Wake up, Mr. Jankowski. You're having a bad dream."
   My eyes snap open. Where am I? Oh, hell and damnation.
   "I wasn't dreaming," I protest.
   "Well, you were talking in your sleep, sure enough," says the nurse. It's the nice black girl again. Why do I have such trouble remembering her name? "Something about feeding stars to cats. Now don't you go fretting about those cats––I'm sure they got fed, even if it was after you woke up. Now why did they go and put these on you?" she muses, ripping open my Velcro wrist restraints. "You didn't try to run off now, did you?" (Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants)

There are preterits in the sentence, but they seem to be non-deictic pasts: the preterites are posterior to ‘I’m sure’. So it sound like a kind of ‘remote conditional construction – “If you went tomorrow, you’d see Ed” (CGEL,p148)’. Is it that, or do I have to read other ways?

1 Answer 1


I'm pretty sure the nurse intends it literally: the dream action continued after you woke up, and the cats got fed while we were talking.

We are to understand, I think, that the nurse's speech is not continuous: she is, presumably, bustling about doing nurseish things while the narrator first struggles into consciousness (trying to remember the nurse's name), and then displays some sort of distress that prompts "Don't you go fretting".

I wouldn't try to parse this too logically, in any case: the nurse treats her patient like a very young child who must be jollied into a good temper.

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