Imagine baby-sitting a baby and never seeing the child? This is the situation that Harriet faces in “Sleeping” by Katherine Weber. This eerie short story chronicles the adventure of a young girl named Harriet who, despite being inexperienced with children, receives an offer from Mr. Winter to baby-sit an infant named Charles.
Basically, the Winters give Harriet instructions not to look in on the baby or do anything for the child at all. While the Winters are gone to the movies, Harriet becomes naturally curious and tries to peek in on baby Charles. She finds the door to his room to be locked.
After the Winters return home, they still don’t check in on the so-called baby. Mr. Winters asks Harriet if she understands. She doesn’t really, but in a way she does.
This short story is beautifully written, using simplistic symbolism that forces the reader to question what’s really going on in the Winters’ home. The last name of the young couple, Winter, calls up images of a barren, cold, childless home. It is apparent that Mrs. Winters has lost her baby Charles; by what means, it is unclear. It is clear that the Winters are dealing with their loss by pretending to still have a baby and to need a baby-sitter, when, in fact, they don’t. They pay Harriet well and she arrives home safely, but she will likely never forget the strange baby-sitting experience.
Katherine Weber skillfully captures the reader attention through her dramatic, yet simplistic writing style and I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.