Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Are you sleeping? 

The first assignment for my writing class was a memory exercise. We were to write quick impressions of some firsts: first scent, first pet, first teacher, first car. Then we were to write a scene about one of these things. I chose first song. What follows is not, in fact, one remembered morning from my childhood. It is made up of bits and pieces of many mornings, many memories. However, the emotional quality of the scene is as I remember some mornings, and the song is one of the first two or three that I can remember.


I wake to muffled morning sounds from the kitchen: the pop of the percolator, a sizzling skillet, my parents’ quiet conversation. My sister, in the bed next to mine, rolls over; her kitty falls off the bed. I lie still, listening, waiting, for the soft footsteps that I know will come. My mother opens the door to our room; bringing with her the smells of coffee and bacon. She comes in quietly, singing: Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? Brother John? Brother John? As she sings, she opens the curtains, letting in the morning light. Morning bells are ringing. Morning bells are ringing. Ding ding dong, Ding ding dong.

She sits on the edge of my bed, strokes my hair. Now comes the good part: Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? Kimberly? Kimberly? I giggle, and wriggle further under the covers, eyes closed tightly. Morning bells are ringing Morning bells are ringing. I feel her leaning over me, her breath brushing my face. Ding ding dong. A kiss on one eyelid. Ding ding dong. A kiss on the other eyelid. I open my eyes; she is smiling at me. I smile back.

She moves to my little sister’s bed, and sings to her. For Melanie, the Ding ding dong involves nuzzling. When Mommy has finished the third verse, we are both sitting up in our beds, sleepy-eyed, dark hair tousled.

"Such pretty girls I have." This is my father’s voice. He is leaning in the doorway. While he is talking about all of his girls, his smile is for my mother. He hugs and kisses Melanie, then pulls me close. He smells of aftershave. Even freshly shaven, he is slightly scratchy. I love the scent; I love the scratch.

Some time later, I will learn to play the song on the piano. My mother will teach me and my sister, all three of us together on the piano bench. We will play it together, then as a round, in three different octaves. She will also teach us the original French words: Frere Jacque, dormez vous? Sonnez les matines. Din dan don. It will be years before I realize that the words translate almost exactly, longer still before I notice, and am amused, that the bells make a slightly different sound in French than in English.

The English words, and the English bells, will always be my favorites.