An hour before sunrise on Midsummer's Day, my sister and I crept
out of the house to polish our sleeping utensils. To muffle the
clinking, we carried them in an old velvet bag meant for chess
pieces. Under a laurel bush at the far corner of the yard, where
the ground was steepest, a thick rug of moss held just enough
dew for our task.
First we polished the spatula that we used for turning over our
pillows, when they grew too dank and took on the smell of saliva.
Then the barbecue skewers, which we weren't supposed to have,
but which we needed in order to pin down the blankets, so they
wouldn't come loose and expose our feet. Next the ball-peen
which was necessary as a weapon in nightmares in which Father
appeared; sometimes he mistook us for the bears he hunted. The
twelve sewing needles had any number of uses: pricking Father
in the arm to distract him, or patching holes in recurring dreams
we had worn out through overuse-particularly those in which we
had wings, or crossed canyons on high wooden stilts. Sometimes
we needed to sew up the paws of our bear costumes, when the seams
frayed from too much scurrying across the basement floor.
Next we polished the trowel my sister used for some purpose she
refused to mention; and a white rook that had remained in the
chess bag by mistake, but which might prove helpful; and a curved
broken handlebar with a rubber cap at the end. We hadn't figured
out the use of this last item yet, but it seemed the most vital
of them all, to have ready to strike out with, or to blow into
as a horn, or to ring against the headboard as a signal when all
It was hard work, polishing those utensils while we crouched,
trying not to get grass stains on our pajamas. We hurried so we
could get back in bed before our parents woke and noticed we had
gone. The moss flattened. We saved the serrated knives for last,
because they tore up the moss, and because we hated to think of
ever having to stab someone.
It was hard work, sleeping with so many tools always at the ready.
We had to count them over and over to be certain none had gotten
lost. We had to sleep death-still, taking care not to kick them
out from underneath the sheets. They could clatter to the floor,
and give away our positions.