickin’ me in the brisket till I’m blue as me own coat!”

“Hmm! Maybe we better not git ’im any o’ dat chawklit cake.”

“Well, now!” The helmeted one levered up his helmet to scratch his smoky red hair. “What d’ ye think? He’s been a good boy, since.”

“Iz zat so?”

“Mmm! Quiet as a mouse!”

“Well, ’at makes it different. D’ye like chawklit cake? W’at’s ’is name?”

“David. David—er— David himself.”

“D’ye like chawklit cake, I ast ye?”

“N-no,” fearfully.

“W-a-a-t?” He growled, his eyes narrowing incredulously. “Yuh—don’—like chawklit—cake? Owoo! We gotta keep ye hea den! Dere’s no two ways about it!” He uttered a series of terrifying hissing noises by pinching his air-puffed nostrils.

David cringed.

“He don’ like chawk—”

“Whisht!” The helmeted one kicked the other’s heel. “Sure he does! It’s nothin’ but a bit o’ shoiness that’s kaipin’ him from—”

“I wan’ my mama!” David had begun to whimper. “I wan’ my mama! Mama!”

“Arrh!” The helmeted one exploded. “Now look what yev started, ye divil of a flat-foot! Torturin’ ’im for nothin’ at all. Froitinin’ him out of his wits the way he’ll never know his own mother when he see’s ’er!”

“Who me?” Faint amusement puffed his lip out. “W’y I hardly looked at ’im cock-eyed. Wat’re yuh talkin’ about!”

“It’s yer ugly mug that does it! Go on with ye! None o’ yer guff!” He pushed the other man out of the room. “Don’t mind him me lad! He’s nothin but a harmless bull bellowin’ t’ hear himself bellow! God mend ’im! We’ll get ye yer mother an’ yer chawklit cake too! Never fear! Now you be quiet like a good lad!” He grinned, followed the other man out.

“Mama!” He moaned. “Mama! Mama!”

It was true! All that he feared was true. They would keep him there—Keep him there always! They would never call his mother! And now that he knew, it was too late. He had learned never to trust too late. He lowered his head and sobbed.


From somewhere a whistle began blowing—a remote, thin blast that suddenly opened into a swooping screech and as suddenly died away.

Whistles? He raised his head. Factory whistles! The others? None! Too far! So far she was. So far away!—But she heard them—she heard the other whistles that he couldn’t hear. The whistles he heard in the summer time. She heard them now. Maybe she looked out of the window—now—this moment! Looked down into the street, up and down the street, searched, called. There he was—outside—on the curb. Be two Davids, be two! One here, one outside on the curb. Now watch! Wait till she looks out! Now watch! See? There she is behind the curtain. Yes, that thick lace curtain—only in the winter it was there. Now she parts them—two hands like that—stoops. See? Her face close to the pane. Cold. And, wrrrr! Up! Bet a shawl is on her. David! David! Come up! Why do you wait? Because! Why? She would have forgotten. That—that door, mama. Oh, she’d laugh. Silly one! Come up! I’ll wait! And then he’d stand on the stoop. One-two-three. Till she crossed the frontroom. One. Two. Three and the kitchen. And then go in. Mama? Yes, I’m here, she’d call down, Yes, come on! Run past the door. Bing! No. Not run if she’s there. Be there too quick. One step and one step. Two steps and two steps. Three steps and—


Chuckling the helmeted one butted through the mist of dreaming. “Is it the mounted pollies y’are with that leg up?”

David gaped at him without answering. About him vision tumbled into chaos.

“Or a fly-cop on his wheel?” He continued, manipulating imaginary handle-bars. “What were ye chasin’? One o’ thim noo Stootzes? But look what oiv got fer ye.” He uncurled beefy red paws—a square of brown chocolate cake in one and a red apple in the other. “How does that suit ye?”

He began crying again.

“Hey—! Arrrh, yer a quair one! Here I’ve gone an’ got ye chawklit cake—in a beer saloon of all the damn places—an’ gotten ye apples, and there y’are cryin’ all over the precinct! What’s the matter?”

“W-w-w’istles!” he wailed. “W-wistles!”



“Is it a whistle yer after?” He made a motion toward his pocket.

“N-n-o-o-o! B-blowin’!”


“No-o-o! My—my mama! Ow!”

“Orrch! Fergit it. Here’s a foin bit o’ cake fer ye. C’mon! Take it! And the apple. That’s the way! Forst ye eat one and then the other! Anhann! And I’ll git ye a sup o’ wawther and ye’ll be as snug as—No!” He bawled.

David had dropped both the cake and the apple. A voice! A voice he never hoped to hear again. A voice! He stared at the doorway rigid with hope.

“Now look what yev—” He stopped, turned round.

A light tread hurried toward them. Out of the slow blur of a myriad meaningless faces, one condensed into all meaning.

“David! David!”

“Mama!” He screamed leaping toward her. “Mama! Mama! Mama!”

She caught him up in her arms, moaning, pressed his cheek against her cold one. “David, beloved! David!”

“Mama! Mama!” The screaming of her name was itself sheer, stark ecstasy, but all bliss was outplumbed in the clasping of her neck.

“Well yer safe now be the looks of it,” came the voice at his back.

Still pressing him to her, she carried him into the outer room where the bareheaded one leaned against the rail watching them.

“Hmm, I see he knows his mama.”

“T-tanks so—so viel!” she stammered.

“Oh, that’s all right, lady. Glad to have a visitor once in a while. It’s pretty quiet here.”

“And lady,” the helmeted one came up, “I’m thinkin’ ye’d best put a tag on him, fer he sure had us up a tree with his Pother an’ Body an’ Powther! Now ye spell it bee—ay—”

“T’anks so viel!” she repeated.

“Oh!” He smiled crookedly, nodded. “Yer acquainted with it.”

The other man rested the corner of a grin on his finger nail.

“Now oi’ll tell ye an odd thing, Lieutenant,” said the helmeted one. “He’s after plaguin’ me about a whistle. Now it’s an odd thing I tell ye—would make a man be thinkin’. He said to me, he said. I’m after hearin’ me own mother’s whistle. Now would ye believe it? And she still a good ways off!”

“Did he?” The bareheaded man snorted with amusement. “The only whistle I heard was the four-ten over at Chandler crossing, and that was about—”

“Er—” his mother began timidly. “Herr—Mister. Ve—er—ve go?”

“Oh certainly, lady! Just walk right out any time.” He opened his arms in a flowing gesture. “He’s all yours.”

“T-tanks.” She said gratefully and turned to go.

“Hey, hold on a minute!” The helmeted one pursued them. “Would ye be leavin’ us without yer cake?” He pried it into David’s hand. “And yer apple? No? Too much? Well, I’ll kaip it fer ye till ye drop around again. Good-bye! And don’t ye go runnin’ after telegraph poles!”