Kung Fu of Slumber

An excerpt from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon, which explains perfectly why Ian is not allowed to sleep in our bed.

Detective Landsman has been grazed by a bullet, and taken to a friend’s home to recuperate. His friend has four children, and Landsman has been given his friend’s bed in which to sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Goldy careers into the room. His tread is heavy and lumbering, a baby monster’s. He doesn’t just climb into bed, he roils the blankets the way a wire whisk roils a batter. It’s like he’s fleeing something, panicked, but when Landsman speaks, asks him what’s wrong, the boy doesn’t answer. His eyes are closed, and his heart beats steadily and low. Whatever he was running from, he found shelter from it in his parents’ bed. The kid is sound asleep. He smells like a piece of cut apple that’s starting to turn. He digs his toes into the small of Landsman’s back with care and without mercy. He grinds his teeth. The sound of it is like dull shears on a sheet of tin.

…around four-thirty, the baby starts to scream…Ester-Malke [mother] dumps Pinky between his brother and Landsman and walks out.

Reunited in their parents’ bed, the Shemets boys set up a whistling and rumbling and a blatting of inner valves that would shame the grand pipe organ of Temple Emanu-El. The boys execute a series of maneuvers, a kung fu of slumber, that drives Landsman to the very limit of the bed. They chop at Landsman, stab him with their toes, grunt and mutter. They masticate the fiber of their dreams. Around dawn, something very bad happens in the baby’s diaper. It’s the worst night that Landsman has ever spent on a mattress, and that is saying a good deal.

‘…the couch has its points,’ Ester-Malke continues. ‘For example, it features no babies or four-year-olds.’

‘You have a serious toenail problem among your youth,’ Landsman says. ‘Also something, I think it might be a sea otter, died and is rotting in the little one’s diaper.’

(For fans of baseball and fantasy, I also recommend Chabon’s Summerland.)

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