Bit is already moving when he wakes. It is February, still dark. He is five years old. His father is zipping Bit within his own jacket where it is warmest and Abe’s heart beats a drum against Bit’s ear. The boy drowses as they climb down from the bread truck where they live and over the frosted ground of Ersatz Arcadia. The trucks and buses and lean-tos are black heaps against the night, their home until they can finish Arcadia House in the vague someday.
The gong is calling them to Sunday Morning Meeting, somewhere. A river of people flow in the dark. He smells the bread of his mother, the wind carrying the cold from the Great Lakes to the north, the rustling as the forest wakes. In the air there is excitement and low, loving greetings; there is small snow, the smoke from someone’s joint, a woman’s voice, indistinct.
When Bit’s eyes open again, the world is softened with first light. The tufts of the hayfield push up from under trampled snow. They are in the Sheep’s Meadow and he feels the bodies closer now, massing. Handy’s voice rises from behind Bit and up toward all of Arcadia, the seven-dozen true believers in the winter morning. Bit twists to find Handy sitting among the maroon curls of the early skunk cabbage at the lip of the forest. He turns back, pressing his cheek against the pulse in his father’s neck.
Bit is tiny, a mote of a boy. He is often scooped up, carried. He doesn’t mind: from against the comforting strength of adults, he is undetected. He can watch from there, he can listen.
Over Abe’s shoulder, far atop the hill, the heaped brick shadow of Arcadia House looms. In the wind, the tarps over the rotted roof suck against the beams and blow out, a beast’s panting belly. The half-glassed windows are open mouths, the full-glassed are eyes fixed on Bit. He looks away. Behind Abe sits the old man in his wheelchair, Midge’s father, who likes to rocket down the hill at the children, scattering them. The terror washes over Bit again, the loom and creak, the flash of a toothless mouth and the hammer-and-sickle flag as it flaps in passing. The Dartful Codger, Hannah calls the old man with a twist to her mouth. The Zionist, others call him, because this is what he shouts for after sundown: Zion, milk and honey, land of plenty, a place for his people to rest. One night, listening, Bit said, Doesn’t the Dartful Codger know where he is? and Abe looked down at Bit among his wooden toys, bemused, saying, Where is he? and Bit said, Arcadia, meaning the word the way Handy always said it, with his round Buddha face, building the community with smooth sentences until the others can also see fields bursting with fruits and grains, the sunshine and music, the people taking care of one another in peace and love.
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