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D E C E M B E R   1 9 9 6

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by Marie Howe

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And on certain nights,
maybe once or twice a year,
I'd carry the baby down
and all the kids would come,
all nine of us together,
and we'd build a town in the basement

from boxes and blankets and overturned chairs.
And some lived under the pool table
or in the bathroom or the boiler room
or in the toy cupboard under the stairs,
and you could be a man or a woman,
a husband or a wife or a child, and we bustled around
like a day in the village until

one of us turned off the lights, switch
by switch, and slowly it became night
and the people slept.

Our parents were upstairs with company or
not fighting, and one of us -- it was usually
a boy -- became the Town Crier,
and he walked around our little sleeping
population and tolled the hours with his voice,
and this was the game.

Nine o'clock and all is well, he'd say,
walking like a constable we must have seen
in a movie. And what we called an hour passed.

Ten o'clock and all is well.
And maybe somebody stirred in her sleep
or a grown-up baby cried and was comforted . . .
Eleven o'clock and all is well.
Twelve o'clock. One o'clock. Two o'clock . . .

and it went on like that through the night we made up
until we could pretend it was morning.

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1996; The Game; Volume 278, No. 6; page 98.

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