Fiction: The Last Child to Sleep in Saint Paul

Illustration: Andy Singer

It's 8 p.m. at City Hall and the lights in the mayor's office are still on. He sets down the stack of reports he's been reading, glances at the clock in his office, and reaches for his briefcase and keys. It's time to make the rounds. He flips off the lights and walks down the echoing corridors of City Hall to the door. Everyone is long gone.

The mayor turns the ignition in his car, turns up the radio, and swoops down Shepard Road. His usual route is through Highland Park, then Mac-Groveland, Desnoyer Park, Como-Midway, North End, Frogtown, Crocus Hill, Summit University, downtown, the East Side, and finally the West Side. He checks his clipboard.

All the children in the city are listed. Most have even rows of checkmarks by their names, a few have some notes scrawled in the margins. The twin boys on Pinehurst have been giving their mom some trouble, but tonight all looks to be quiet. There was a family on Otis Avenue that held the record under Mayor Latimer for being the last kids to sleep in the city, but those children are parents themselves now. Thank goodness they moved away from Saint Paul, the mayor thinks, because their kids would surely be holy terrors too.

It's 9:00 p.m. by the time the mayor wraps up in Frogtown. Street by street, he checks that the lights are out in children's bedroom windows and he can't hear parents shouting anymore. The blue light of television glows in most living rooms as parents wind down for another day of work tomorrow. Every so often the mayor has to get out of the car and gently convince a child to go back to bed.

The parents always nod gratefully, a little embarrassed they needed his help. The mayor tries not to make a big deal out of it, slipping past the parents, murmuring that little Quinn was a bit riled but he'll settle in now. Crocus Hill is a breeze tonight. Sometimes the au pairs let the kids stay up too late, but all seems to be quiet.

The mayor turns down Ramsey Hill, passes Irvine Park, riverfront condos, the farmers' market and chugs up the East Side. Some of the families haven't been here long and it's a struggle to get to know them all. The mayor does his best, checking names off as he drives through Dayton's Bluff and Swede Hollow. The East Side feels sleepy and so does the mayor. He stops at Dunkin' Donuts to refill his morning coffee cup. There's more to go. He travels down Seventh Street, cuts over the river, and finds Cesar Chavez Street on the West Side.

He slowly ticks off the easy blocks and streets of sleeping children. His own house is calm. He'll kiss his sleeping children when he gets home tonight. Finally, the car climbs up George and he takes a right on Bidwell. There at the corner, the mayor pulls over and sighs. The lights are still on in Liv Marit's room. Her big sister Kaia has probably been asleep for hours, but Liv Marit, age five, is pulling toys out from under her bed, spreading peanut butter on crackers in the dining room, and making little footfalls on the hardwood floors. My husband and I have retreated to the basement, exhausted, to watch a movie. The phone rings.

"Hello?" the mayor says. He sounds tired.

"Hello, Mr. Mayor," I say. "It's been kind of a tough night."

"I know," he says. "Well, she's it again." The last child to sleep in Saint Paul. I try to keep my composure for the mayor and walk upstairs to motion to Liv that the mayor's on the phone. Her eyes get wide, and she abandons her potion of soap and toilet paper in the bathroom sink and dives for her bunk bed.

"Thank you for calling, Mr. Mayor." I say. "I'll talk with her. You don't have to come in tonight. We'll be OK."

"If you're sure," he says, sounding a bit relieved.

I hang up the phone and walk to her room. Through the shades, the headlights of the mayor's car making a U-turn briefly light up the room. I look at Liv's closed eyes and even breathing. She's out. It's 10:20 p.m., the end of a long day for the mayor and a long night for me.

Sasha Asianian made up this bedtime story for her daughter, Liv, but fears it may have created an incentive for her to stay up late to see if the current mayor really calls.

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