DAVID HAD BEEN DREAMING THAT he was in the school cafeteria, and for a moment the noise fitted right in. In the dream he was carrying an enormous slippery tray full of food and looking for a place to sit down, but all the seats were full—except one. The one vacant chair was at a table where a bunch of guys stared at him and said things like, “Get lost,” and “This seat is saved.” He was trying to decide whether to remind Pete Garvey—the guy who said the seat was saved seemed to be Garvey—that seat-saving was against the rules, when there was this loud clatter and the guys at the table all laughed. David was thinking, Oh, no, and looking to see what had fallen off his tray, when suddenly there he was in bed. In bed and waking up and realizing that the scene in the
cafeteria had been a dream. He was just lying there enjoying the flash of relief that comes when you wake up and realize a nightmare didn’t really happen, when he became aware of a kind of echo in his ears. An echo that told him that part of it had been real. There really had been a bouncy clatter, and it had come from someplace not far away. From right there in the dark bedroom, in fact. That was when he sat up and turned on the light and found out that it was only Blair walking in his sleep again.
Blair had been walking in his sleep a lot lately. This time he must have been on his way to the window when he stumbled over his Randy the Robot toy, and it had been the robot bouncing around that woke David up. It didn’t wake Blair up, though. People said it was dangerous to wake up a sleepwalker, but with Blair you didn’t have to worry very much. Sleeping was one thing Blair did with a lot of determination, and waking him up wasn’t about to happen by accident.
When the light went on, he went right on standing by the window. His pajama bottoms sagged in the rear and his curly hair looked as if it had been combed with an eggbeater. He was looking down into the side yard. At least, you would have thought he was looking if you didn’t know about sleepwalkers. His eyes were wide open, but if he was seeing anything, it was probably only a scene from a dream. So David quietly led him
back to bed. He was pulling up the covers when Blair sat up again and stared at David.
“David,” he said.
David shook his head. According to Molly, David’s stepmother, you were definitely not supposed to talk to sleepwalkers.
“David.” Blair was pointing toward the window.
“Shhh,” David said, pushing him back down.
Blair stared at him. “Shhh?” he asked. David nodded. After a moment Blair nodded, too, and lay back down. Even in his sleep Blair was pretty reasonable for a six-year-old.
It wasn’t until morning that David found out what Blair had been dreaming about and what it was he thought he had looked at, down there in the empty moonlit yard. Blair told him all about it while they were getting dressed, and David immediately decided it would be a good idea to tell his father. Everybody knows that what people dream about is very significant and has a whole lot to do with their deep inner hopes and dreams and basic needs. And as it happened, Blair had been dreaming about a dog.
It was Saturday, a nice warm Saturday in late October, and everyone was having whole-grain waffles with fruit and yogurt for breakfast, except Amanda who hated health food.
Amanda, who was Molly’s daughter and, of course, David’s stepsister, had been the original health food nut in the family.
But when Molly got interested, Amanda had decided the whole thing was a hoax and had switched to junk food. The result was some pretty complicated meals.
That morning Amanda kept pawing through the refrigerator and peering in the oven at the Pillsbury biscuits she was baking. Molly kept jumping up to check on the waffle iron. And, as usual, everyone was talking nonstop. Everybody except Blair, that is, who was, as usual, pretty silent. All the rest of the family, including Molly and Amanda, were great talkers, so meals were apt to be a kind of verbal soccer game, with everybody trying to steal the ball and run with it. If you wanted to be a part of the action you had to be pretty determined.
“Dad,” David yelled at one point, over an argument about pantyhose between Molly and Amanda, and another one about who smeared jam all over the butter, between Janie and Esther. “Dad. We had a very interesting discussion in social studies the other day, about basic human needs. Did you study about basic needs when you were in school?”
“Basic needs?” Dad said. “You mean like food, clothing and shelter?”
“Yeah. Like that. And like social contact.” David cupped one hand around his mouth and aimed what he was saying at Dad, over a chorus of you-did-toos and I-did-nots from Janie and Esther. “There was this part about social contact, about
how baby monkeys need something warm and furry to hang onto while they’re little, or they grow up to have weird personalities. And, Dad, Mr. Davenport said people are a lot like monkeys, and that’s one reason why pets are important. Particularly pets that are warm and furry.”
That hadn’t been exactly the way Mr. Davenport had put it, but it was close. Close enough so that it had occurred to David at the time to wish his father could hear what Mr. Davenport was saying—because, although it was true that the Stanley family did have a few pets already, as Dad had pointed out, they didn’t really have one of the warm and furry type. Like a dog, for instance.
“Warm and furry?” Dad looked very serious. “Warm and furry is all that important?” David was just wondering if he didn’t look a little too serious, as if he were trying to keep from smiling, when Molly interrupted.
“Jeff, what do you think?” and she went on about how Amanda wanted to start wearing pantyhose to school and did Dad think pantyhose were necessary for someone who was barely fourteen. Before Dad could answer, Janie interrupted to ask everyone to look at her waffle.
“The jam on my waffle is obviously apricot,” Janie said, “and if you will notice the mess on the butter, you will see that it is definitely boysenberry.” Janie, who was eight years old and had
an I.Q. of one hundred and forty-five, had recently decided she was a detective. “And now,” she went on pointing at Esther, “may I direct your attention to Esther’s chin.”
Everybody looked. Esther stuck out her tongue and licked off the evidence.
“Apricot,” she said, smacking her lips.
“It was not,” Janie yelled.
“It was—” Esther started to yell, before Dad’s stare got through to her, “—too,” she whispered.
“It was not,” Janie whispered back.
“It was too.”
“It was not.” The whispering got softer as Dad’s glare got fiercer, until they were only mouthing the words at each other. Dad went back to eating his waffle, but it was obvious that he definitely wasn’t in one of his better moods. David decided not to try again until everyone had finished eating and Janie and the twins had gone out to play. By then David and Amanda had started in on their Saturday morning dishwashing job, and Dad and Molly were having a last cup of coffee at the kitchen table. This time David decided on a different approach.
“It happened again last night,” he said and waited for someone to say “What did?”—and right on cue, Molly said it. Considering all the publicity about lousy stepmothers, Molly could have been a lot worse. She wasn’t a typical stepmother—or
mother, either, for that matter. She was pretty small and young-looking for her age, which was thirty-six, and she went around wearing jeans and bare feet and paint-smeared smocks a lot of the time. She was a very good artist, but she wasn’t exactly the greatest at things like housekeeping or cooking. She also tended to be more or less of a pushover. When you needed someone to set one up for you, Molly usually came through.
“What happened?” Molly said.
“Blair walked in his sleep again,” David said.
“Again?” Molly looked anxious. “Jeff, I don’t like it. It just doesn’t seem normal for a five-year-old to suddenly start walking in his sleep all the time.”
“Six. He’s six, Molly. And I don’t know if I’d call it ‘all the time,’ ” Dad said. “This is the second time, isn’t it?”
“The third time that we know about. And there could have been other times, when he got back into bed by himself and no one noticed. It really worries me, Jeff. He could fall down the stairs, or even out of a window.”
“Yeah,” David said. “I woke up this time, but I might not always.”
“You know,” Molly said, “it just started since school began. I wonder if it could be related to school.”
Dad grinned. “To first grade? I shouldn’t think first grade could be all that stressful.”
“Well no,” Molly said, “not ordinarily. But you know, I have some misgivings about Blair in that particular class.”
David had heard Molly on that subject before. About how Mrs. Bowen, the first-grade teacher at Steven’s Corners Elementary School, wasn’t the right type of person to appreciate someone like Blair. David was inclined to agree about that. Blair was a pretty spacy kid, and Mrs. Bowen looked about as unspacy as you could get. But at the moment Molly’s “school problems theory” was getting the conversation off on the wrong track.
“Blair dreams while he’s sleepwalking,” David said quickly. “I know because I asked him. You know what he dreams about, Dad? He dreams about a dog. You know, I’ll bet Blair would stop sleepwalking if he had a dog.”
“I see,” Dad said. “A dog, is it? A warm and furry dog, by any chance?”
So it didn’t work. He should have known it wouldn’t. Using psychology on Jeffrey Stanley usually didn’t. But because he really believed it was true and not just a pitch to get something he wanted, David gave it one more try.
“Well, it’s just that what people dream about is usually very important, I mean if you want to understand about their problems and stuff like that.”
“Look, son,” Dad said. “I thought we’d had this out. No
more pets for the time being. Okay? Now let’s not discuss it any further.”
“Okay.” David shrugged and went back to washing the dishes. There wasn’t any point in saying anything else. Even if he wasn’t happy.
As soon as Dad and Molly were gone Amanda stuck her nose in the air. “Now let’s not discuss it any further,” she said in an uptight tone of voice that was supposed to be an imitation of Dad.
“Look,” David said, “he only said that because Molly was listening. Before, when I asked him about getting a puppy, we discussed it a lot. What he said was, Molly would have to train it while we’re all away at school, and she already doesn’t have enough time to paint. That’s why he wouldn’t discuss it, so it wouldn’t sound like he was blaming it on her.”
“Yeah, well I still think it’s pretty crummy,” Amanda said. “You’d think that living way out here in the country where there’s nothing to do, we could at least have a few animals around.”
“I know,” David said. “That’s what I said, too. But Dad said we already did have a few animals, like Rolor and King Tut and Rocky.”
“Animals,” Amanda said. “Rolor and King Tut aren’t animals. And Rocky isn’t even ours.”
It was true. Rolor was Blair’s pet crow, and King Tut was a turkey. And Rocky was the beat up old tomcat who lived in the barn now and then when he wasn’t off wandering around the country, looking for lady cats and getting into fights. And even when he was around, he wasn’t all that friendly. In fact, nobody could even get near him, except Blair.
“Not that I care for myself,” Amanda said. “I’m not all that crazy about dogs. But I don’t see why you little kids can’t have one.”
Thanks a lot, Amanda, David thought. She knew how he felt about being classed with Janie and the twins as a little kid. The twins were barely six years old, and Janie was only eight. Thirteen was practically a whole different generation. But he’d learned from experience that having an argument with Amanda while she was supposed to be helping you clean up the kitchen was definitely what Dad called counterproductive. So he kept his mouth shut and only thought up a couple of very sarcastic remarks that he might have made if he’d been in the mood for an argument—or a crack over the head with a pancake turner, which was what he’d gotten the last time.
Fighting with Amanda under any circumstances had always been counterproductive, and lately it had become even more so. She’d always had the advantage of being a girl and therefore more or less unpunchable, even when she punched
first. But in the last few months she’d acquired another unfair advantage by suddenly going from about David’s height to at least six inches taller.
In the end he was more angry at himself for not telling her off, than he was at Amanda. It wasn’t that he was a coward; at least, he didn’t think it was. It was just that when it came right down to it, he never seemed able to get in the right frame of mind for a fight. And not being able to get in a fighting frame of mind was a real handicap when you were thirteen years old and in the eighth grade at Wilson Junior High.
Not, of course, that it hadn’t been a problem before. David had known he wasn’t particularly fond of fighting since he was a little kid, but he hadn’t worried all that much about it. But then, he’d come back to the Steven’s Corners school system after being away in Italy on his dad’s sabbatical, had gone into eighth grade—and had met the Garvey Gang.
It had started off on the very first day of school, and of course he’d handled it all wrong. If he’d just gotten up and taken a swing at Garvey on that first day at the bus stop when Garvey had tripped him—no matter what happened afterwards . . .
“Hey, what’s the matter with you?” Amanda practically yelled in his ear. Apparently she’d been yakking away for several minutes before she noticed that David wasn’t doing much
answering. She probably didn’t even realize that her crack about little kids had bugged him. It figured.
“Nothing’s the matter with me,” he said, “except for dishpan hands. Look at them. Next time I’m going to dry.”
Amanda was starting to argue, when all of a sudden she stopped and said, “Hey look. What’s The Bleep doing?” Amanda thought it was funny to call Blair “The Bleep,” because he sometimes talked so quietly you couldn’t hear anything at all, like a bleeped out comment on TV.
David finished rinsing the sink and turned around in time to see Blair coming out of the pantry. He wasn’t tiptoeing or anything, but he’d somehow managed to walk right past them into the pantry and then come out again, before they’d even noticed. And now he was just walking along smiling to himself and holding four slices of bread in front of him, two in each hand. When Esther got caught snitching food she always started stuffing it in her mouth so as to get as much eaten as possible before you could take it away. And if it had been Janie, she’d have had it carefully hidden so the only thing that tipped you off was the hammy wide-eyed-innocent number she always did when she was up to no good. Nobody but Blair would walk along flatfooted, holding what he’d snitched right out in front of him. David grinned at Amanda, and she rolled her eyes and grinned back.
“Hey Blair,” David said. “What’re you doing with all that bread?”
“Bread?” Blair looked carefully at the two slices in his right hand, then the ones in his left. Then he looked at David and Amanda and nodded with a serious kind of smile and said, “He’s very big.”
“Who’s big?” Amanda said. “What are you talking about? What’s he talking about, David?”
“Blair,” David said. “What are you talking about?”
“That dog,” Blair said. “That big dog.”