Call It Sleep XVI

TUESDAY afternoon, his mother’s drawn, distracted face was too much for him to bear. Without asking her to wait in the hallway, he had fled into the street, and without calling to her, had come up again, alone. Neither Annie, who never hobbled past without sticking out her awl-like tongue, nor Yussie’s reiterated, “Cry-baby,” nor the cellar-door at the end of the vacant hallway were half as painful to endure as the stiff anguish in his mother’s face or the numb silence of the hours of waiting for his father. Again and again, he could almost have wished that by some miracle Luter would return, would be there beside his father when the door was opened. But his mother set only three places around the table. There would be no miracle then. She knew. Luter would never return!

And when his father came home, he came in alone again. The sight of him this evening was terrifying. Never, not even the night he had beaten David, did he radiate, so fell, so electric a fury. It was as though his whole body were smouldering, a stark, throbbing, curdling emanation flowed from him, a dark, corrosive haze that was all the more fearful because David sensed how thin an aura it was of the terrific volcano clamped within. He refused to speak. He scarcely touched his food. His eyelids, normally narrow, seemed to have stretched beyond human roundness, revealing the whole globe of the eye in which the black pupils almost engulfed the brown. He looked at no one. His mad, burnished gaze roved constantly above their heads along the walls as if he were tracing and retracing the line of the moulding beneath the ceiling. Between the hollow of mouth and chin, his twitching lips threw a continual flicker of shadow. There was a place above the stiff sickle nostrils that looked dented—so pinched and white they were. Only once did he break his silence and then only for a brief time in a voice as harsh and labored as a croak.

“Flour? Why? Two sacks of flour? Two? Under the shelf? Under the Passover dishes?”

She stared at him mutely, too bewildered, too panic-stricken to answer.

“Hanh? Are they going to wall you in? Or is the long lean year crouching?”

Her whole body before she answered quivered forward as though shaking off layers and layers of some muffling, suffocating fabric.

“Flour!” Her voice under the strain was high-pitched and hysteric. “A sale at the grocer’s. Nev-Neven’s Street! There in that market!” She trembled again, swallowed, striving desperately to calm herself. “I thought since we used so much, it would be wise to—oh!” She sprang to her feet in horror. “You mean why did I leave them under the Passover dishes! I’ll take them away! This moment!”

“No! No! Leave them! Leave them! Leave them!” (David thought the fierce crescendo of his voice would never end) “Sit down. The mice won’t get them!”

She sat down stunned. “I’ll get them later,” she said dully. “I shouldn’t have left them there. I can no longer think.” And taking a deep breath. “One is tempted to buy more than one needs these days, things are so cheap. Is there anything you’d like me to get you? Smoked salmon? Sour cream, thick almost as butter. They say they mix flour into it! Black olives?”

“My head is splitting.” His eyes were roving along the walls again. “Don’t say more than you can help.”

“Can’t I do something for you? A cold compress?”


She shut her eyes, rocked slightly and said no more.

David would have whimpered, but dared not. The intolerable minutes unreeled from an endless spool of nightmare.…

By Wednesday afternoon, another and even more disturbing change had come over his mother. Yesterday afternoon and the day before, she had been impatient with him, unresponsive to his questions, distracted, disjointed in her answers. Now she listened to him with a fixity that made him increasingly uneasy. Wherever he walked about the kitchen, wherever he stood or sat, her eyes followed him, and there was something so fervent, so focused in her gaze that he found his own eyes not daring to meet hers. She did not chide him to-day for dawdling over his after-school bread and butter, or postponing the moment of having to go down. On the contrary, everything was reversed. This afternoon it was he who ate rapidly in order to be ready to go down sooner, and it was his mother who sought to delay him. “And what else?” She would ask. The moment he had completed narrating some incident in school. “And what else happened? What did you see then?” And always her tone had the same rapt, insistent note, and she hung on his every word with such a feverish hungered gaze that several times a curious shudder ran through him, a chill, as if the floor for a second had opened beneath him and he were plunging down a void.

“But on your way home,” she urged. “You haven’t told me. Was there nothing new?”

“No-o.” He hesitated, his eyes wandering about the kitchen avoiding that over-bright, clinging gaze. When would she be satisfied, he wondered, when would she let him go? Uneasily he rummaged among his memories, found the only thing he knew he hadn’t told her yet. “There was a man yesterday.” He began. “On the street that’s the other side of school.” He paused, hoping against hope her interest had flagged.

“Yes! Yes!” Her voice was like a prod. “Yes!”

“And the man, he was making a sidewalk. Like that.” He palmed the green sheet of oil cloth on the table. “With an iron with a handle. A new sidewalk.”

“They’re building up Brownsville!” She smiled at him with frightening intentness. “And? You unwilling, silent, beloved one! And?”

“And when the man wasn’t looking … and the sidewalk was green—it’s green when it’s new.”

“I have seen that also.”

“And a boy came and the man wasn’t looking—he was pushing the iron here. And the boy stepped on it—like that.” He slipped down from the chair, toed the linoleum, “And made a hole with his shoe. Like that—”

Her face had sagged strangely, lips parting before a slow emission of breath. The taut, pale planes of her cheeks seemed to have slipped the chin-bone, overlapped it. Under the raised brows the intent brown eyes were focused on a distance so vast it returned upon her. In dismay, David stopped speaking and blinking with dismay watched her.

“I heard you! I heard you!” She shook her head breathlessly. “Yes! Yes! I heard you!” Through long corridors of brooding her gaze skimmed toward him again. “Yes!”

“Why did you look th-that way?” He wavered between alarm and curiosity.

“Nothing! Nothing at all! I did that too when I was a girl, stepping on a road, new-made. But mine was black! Nothing! Nothing at all! And then what? What did the man do!”

“The man,” he continued uneasily, “the man didn’t see. And yesterday he did it … When I went to school after lunch yesterday. And now there aren’t any more boards on it. And it’s hard like other sidewalks. Nearly white they powder it. And—and you can jump on it. Like that. And you can’t do anything. But he made that hole. And there’s a hole now. You can even see that little red iron on his shoe—in front. It made a hole too! And there’s a piece of cigarette in it already.”


“Why does it get so you can’t make a hole any more—even with an umbrella. A broken one I saw. Only sparks when you hit it.” He ducked under the hungering, round eyes. “You talk now.”

“No, you!”


“Won’t you?” she coaxed.

“I’m all finished now—with my bread,” he reminded her crossly.

“Do you want some more? Some milk?” The eager intensity with which her words followed one another seemed to squeeze letters out of syllables.

He shook his head, eyed her obliquely.

“You can stay with me for a while, beloved.” She opened her arms for him to come to her. “You don’t have to go down.”

He drooped, pouted, but finally trudged over to her and settled on her knee. All this time he had wanted very much to go down, to escape, but he had again caught a sound of pleading in her voice, an expectancy.

“I—I’ll stay here.”

“Oh, you do want to go down!” She unlocked her arms. “Yes you do! I’ve been keeping you. Come! I’ll get your coat!”

“No! No! I don’t! No, mama! I just—I just wanted to look out of the window. That’s what I wanted.”

“Is that all? Are you sure?”

“Yes. Only open. It has to be open.” Some condition was necessary to justify his hesitance. “Will you open it?”

“Of course!” She suddenly pressed him to her fervently, rocked him against her breast. “What would I do without my son in bitter hours? My son! But, darling, the window with the fire-escape before it. Not the other. Good? Sweet fragment! I’ll get a pillow for you to lean on. Do you want to go now?”

“Yes.” He squirmed free.

“First your sweater then. It’s cold out.”

She fetched it. And when he had pulled it on, both went up to the front-room where she opened the window before the little fire-escape, pulled the heavy white curtains aside, cleared the sill of pots and milk bottles and placed a pillow on it.

“And this you’ll want to kneel on.” She drew a chair up. “It can’t damage it any and you can look out much better. Your mittens?”

“No. I’m not cold.”

She leaned over his shoulder, sniffed the air. “It drills the nostrils. Do you see how blue it’s gotten over there, over those brown houses. How early! In the summer this would be late and Albert soon—” She stopped. The fingers on his shoulders twitched. “Ach! I threw a stone upon my own heart then!” With a slack and suddenly aimless hand she fondled his ears and the nape of his neck. “One cannot hide himself long from his fear.” She groaned softly and began drumming on the window pane just as she had drummed on the table yesterday and the day before. “Will you knit another dream for me if I come up later? No?” She patted his head and walked slowly from the front room.

Moodily, he leaned further out to stare down the street.

On the right there were children near the stores at the end of the block, girls skipping rope. Annie was turning. He could see the brace. When he squinted tightly he thought he could make out Yussie standing beside the boy on a tricycle, but wasn’t quite sure if that really was Yussie. Then he could have gone down and stayed near the house without being molested. It would have been better than just being half in the street and half out. He wondered why it was that one could be half in the street and half out and yet never be able to picture the street and the inside of the house together. He could picture the street and the yellow wall of his house, but not the inside. Once he had seen men tearing down the wall of an old wooden house. You could see the inside from the street—the wall paper and the chandelier, the black thickness between floors, windows, open doors. It was strange. Everything looked shrunken. Everything looked frightened.

There was a shout down the street. The boy on the tricycle had begun pedaling followed by the other who alternately propelled or jumped on the axle between the rear wheels. It was Yussie. They swerved, jounced off the curb onto the gutter, circled careening, zigzagged tipsily and bucked the curb again. With a feeling of jealousy he strained his ears to catch what Yussie was shouting between shrieks of laughter. He wouldn’t give Yussie a ride if he had a wheel. Never. He wouldn’t even stay in this block. No, he’d go far away. Where, far? He’d get lost again. The thought sent a shiver through him. Not this time though. His mother would write the address down for him and he’d carry it with him always, in his pocket. They wouldn’t fool him again. He’d ride away. Maybe after those telegraph poles, if you went way, way on, there was a place like a picture in the candy store. That lady who stood on a big box of cigarettes and wore a handkerchief under her eyes and funny fat pants without a dress and carried a round sword. A place where those houses were that she lived in, that all ended in sharp points. He had seen a man in a hat once like that, with a sharp point. He had a mustache and was in the Jewish paper his mother bought. The Tageblatt! When he went that night and—No! Lost the money—No! No! And—and! No!… Houses, he was saying. Points. Points they had, yes, not corners on top like those across the street. Yellow and old wood corner. Brown and green corner. And the grey one with the little window in it that looked like the roof was going to be a star—went down and then didn’t go so down. Why?

He couldn’t answer it, and stared again at the two on the tricycle. Yussie had gotten off, and the owner, his feet removed from the whirling pedals was letting the other push him as fast as he could. The peaks of their caps were turned backwards. Tooting breathlessly they bounced swiftly over the pitted gutter toward David’s house. They were racing. He could tell by their caps. And as they drew near, the driver’s shrill, spurring, “We’re beatin’! We’re beatin’! Horry op!” sent the blood tingling through his own veins. They were almost in front of the house now. In another moment, they would pass beneath his window—when suddenly with a sharp scrape of sliding shoes, Yussie braked the flying wheels to a stop and gaped over the other’s shoulder. Wonderingly, David turned his head to the left to follow his gaze.

Only a few yards off, a tall, lean stranger approached, stooping slightly and bearing close to his dark coat, a white parcel, high, as though he meant to proffer it to the two boys before him. An instant David stared, and suddenly in the space of one stride, it was neither stranger nor parcel he saw, but his own father, and the right hand against his coat was hanging from a sling and swathed in bandages. He screamed.

“Papa! Papa!”

The slow head lifted, grim jaws, beaked nose and steady-glaring eyeballs. The two boys astride and beside the wheel sidled out of his way. David flung himself back from the window, fled screaming into the kitchen. His mother was already on the stair, frightened—

“David! What is it!”

“Papa’s coming! His hand! His hand! It’s all in”—He circled his own. “All in white! He’s coming!”

“Dear God! Hurt! He’s hurt?” She shook him. The starting brown eyes seemed to waken the pallor of her skin, the clutching hand among her hair its bronze. “Albert!” She flew to the door. “Albert!” Her voice in the hallway was hoarse. “Albert! Albert!”

To David, crouched back against the frontroom stairs, his father’s harsh, suppressed words snapped through the open doorway.

“Hush! Hush, I say! An end to your wailing! Get back!”

“Blood! Blood!”

Moaning, clawing at her cheek, his mother came in—backwards held at arm’s-thrust by his father. His face was grey, so grey the bluish stubble on his hard and bulging jaws stood out in separate dots. On the thick white bandage around his hand, a red spot glowered where the thumb should be.

“Yes! Blood!” He rapped out, slamming the door. “Have you never seen it? First that idiot barks from the window at my approach! Now you! Lament! Lament! Bring all your neighbors in here cackling!”

“Oh, Albert! Albert!” She swayed back and forth. “What is it? What’s happened?” The tears braided on her cheek-bones.

“You always were a fool!” he growled. “You see me alive! Will you stop it!”

“Tell me! Tell me!” Her voice dwindled with anguish. “Tell me—! What have you—done? I—alas! before I—”

“Done? Me?”

“What! Tell me!” She was breathing thickly “Hurry!”

“You’re not far from wrong!” he snarled. “You’ve almost guessed it! Yes! I would have done, but that cursed press ground me first! Anh! That press saved him! He doesn’t know it! I would have—What!”

With a whispered groan her head sank. She stumbled toward a chair, dropped into it, slumped, her limp arms hanging beside her. At the sight of her awful pallor David burst into tears.

“Bah!” his father scoffed angrily. “In God’s name I thought you had more wisdom.” He strode to the sink, filled up a glass of water, pried it between her lips. The water runneled her chin, spattered on her dress. “And you’re the one to faint!” he snorted bitterly.

“I’m all right!” she said weakly, lifting her head. “I’m all right, Albert. But—but you didn’t strike him!”

“No!” savagely. “I told you I didn’t! He escaped. Are you more worried about him than about me? Is that it?”

“No! No!”

“Then what are you fainting for? It’s only my thumb. The jaws of the press! I wasn’t quick enough! It jammed, that’s all. You didn’t take on this way when I caught the nail of that finger, did you?”

She hissed, wincing.

“I’ve still got it with me—my thumb—if that’s what’s troubling you. If you hadn’t deafened me with your clamor I could have told you sooner! Now help me off with my coat—or are you still too weak?”

She rose unsteadily, took hold of his coat-collar.

“Curse him!” he muttered squirming free slowly. “The treacherous dog! God’s flame make a candle of him! You don’t have any more privileges than any one else! That’s what he said to me before this—Unh!” He groaned between his teeth as the sleeve slid over his injured hand. “I shouldn’t have let—the jacket—go with it.”

“Is it so bad, Albert!” She put out her hand. “I didn’t mean to—”

“Stop coming at me that way, will you! I don’t need support!”

He stared at the bandage which now that his coat was off seemed to David’s tear-blurred eyes to have swollen to twice its bulk.

“He didn’t have to cover the fingers too, the fool!” He dropped into a chair, masked his eyes with his bony hand. It was heavily ink-blacked, unwashed. “Doctors! They’d rather use the whole ribbon than bother cutting it. And why not? They won’t have to carry it around.” His head dropped back.

“Can I give you anything? Coffee? We still have some wine left.”

“No,” wearily. “I’ll be drowsy soon without wine. I’ll sleep well.” He hooked the heel of his dull black shoe on the lowest rung of the chair, grunted as he stooped down.

“Let me!” She started forward.

He waved her back. “One hand is enough!” And pulling the buttons open. “The angel of Fate strikes always on the side you never guard. I thought that before that dog saw the last of me, I’d make him writhe. And I would have!” His teeth grated. “There was enough venom in me to finish a score of Luters. But they led me out like a sheep.” He kicked his shoe off, watched it roll over on its side, dully. “But you can’t think too much when you’re feeding a press. You can’t dwell too much on the one you hate. That’s the foreman’s privilege. His hands are free!” He shook his foot loose from the other shoe. “Anh! But he was pale when they led me into the bosses’ office. He must have seen what was in my eyes. He must have known who was to blame. And I had one good hand left. Or maybe it was the blood he couldn’t bear. I left it on their carpets.”

She had been watching him rigidly. And when he stopped speaking a tremor ran through her. “Did—did the doctor say anything? Will it heal soon?”

He shrugged. “It won’t have anything else to do. I can’t use it for weeks—at least, that’s what he said. It’s well munched.”

She groaned.

“They spoke of paying me something for the time I was out. Of their own free will they offered it. I don’t know why. But much they’ll give me. Tomorrow I see them again and the doct—tomorrow!” He caught his breath loudly. “Tomorrow is Thursday!”

His lips swelled out in hatred, his eyes burned savagely. Both David and his mother stared at him in fascinated terror.

“Curse him and his gifts!” he suddenly snarled. “May he burn with them! God bray him into bits!”

His right elbow moved downward, but the sling checked his hand. With writhing lips, he reached his left hand behind his back, fumbled in the right rear pocket and drew out his black leather pocket-book.

“Curse him!”

He drew out a small slip of white paper, the theatre-pass, crumpled it in grinding fingers to a crackling wad and threw it down on the table.

“Nothing fulfills itself with me! It’s all doomed! But what made him give me this? And what made him change? If I only knew! If I only knew!” His left hand drummed on the table.

There was a horrible silence while they stared at the wad of paper on the table. Then his father slipped the bandaged hand free from the sling and began slowly stretching it back and forth to flex the cramped and clicking elbow. His face wore an expression of grim aloofness as though it were not his own hand he was experimenting with but someone else’s. On his mother’s features horror and pity were written. David gazed from one to the other and finally like theirs his eyes came to rest on the hand that had just settled softly on the table, glimmering and peninsular on the green oilcloth. Minutes seemed to pass in a dull dragging vacancy in which no word was spoken. David looked up. His mother’s face was unchanged as though that anguished look were caught in stone. But his father’s face had become flushed, relaxed; the deep breath hissed softly at his nostrils. His eyelids had begun to linger at their shutting, opening not in one but in two stages. He spoke. Faint ratchets of effort against drowsiness and fatigue ticked and caught in his voice, thickening it. And as though to himself—

“I’ll never go back to work there again. I’ll never go back to printing at all. I’m through. Whatever work I do hereafter, it’s going to be out doors—alone if I can. But out doors always … I’ll not let myself be hemmed in by ink and iron any more. I don’t want any foremen for my friends. I don’t want anybody. I—I have no fortune with men.”

He sighed harshly, rose and yawned as if he were groaning. The bandaged hand stretched ceilingward, and when he brought it down into the sling again, one eye shut in pain—

“It’s as though it were hollow.” He turned toward the front room, eyed David a moment and went up.

“I’ll get you a quilt,” she trailed him.

He made no answer and both climbed up the front room stairs.

Sitting in numb silence beside the window, David stared after them, watched them disappear, listened. The bed creaked. In a few moments, he heard his mother’s quick tread and then the slither of something dragged from the couch—the quilt. And then the bedroom was closed and he heard only the ticking of the clock. The strange start of dread he had felt when his father’s eyes had rested on him still lingered with him. He had seen it before—that look, that flicker of veiled suspicion more frightening than wrath—had seen it almost always the day his father had thrown up a job. Why? What had he done? He didn’t know. He didn’t even want to know. It frightened him too much. Everything he knew frightened him. Why did he have to be here when his father came home? Why had his mother kept him? Why did he have to know? You had to know everything and suddenly what you knew became something else. You forgot why, but it was something else just the same. Scaring you—

There was a noise in the hallway—the door below. Hurrying feet mounted the stairs, climbed; but as they passed his floor, stopped, descended, approached his door uncertainly. He slid from his chair, listened, opened the door a crack. It was Yussie. His cap, still turned backward, gave his red face an even pudgier look.

“Hey, Davy!” he whispered hesitantly, spying through the partly open door.

“Waddayuh wan’?” Somehow he felt less grieved at Yussie now, even relieved at seeing him. It suddenly occurred to him that it was not Yussie but his sister he disliked so much. Still he wasn’t going to appear too friendly. “Wadjuh comm hea fuh?” he inquired morosely.

“Yuh mad on me yed, Davy?” He looked at him with innocent resignation.

“I don’ know,” he muttered tentatively. “Yea.”

“So I’ll take beck de cry-baby,” he offered placatingly. “I’ll never call yuh again, I shuh live so! It wuz all Ennie’s fault—she made me.”

“You don’ like her?” suspiciously.

“No! I’m mad on her! She’s a lousy mut!”

“So comm in.”

Yussie sidled in eagerly, looked around. “Aw!” His lips fell in disappointment. “He ain’ hea! Did he go ’way awreddy?”

“My fodder yuh wan’?” He suddenly saw through Yussie’s ruse. “So dat’s w’y yuh comm hea? Don’ make no noise! He’s sleepin’.”

“Oh!” And then inquisitively. “Wadda big bendige he had on. I seen it. So wad’d he get id fuh?”

“He god hoided in a printin’ press. Dot’s w’y. His fingeh. So dey put id on.”

“Yeh? I t’ought maybe—I know sommbody wod he hoided his hand on de Futt f’om Jillai—wid a fiyuh crecker. He had id in his house so he lighded id. Den he wanned t’ t’row id oud f om de windeh. So de windeh woz cluz. So he didn’ know w’ea he sh’t’row id. So bang—!”


They turned. She had tip-toed so quietly from his father’s bedroom that neither of them had heard her. While they watched her silently, she shut the front room door, came down the steps with a slow uncertainty.

“Don’t be offended with me, Yussele.” In the blank immobility of her face, a bare mechanical smile stirred her lips. “Go on. Speak further if you like.”

“Yea.” Impatiently Yussie summarized his narrative, nor bothered to switch tongue. “I wuz tellin’ him about a fiyuh crecker wod a boy wuz holdin’ an’ id wen’ bang! So aftuh id w’en bang, id hoided him de hand so he had t’ pud a bendige on like Misteh Schoil.”

The name seemed to waken her momentarily. She shook her head wearily.

“An’ aftuh, so his ear woz makin’ Kling! Kling! Kling! Jos’ like dat! Kling! Kling! Kling! Cauze de fiyuh crecker wen’ bang by his ears! Den he wannid me I sh’ hea’ by him de ears, bod I couldn’ hea’ nottin’. Bot he said id woz! So I—” He stopped, regarded her in perplexity, and then uneasily to David. “Don’ she wan’ I sh’ talk t’ huh in Engklish?”

“I don’ know.” He answered sullenly. His mother’s fixed, unseeing stare, her trembling lips, trembling as if to an inner speech, was anguish enough for him to bear without the added humiliation of having Yussie notice it. “Yuh goin’?” he invited.

“Yeh, opstehs! Yuh wonna comm?”

“No!” Inflexibly.

“Bod I’m on’y gonna ged my noo bow’n’ arrer.” He urged. “Den I’m commin’ donn. My modder t’rew huh cussit away, so dere’s big, long w’ite iyons in id. So I wen’ ’an pulled ’em oud. An’ I’m gonna tie ’em all t’gedder. An’ ooo! is id gonna be strong! Way strong! Yuh wanna waid fuh me till I comm down? I’ll call yuh.”

He hesitated, looked up at his mother. Her breast was heaving slowly, deeply, making a slight moaning creak in her throat. Her eyes, unwinking, round and liquid, swam in the lustre of unshed tears. For a shattering instant a throng of impulses, diverse, fierce, maddening, hurtled against the very core of his being. He wanted to shrink away, to run, to hide, anywhere, under the table, in a corner, in his bedroom, to burst into tears, to scream at her. So many they paralyzed him. He stood quivering, gaping at her, waiting for her to weep. Then suddenly he remembered! Yussie was looking at her! He would know! He would see! He mustn’t! He whirled on him. “You go op, Yussie! G’wan! Horry op! I’ll waid f’yuh in mine house. Den you come down and den I’ll go! Horry op!”

“Yuh wan’ me t’call ye?” Yussie cast a confused glance over his shoulder at David’s mother.

“Yeh! Yeh! So go!” His shame at the other’s knowing was agonizing. “G’wan!” He opened the door.

His mother sniffed sharply. “Are you driving him out, child?” The flat twang of tears thickened her voice. “You mustn’t do that!”

“No! No!” David reverted desperately to Yiddish. “He’s going by himself! I’m not pushing him!”

“Yeh! I’m goin’!” Yussie seconded him hastily. “I’ll call yuh.” He went out.

“What made you part so abruptly?” She sniffed again, pressed her eyelids down, followed the dark margins with thumb and forefinger, and regarded her humid fingertips.

David hung his head, not daring to look at her for fear of weeping. “He’s coming down to call me. And then we’re both going into the street.”

“Oh, are you friends again?” She lifted weary tearstained eyes to the window. “It’s growing dark. You won’t stay out too long, will you? Nor go too far?”

“No.” It was becoming difficult for him to talk against the choking in his throat. “I’ll get my coat.”

He retreated suddenly into his bedroom. In the brief solitude of finding his coat, his whole body began to quiver. But he tensed it, jammed his lips together to keep them still. The spasm passed. He dragged his hat and coat from the bed and returned.

“I must light the gas,” she said without stirring. “Do you want to come here and sit beside me?”

“No! I—I have to put my coat on.” He struggled into it. He mustn’t, he mustn’t go near her.

She shrugged, not at him, but at herself. “This is the way of the years, my son. Each new one shows you both hands this way—” She held out her two closed hands before her. “Here, choose!” And opening them. “And they’re both empty. We do what we can. But the bitter thing is to strive—and save none but yourself.” She rose, went to the stove, lifted the lid and peered down into the glow that stained the wide brow, the flat cheek. “Eat we must though.”

“I’m going, mama.” He had heard the door slam upstairs.

“You won’t be late for supper, beloved?” She replaced the eclipsing lid, half-turned, “Will you?”

“No, mama.” He went out. His whole being felt crushed, worn out, defeated.

Yussie came tripping down out of the upper shadow, and seeing him below, rattled the dim, slender corset-stays.

“Hey, yuh see watta a bow’n’arrer I’ll hev? I got cawd in mine pocket too, so I’ll tie id.” He joined David at the landing, took his arm. “C’mon! So I’ll show yuh how I’ll tie id over hea an’ over hea in de middle. Den I’ll tie id over hea.”

Descending, they neared the cellar door at which when he glanced, David felt a wave not so much of fear as of anger run through him—as though he defied it, as though he had slammed the door within him and locked it.

“An’ we’ll go maybe by de bobber shop, becuz by de bobber shop now is lighd. He a’ways lighds foist. So we c’n see how t’ do it. Yuh commin?”


They came out into the frosty blue of early dusk, turned toward the stores, some of which were lit; there were several children before the tailor shop and the barber’s. They trudged toward it, Yussie flexing the sheaf of corset stays.

“Didja ask yuh modder fuh a nickel fuh de Xmas poddy in school?”

“No. I fuhgod.”

“My ticher calls id Xmas, bod de kids call id Chrizmas. I’ds a goyish holiday anyways. Wunst I hanged up a stockin’ in Brooklyn. Bod mine fodder pud in a eggshells wid terlit paper an’ a piece f’om an ol’ kendle. So he leffed w’en he seen me. Id ain’ no Sendy Klaws, didja know?”


“How does a prindin’ press look wot hoitshuh fodder?”

“Id’s like a big mechine.”

“Id don’ go boof?”

“No. Id makes like dat calenduh I woz saving.”


They neared the group. Annie was still among them. David no longer cared.

“Hey!” Yussie seized his arm eagerly. “Dey’s Jujjy de one wod fell w’en yuh pushed him. Yuh wan’ me t’ make yuh glad on him?”


“So tell him f’om de p’lice station. He’ll be glad! Tell me too! So yeh?”


“Hey Jujjy!” Yussie hailed them. “Hea’s Davy! He wandsuh be glad on yuh. He’s gonna tell yuh aboud de p’lice station! Aintcha, Davy?”