Heavy Sleeper

“I’ve had to talk to you about this too many times, David,” she said. “I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”

Mrs. Kalama, the morning supervisor, stood by the time clock, arms wrapped around her like a shroud. The glare she gave him normally would have turned his spinal fluid to stone. Now, he could care less. He knew this was the last time she’d put up with him being late. Fired on Christmas Eve. This was a dream right out of Dickens.

Parking his car, he half-heartedly loped toward Macy’s. He checked his watch. 9:20. Twenty minutes late.

He turned to look at the mess his stopped car was making at the intersection. Turning back to look at her, he found that she’d disappeared.

David staggered backward. “What are you doing here?” he’d asked. “You’re supposed to be – ”

She’d looked up at him. He’d recognized her. “Please get away from me,” she’d said.

“Are you all right?” he’d asked.

Behind them car horns blared, a cacophonous symphony, people screaming out their windows for him to get back in his car and drive. Thus, the good Samaritan is always greeted. With derisive cursing and shaken fists.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman loaded down with shopping bags. She dropped one, then another as she stooped to pick up the first one. Another fell from her arms. Traffic was moving forward. She’d never get out of the crosswalk in time. He shifted to park, right there in the middle of traffic. Jumping from his car, he faced the oncoming mass and held out his hand, desperately trying to hold the flow back. Now, of course, they’d start moving. Just when he couldn’t. Just when she couldn’t. Running over to her, he stooped to pick up the bags, then ushered her to the sidewalk.

The light that took three years to change finally did turn green. David was determined to get through it this time. He tried to will all the cars forward, break the dam, let the river run straight to the shopping center.

Traffic was a mess. Tomorrow was Christmas. Christmas on a Sunday. What a jammed-up quagmire of procrastination and frustration. Weekends were for slow times and doing anything or nothing. Whatever you pleased. Sleep in. Do yard work. Watch some game on TV. The traffic seemed frozen in time. Everyone doing the last-minute desperate shopping dance. They’d be doing it at his store, but not with him there to greet them. He checked his watch. Ten minutes to 9:00. He’d never make it before the doors opened.

No time for brushing his teeth. No time for any coffee. He ran to his closet, threw on the first things he saw, grabbed his keys and he was out the door.

He opened his eyes with a start. Grabbing his phone, he saw that it was 8:35. He’d fallen back asleep, as though this were just another lazy Saturday. His body had told him to sleep in. “Idiot,” he thought.

David rolled over in bed to check the time. It was like he was 20 years old again. Waking up early had been easy then. It never ceased to amaze him back then, how he would open his eyes a minute or two before his alarm went off. And here it was, 6:59 a.m. He lay there waiting for the buzzer to sound. When it did, he shut it off and closed his eyes. He smiled.

“Daddy?” He heard a small voice near his ear. “Daddy?” There was a tugging at his pajama sleeve. “Daddy?” She began kissing his cheek.

He opened his eyes and rolled to face his daughter. The tears came. They still came a lot. Grabbing her, he pulled his little girl toward him.

“Oh my little love,” he said to her, holding her so tight he was afraid he might break her. “Oh my baby girl, don’t you ever grow up.”

“Daddy, I can’t breathe.”

He let her go. She smiled at him. “Daddy, can we have blueberry pancakes this morning?”

“Of course we can. It’s Saturday, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Daddy, it’s Saturday.”

He sat up on the side of the bed and pulled her to him again. It had been so hard since his wife died, a kind of nightmare. And these dreams. But the two of them were making it through, day by day, getting used to living without her.

He pulled his little girl to him and embraced her again. “Honey,” he said, “please don’t you ever grow up.”

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