“Sleeping is a very short story by Katharine Weber about a girl who goes on an unusual babysitting job. It can be read in the preview of Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories. (88% in) Here’s a summary of “Sleeping”, followed by a look at themes and foreshadowing.
“Sleeping” by Katherine Weber Summary
Mr. and Mrs. Winter hire Harriet to babysit while they go to the movies. She won’t have to do anything at all for Little Charles. He’ll sleep the whole time, so she isn’t even to open the door to look in on him because the door squeaks.
Harriet has only held a baby once, back when she was six years old. The neighbor, Mrs. Antler, had let Harriet hold her new baby, Andrea, who’s now seven. For two hours, Harriet reads the mail piled on a desk, looks through a wedding album and watches TV. She carefully tries the knob on the baby’s door. It won’t turn; it could be locked. She doesn’t want to risk applying more pressure in case it makes a loud noise.
Harriet listens at the door but can’t hear anything except an occasional car from outside. She doesn’t know what Charles looks like or his age. She remembers when Mr. Winter’s offered her the job at the swim club—she had never seen him before. Her only qualifications seemed to be that she was a girl of her age.
Harriet eats all the M&Ms on the coffee table except the yellow ones. The Winters come home. They overpay, don’t ask about anything and don’t look in on Charles. Mr. Winter drives Harriet home.
At Harriet’s house, Mr. Winter asks if she understands about his wife. She says yes, but doesn’t want to fully accept what it means. She gets out of the car and watches him drive off.
(End of “Sleeping” by Katherine Weber summary)
“Sleeping” Theme Analysis: Denial
One of the clearest themes in “Sleeping” is denial, because that’s the state we realize Mrs. Winter is in at the story’s conclusion. Mr. Winter’s acknowledgment to Harriet suggests he’s not in denial himself, but is going along with his wife’s coping mechanism.
Mr. and Mrs. Winter carry out this charade of needing a babysitter to go out when, of course, they can come and go like this as they please.
It’s unlikely that this level of denial can continue forever. We don’t know how long it’s been going on already. It’s possible Harriet isn’t the first “babysitter”. There’s a suggestion that Mrs. Winter isn’t fully invested in her delusion—maybe it’s been too long and is wearing off.
When she comes home, she doesn’t do two things that would support her story—ask how things went or look in on Charles. Obviously, Mrs. Winter knows that in an empty house things would have gone fine, and there’s no need to check on a baby who’s not there.
We also see some denial on Harriet’s part, which we’ll look at under Coming of Age.
“Sleeping” Theme Analysis: Coming of Age
Another “Sleeping” theme to consider is the coming of age experience that Harriet has. She won’t see the world the same way after this.
The effect the experience has on Harriet is evident in her feelings at the story’s end. When Mr. Winter asks if she understands about his wife, she says yes but, “(without) being sure what they were talking about, although she did really know what he was telling her. . .”
This is such an eye-opening experience for thirteen-year-old Harriet, that she needs a little more time to fully process it. She’s in some denial herself, simultaneously not knowing and knowing (or not accepting and accepting) the reality of the situation. She understands what Mrs. Winter is doing but, at the same time, doesn’t want to believe this reality of life.
Here are some moments of foreshadowing from “Sleeping”:
- Harriet is told “she would not have to do anything at all”—she literally couldn’t do anything for an imaginary baby.
- She’s told not even to look in on him because the door squeaks loudly—how do the Winters look in on Charles without waking him?
- Harriet can’t hear the baby breathing.
- She was a stranger to the Winters when she was approached about the job—friends and acquaintances would know their baby died.
I hope this “Sleeping” summary by Katharine Weber, look at themes and foreshadowing was helpful.