WE CAME HOME from school with a hopeful question.
Dormio? we asked her. Did you sleep?
Un poquito, she would say, or, Casi nada.
Almost to herself, she would continue, Ay, Dios mío, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I can’t sleep, how can I work?
Did you take the pills?
Sí, sí, pero pa’ que? No trabajan. They do nothing.
How can a person not sleep when she needs to? That’s what I could not understand. There’s nothing to it: If you work all night, you sleep during the day, or at least part of the day — even if the sun is shining brightly outside, even if the noise of the neighborhood fills the air outside your windows. You need sleep? You sleep.
Every once in a while, we got the response we craved.
Sí, m’hijo, she would smile. Bastante, y muy bien.
The sleeping pills had been her friends; they had done their job.
We were relieved, of course. We felt glad for her and we felt grateful that, at least for a few days longer she would be ready when her ride arrived, lunch bag in hand, her gray hair held tightly in place by the wisps of the hairnet. She’d remain alert throughout the night and we wouldn’t have to go to bed worrying that her hands might get caught and mangled by the metal belt carrying the spinach (or beans, or beets).
And, more important: a few more hours of sleep meant that her mayordoma – La Heddy — would not catch her nodding off and she – we – would have another full week’s paycheck. Another week that we wouldn’t have to ask Tío Juan’s dour wife to allow us to again charge that week’s food supply at Lopez Fruit Stand, where we could always go when there was no cash to go to the IGA or Ray’s Food Market.
Another week devoid of preocupación.
This is what I think about as I lie in my bed at 3 and it’s dark outside and it’s quiet and a full day’s work awaits me in the morning and I can’t sleep.