Vinia woke to the sound of a rabbit running down and across an endless moonlit field; but it was only the soft, quick beating of her heart. She lay on the bed for a moment, getting her breath. Now the sound of the running faded and was gone at a great distance. At last she sat up and looked down from her second-story bedroom window and there below, on the long sidewalk, in the faint moonlight before dawn, was the hopscotch.
Late yesterday, some child had chalked it out, immense and endlessly augmented, square upon square, line after line, numeral following numeral. You could not see the end of it. Down the street it built its crazy pattern, 3, 4, 5, on up to 10, then 30, 50, 90, on away to turn far corners. Never in all the children’s world a hopscotch like this! You could Jump forever toward the horizon.
Now in the very early, very quiet morning, her eyes traveled and jumped, paused and hopped, along that presumptuous ladder of chalk-scratches and she heard herself whisper:
But she did not run on from there.
The next square waited, she knew, with the scribbled blue chalk 17, but her mind flung out its arms and balanced, teetering, poised with her numb foot planted across the 1 and the 6, and could go no further.
Trembling, she lay back down.
The room was like the bottom of a cool well all night and she lay in it like a white stone in a well, enjoying it, floating in the dark yet clear element of half dreams and half wakening. She felt the breath move in small jets from her nostrils and she felt the immense sweep of her eyelids shutting and opening again and again. And at last she felt the fever brought into her room by the presence of the sun beyond the hills.
Morning, she thought. It might be a special day. After all, it’s my birthday. Anything might happen. And I hope it does.
The air moved the white curtains like a summer breath.
voice was calling. But it couldn’t be a voice. Yet-Vinia raised herself-there it was again.
She slipped from bed and ran to the window of her high second-story window.
There on the fresh lawn below, calling up to her in the early hour, stood James Conway, no older than she, seventeen, very seriously smiling, waving his hand now as her head appeared.
“Jim, what’re you doing here?” she said, and thought, Does he know what day this is?
“I’ve been up an hour already,” he replied. “I’m going for a walk, starting early, all day. Want to come along?”
Oh but I couldn’t. . . my folks won’t be back till late tonight, I’m alone, I’m supposed to stay. . .”
She saw the green hills beyond the town and the roads leading out into summer, leading out into August and rivers and places beyond this town and this house and this room and this particular moment.
“I can’t go. . .” she said faintly.
“I can’t hear you!” he protested mildly, smiling up at her under a shielding hand.
“Why did you ask me to walk with you, and not someone else?”
He considered this for a moment. “I don’t know,” he admitted. He thought it over again, and gave her his most pleasant and agreeable look. “Because, that’s all, just because.”
“I’ll be down,” she said.
“Hey!” he said.
But the window was empty.
They stood in the center of the perfect, jeweled lawn, over which one set of prints, hers, had run, leaving marks, and another, his, had walked in great slow strides to meet them. The town was silent as a stopped clock. All the shades were still down.
“My gosh,” said Vinia, “it’s early. It’s crazy-early. I’ve never been up this early and out this early in years.