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The wind was particularly bitter, even for January in Holloman, Connecticut. When Dr. Joshua Christian strode round the comer from Cedar Street onto Elm Street it hit him full in the face, a stream of arctic air with fangs and talons of ice chewing and clawing at the little sections of facial skin he had to expose to see where he was going. Oh, he knew where he was going; he just wished it wasn't necessary to see his way.
So different from the old days, when Elm Street had been the main drag of the black ghetto; parrot colors and proud people wearing them, laughter everywhere, lots of children spilling out of doorways on skate boards and roller skates. . . . Such beautiful children, glossy and full of fun, and always so many because the street was the best place of all to play, the street was where it all was at.
Maybe one day Washington and the state capitals would find the money to do something about the northern inner cities, but right now there were much higher priorities than deciding what exactly to do with a hundred thousand streets of empty three-family houses in a thousand northern towns and cities. So in the meantime the grey-weathered plywood nailed across windows and doors rotted, and the grey paint peeled, and the grey tiles flapped off the roofs, and the stoops crumbled, and the grey sidings gaped. Thank God for the wind! It broke the silence. It screamed in the wires over head, it moaned through gaps narrow and stagnant, it sobbed a little in the back of its mighty throat drawing breath to wail again, it chattered as it swept frozen leaves and empty cans into heaps, it thundered against a hollow iron tank in the vacantlot next to the long-closed Abie's Liquor Store and Bar on the comer of Maple.
Dr. Joshua Christian was a Holloman man: born, bred, educated, shaped. He could not conceive of living anywhere else, had never dreamed of living anywhere else. He loved the place, Holloman. Loved it! Untenanted, unwanted, unlovely, economically unfeasible-no matter. He loved this town still. Holloman was home. And in its ineffable way it had molded this whatever-it-was he had become, for he had dwelled in it through the last phases of its dying, and now he wandered alone amid its desiccated remains.
In the grey afternoon light everything was grey. Grey the rows of empty houses, grey the streets, grey the bark of leafless trees, grey the sky. I have worked upon the world and it shall be grey The color of no-color. The epitome of grief The form of loneliness. The quintessence of desolation. Oh, Joshua! Wear not the color of grey, even in your mind!
Better. Better. He was moving farther up Elm now, and now there was an occasional occupied house. A tenanted dwelling possessed a certain subtle lack of dilapidation; other than that, both deserted and lived-in houses looked the same. Both were boarded over every window opening, front doors were boarded over too, and no chink of light showed anywhere. But the porch and stoop of an occupied house would be swept, the weeds would be kept down, the siding super-thick aluminum and therefore fresh-looking.
Dr. Christian's pair of three-family houses was on Oak just around the comer from Elm and just beyond the big junction of Elm with Route 78; about two miles from the main downtown Holloman post office, to which he had walked on this grey afternoon to post his mail and see if there were any letters in his box. The mailman came not any more.
Approaching numbers 1045 and 1047 Oak Street from the other side of that well-named thoroughfare, with its eighty-year-old trees poking their knobby toes out of the sidewalk, Dr. Christian paused automatically to check his residences out. Fine. No light. To see light from outside meant there was air getting in. Cold unwelcome air. The normal opening and closing of the back door and the opening of a useless hot air vent that led to a furnaceless basement was quite sufficient exchange of that essential but freezing commodity.
His two houses were grey, like nearly all the rest, and had been built, like nearly all the rest, back around the turn of the twentieth century to accommodate three separate sets of tenants. However, his two houses were joined at their waists on the second floor by a bridge passageway, and had been renovated to serve a different purpose than the original dime-family one. Number 1045 housed his practice, number 1047 his entire family.
Satisfied nothing was amiss, he crossed the road, not bothering to look either way; there were no cars in Holloman and no bus route down Oak, so three feet of obdurately frozen snow humped itself unevenly all over the open space of the street, thrown there when the sidewalks were cleared.
Ingress to 1045 and 1047 from the outside was around the back, so he walked beneath the connecting passageway and turned left at the end of 1047; he had no patients booked and did not want to tempt fate by entering 1045.
The small deck which used to occupy the landing at the top of the back steps had long been closed in, its solid core door opening outward over the steps. A key in the lock, and then he was inside the makeshift cubicle which added a much-needed second area of insulation against the inclement world. Another key, another door, which led him into the original outer vestibule; here he hung up his fur-edged bonnet, his scarf and his outermost coat, and stacked his boots on the rack. After donning slippers, he opened the third door, not locked this time. He was inside his home at last.