Sunday, October 13, 2013


He knew it would never happen. But they couldn’t stop him from dreaming about it. So he dutifully set out the saucer with the piece of fruitcake on it, beside the glass of Coca-Cola, on the kitchen table. And then he kissed his mom and dad goodnight and went to bed.

“Get me a glass of water.”

The whining sound of his older brother’s voice wakened him from a deep sleep where he had been imagining baby dolls and beautiful carriages with himself at the helm, walking along the street happy and proud to be the new owner of a pram and a lifelike china infant.

Dutifully, he got up from his bed, only a few feet across from his brother’s identical bed, and walked across the hall to the bathroom. He took a Dixie cup from the dispenser beside the medicine cabinet and filled it with cold water and returned to the bedroom

“That’s not enough. I want some more. Bring two this time, and think of something to sing to me when you get back.”

He would sing Old Doctor Sun or Sweet Hortense. He liked singing them both, and if the first one didn’t work then maybe the second one would put his brother back to sleep long enough for him to have more dreams about all of the things he desired.

            Old Doctor Sun please shine your lovely light
            On the sick children, pale children, those who are in pain
            Old Doctor Sun please shine your light again

            “More. I want more. I can’t get to sleep.”

            Oh oh oh my sweet Hortense
            she ain’t good lookin’ but she’s got good sense
            I gave Hortense a diamond ring
            boy it was the most beautiful thing
            She got married now I’m alone
            She gave me back the ring but she kept the stone
            Hortense has dandy teeth in her mouth
            one pointing north and the other pointing south
            oh my sweet Hortense
            she ain’t good lookin’ but she’s got good sense           
            Rain makes flowers pretty I hear
            I hope it rains on her for a year
            Every time I kiss Hortense
            I always buy a nickels worth of peppermints

He could hear his brother chuckle a little as he fell asleep with the empty Dixie cups lying crumpled beside his head. But he couldn’t get to sleep himself. Singing to his older sibling always got the adrenaline flowing and it became a little bedside performance that took awhile to come down from when it was over. So he just lay there thinking about all of the excitement awaiting them both when they got out of bed in the morning and went downstairs.

And there it was, to his complete surprise, sitting on the kitchen counter, and when he stood on his tiptoes and peaked inside he could see the baby’s pale face and rosy cheeks with a little wool blanket pulled up around its neck. He couldn’t believe it. They had actually bought him a doll carriage and china doll. He hadn’t believed in Santa for a few years but they still did the ritual of leaving food out for him when he delivered all of the gifts from the North Pole. The fruitcake was half eaten and the glass of Coke was empty. But then he noticed crumbled bits of dark bread and green and red maraschino cherries on the floor beside the counter where the carriage was perched, and realized his dad had dropped the piece of cake and hadn’t noticed. But it didn’t matter. He had what he wanted, and the next step was to get all dressed up in his winter coat and take that doll for a nice walk around the neighbourhood in her brand new buggy. But just as he was heading for the closet in the front hall he heard his brother whining again.

            “Get me a glass of water” - and he suddenly realized he had in fact been able to fall asleep again after his medley of Sweet Hortense and Old Doctor Sun. He got up out of bed, trying to relish the memory of his little doll and carriage dream, and headed for the Dixie cup dispenser.

            He always wished that Old Doctor Sun would pay more attention to him, and he felt so sorry for Hortense, the way his brother laughed at her when he sang the song. There was something about her that - as a child - he couldn’t quite put his finger on. But he knew she was like him. She was never going to get what she really wanted, but she would spend all of her life trying to find ways to feel surprised and delighted by all of the things she did get.

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