Call It Sleep XVII

WISH I had a potsee, a potsee. Could go slower. Go slower. Look around. See if to see. Look around. An exhaustion beyond anything he had ever felt; a weariness the vastest rest could never match. He was so tired his very thought seemed a function of his breathing, as though the mind were so spent it needed the impulse of breath to clear the word away, else it echoed in stagnance. He dragged tottering rebellious legs toward the car tracks of Tenth.

—Take longer if I had a potsee. Longer, lots longer. And kick it here, so it goes there. And there, and there, and kick it there, so it goes here. And here and follow it. And follow it where it went. And if it went away, go away. Go with it. And if it comes back, come back. Ow! Mama! Mama! Tired all out! Ow! Mama! Should have gone away. Anyway. Away. Forty-one Street, said. Big house. Forty-one street River was. And Thirty Street River was. And was and it followed. And train and it followed. And he said it goes. Goes where? Br-Bronx, Bronx Park, he said. Is animals, he said with the package. Lots and trees. Lots. Then it comes back. Five cents. Have to come back always. Go home. Never get lost no more. No more. Know number. Never. Slow. Go slower. Cartracks. Ow! Too near! Too near already. Ow! Ow!

With all the horror of one tottering over an abyss, he stared at the cobbles, the gleaming tracks.

—Stay here! Go back! Stay here! Ow! What’ll I do? Where’ll I go? Mama! Mama! Stay here till fifty wagons; take a step. Fifty autos; take a step. Fifty—Tired! Tired all out. Can’t wait! Can’t wait no more. Don’t let him hit me, Mama, I’m crossing! I’m crossing, Mama! Ow! Getting near! Getting near! Where’s a potsee? A potsee. Garbage cans look. Ain’t out yet. Flies he found. Cellar. Them! Ow! A potsee! A potsee! Something. Find! Find!

Nerveless fingers fumbled numbly in his pockets.

—Pencil. No good. Break off gold and rubber. Step on—No good! No good! What? Cord when I thought kite. What’d I go up for? Why! Why! Canary! Ow! Lousy! Lousy son-of-a-! Back pocket … Them! It’s them! No good shitten them! Kick! Throw away! Tear! Shitten, goy-beads! Tear! Kick for a potsee! Gwan! They’ll see, but they’ll see! Don’t care! Ow! Getting near! Getting near! My lamppost, Ninth! Oh, Mama, Mama, don’t let him hit me! I’m going round! I’m going round! Oooh, look every place! Look every place!

Only his own face met him, a pale oval, and dark, fear-struck, staring eyes, that slid low along the windows of stores, snapped from glass to glass, mingled with the enemas, ointment-jars, green globes of the drug-store—snapped off—mingled with the baby clothes, button-heaps, underwear of the drygoods store—snapped off—with the cans of paint, steel tools, frying pans, clothes-lines of the hardware store—snapped off. A variegated pallor, but pallor always, a motley fear, but fear. Or he was not.

—On the windows how I go. Can see and ain’t. Can see and ain’t. And when I ain’t, where? In between them if I stopped, where? Ain’t nobody. No place. Stand here then. BE nobody. Always. Nobody’d see. Nobody’d know. Always. Always No. Carry—yes—carry a looking glass. Teenchy weenchy one, like in pocket-book, Mama’s. Yea. Yea. Yea. Stay by house. Be nobody. Can’t see. Wait for her. Be nobody and she comes down. Take it! Take looking-glass out, Look! Mama! Mama! Here I am! Mama, I was hiding! Here I am! But if Papa came. Zip, take away! Ain’t! Ain’t no place! Ow! Crazy! Near! I’m near! Ow!

His eyes glazing with panic, he crept toward his house, and as he went, grasped at every rail and post within reach—not to steady himself, though he was faint, but to retard. And always he went forward, as though an ineluctable power tore him from the moorings he clutched.

A boy stood leaning against the brass bannister on the top step of the stoop. He held in his hands the torn tissue of a burst red balloon which he sucked and twisted into tiny crimson bubbles. As David, fainting with terror, dragged himself up the stone stairs, the other nipped at a moist, new-made sphere. It popped. He grinned blithely.

“Yuh see how I ead ’em? One bite!”

David stopped, stared at him unseeingly. In the trance that locked his mind only one sensation guttered with a bare significance. The chill of the tarnished railing under his palm, the chill and the memory of its lustre and the flat taint of its corruption.

“Now, I’ll make a real big one!” said the boy. “Watch me!” The stretched red rubber hollowed into a small antre in his mouth, was engulfed, twisted, revealed. “See dot! In one bite!”