Sleepwalk - By John Saul


The woman stood at the blackboard at the front of her classroom, watching her students work on the problem she had laid out a few minutes earlier. Though her eyes flicked constantly over the class, her mind wasn’t registering the images her eyes were feeding to it.

The heat of the day was building, which was good.

The hotter the sun beating down on the roof, the less the joints in her fingers and toes, her hands, her feet—even her arms and legs now—hurt her.

That was some consolation, though not much. At least, although the winter’s cold threatened to make her totally immobile, she still had the summers to look forward to—the dry, desert summers, when the heat would soak into her bones and give her some tiny measure of relief, a slight easing of the pain her disease brought with it, a pain that grew each month, along with the ugly deformities of her misshapen joints.

She was supposed to be better now. The doctor had promised her the new treatment would work. No, that wasn’t actually true, she reminded herself. He’d said he hoped it would work; he hadn’t promised her anything

She gritted her teeth, and denied herself even the brief solace of a sigh as a sharp pain shot up from her left ring finger.

Her instinct was to rub the painful finger, but that would only make her right hand hurt more, and already she was barely able to hold the chalk as she carried on her class.

Against her will, her eyes traveled to the clock.

Ten more minutes and the noon bell would ring. Another day of summer school would be over.

She could make it.

In the fourth row of the classroom the boy stared once more at the problem he’d copied onto the paper on his desk, and quickly computed the solution in his mind. It was right, he was certain, but even if it wasn’t, he didn’t care.

He put his pencil down and let his gaze wander to the window, where the heat was making the mesa shimmer in the distance.

That was where he should be today—hiking up on top of the mesa or in the cool of the canyon, swimming in one of the deep holes the river had cut from the canyon’s floor, working the anger out of his system with physical exercise. He’d had another fight with his father that morning, and the last thing he’d wanted to do was go from the oppressiveness of his home to that of the school.

Perhaps he should just get up and walk out.

He tried to put the tempting thought out of his mind.

He had agreed to go to school this summer, and he would.

But it would be the last summer.

Indeed, these few weeks of school might be the last ever.

He looked up at the clock and sucked in his breath.

Nine more minutes.

Then, as he watched the second hand jerk slowly around the face of the clock, he had a sudden feeling he was not the only one concerned with the time.

He glanced instinctively at the teacher.

As if feeling his glance, her eyes shifted from the clock and met his for a moment, and he thought he saw the beginning of a smile on her lips.

Then she winced slightly and, as if ashamed that he’d seen her pain, she turned away.

The boy wondered why she kept teaching. He knew—everyone knew—how much the arthritis hurt her, how much it crippled her in the winter. Even now he could remember the day, the previous January, when the temperature had been well below zero and he’d seen her sitting in her car in the parking lot. He’d watched her for a few minutes, unable to see her face clearly through the moisture that had built up on the windshield, but still somehow able to sense her reluctance to step out of the warmth of the automobile into the bitter morning chill.

Finally he’d approached the car and asked her if she was all right.

She’d nodded, then opened the door.

Slowly, painfully, she’d eased her legs to the ground, and finally, carefully, stood up, a gasp erupting from her lips as she battled the pain.

He offered to help her, but she’d shaken her head.

He’d turned away and hurried into the school building, but when he was inside he’d turned back and watched her through the glass doors.

She’d moved slowly, every step clearly an agony, her face down in an attempt to hide her pain.

But she’d kept moving, kept walking, not even hesitating when she came to the