The Night Sweeper
Below sooty chimneys and starling flocks, an old man lived in a tumbledown house. Every morning, he swept the night off the city. While all the servants and nobles still slumbered, he gathered his rickety broom and trudged through the dark winds. He swept darkness and moon glow from the pathways. He brushed gloom and star seep from the gardens. He tramped past the mansions and towers, under the bridges and steeples. Night shriveled and vanished where he swept. Just as the city folk woke to daylight, he propped the broom against his wall and stumbled to bed.
During the day, the city bustled. The alleyways and markets swelled with footsteps. Bread smells billowed from shop doorways. School yards shook with children’s games. In the palace halls, princesses chattered under marble sheen while their suitors crammed the towers fighting duels. The cathedral trembled with choir song and organ bellow. Butlers paced gilded corridors and washerwomen bickered in laundry squalor. The roads wound in hoof beats and cobblestones past the Night Sweeper’s hushed home.
The Night Sweeper slumbered through the din. When he trudged dark pathways, he thought of the city sounds he never heard. His steps shuffled and creaked. He listened to black winds and tried to catch whispered words. Past the palace windows, he counted royal snores and bat flutters. When the city was day-lit, he sank back to sleep.
But on one day each month, he had his day off. On that morning, he swept night only from his house. He brushed dinge from the stairways and cobwebs. When dawn filled his rooms, he propped the broom in a corner. He rested in sunlight while night sat on the city.
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On these days, Dukes and Duchesses stuck candles in their wigs as they wandered dim halls. Scullery maids squinted at sun dials and told time by star glint. The King and Queen hung lanterns from their crowns. Seamstresses pricked their fingers and scowled at the Night Sweeper’s bright windows. As he sat in sun-warm rooms reading tales of city days he never glimpsed, pick pockets crammed the moonlit markets.
When daylight returned, the city folk muttered and fumed about the Night Sweeper’s days off. Tailors told of sewing themselves to chairs. Bell ringers moaned of gloomy hours spent ringing for mornings which never came. Matrons scoured for night scraps left in gutters.
Once, the city folk had only sighed at the black days. But over the years their grumbles swelled and clamored, until one morning they crammed the alleyways around the Night Sweeper’s home. Bakers scowled when he swept darkness from his rooms. Carpenters growled as he read books in sun patches. Soldiers and servants gripped candles and marched cold pathways to the palace. The night heaved with jeering and stamping. The King and Queen blinked at the candlelit crowds. A knight spoke of mistaking his own shadow for a foe and battling until his armour rusted. A clock maker cried of finding new numbers for the dark hours. An artist moaned of night mixing into his paints and turning the colours black. The King and Queen shook their heads and summoned their carriage of lanterns.
The King and Queen sat close in their carriage as it rattled along the night streets. They peered from the windows as it raced through puddles and moon glimmer. When it halted outside the Night Sweeper’s house, they blinked at the sun-bright windows. The trumpeter bellowed their arrival and they strode through the door into noon. The Night Sweeper startled and bowed. He shook as the Queen unraveled lists and petitions. The King declared his days off would end. After they left, the Night Sweeper moved his chair between sun patches until twilight filled his rooms. Then he slept.
So every morning, the Night Sweeper traipsed in the hushed dark. He leaned on church walls and remembered stories of the sleeping city. In dank alleyways, his grip slipped and he dropped the broom. While Lords and Ladies slumbered, he dragged by their black windows. In chill winds, he thought of sunbeam warmth. His hands ached. He huddled under archways when the night rattled with hail. His breath was white. Dawn poured upon the roads where he had swept. He glanced back at dew and daylight and then staggered to bed.
One morning, the Night Sweeper carried his broom into dim winds. He shivered and stumbled along the roads. His hands hurt as he began brushing darkness from a pathway. He let go of the broom. He heard it fall. He trembled and sank into the sun patch on the cobblestones. He became still. The city folk woke to starlight and black rains. They watched clocks and waited for bright skies. And night stayed forever on the city, but for a corner of a street where the Night Sweeper lay.