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The other hill is bare. A short time ago it was covered by patches of wheat waving in the wind. But now the earth is resting, producing only yellowish clumps of wild radish and tall foxtail bleached by the glow of the sun. An abandoned Jewish cemetery spre ads out over the summit. It is guarded by an old woman, a half-blind dog, and several hens. The tombstones are sinking into the ground; time has washed away the Hebrew inscriptions, and ivy blankets the departed.
A white road runs through the valley. Noisy trucks are trailed by clouds of dust. By the side of the road there is a small chapel with a holy icon, indicating that this area had once been countryside, which the city government divided into what are known as subdivisions. Not long ago, someone had decorated the Virgin Mary with a wreath of red and blue roses made of crepe paper.
Dappled goats climb the hillocks, nibbling the spiky tips of hawthorn bushes. Ropes carrying brightly colored laundry are strung from pole to pole. A gust of wind puffs up blue undies and ruffles blouses.
Here, the countryside shakes hands with the city. At the borderline stands a wayside cross and the fence of a soccer field. Harantova Street is still part of the city. Its name—Urchin Street—tells us that it is full of dust and soot. A factory making metal instruments blows off smoke in rhythmic intervals: ech—pff—rah!
On that street there lived a policeman, and his name was Jan Faktor. He lived in a house that was as unattractive and yellowed as the entire neighborhood, which had been built a few decades earlier by various manufacturing plants to house their workers. Th e houses are full of cubbyholes, porches, and floppy-shirted children. The air smells of sour gravy and trash.
The policeman was a tall man with broad shoulders, topped by a head as round as a globe. In that head he kept one huge secret which he shared with no one except his wife. She was the sort who tends to be referred to as "that woman." She had thin, tightly c lenched lips. And when she did open her mouth, she revealed a set of pale, swollen gums, typical of housekeepers who subsist on bread and coffee. She was thin and agile as a terrified insect scurrying for safety into a crevice. The couple had two children, a retarded boy who sat in front of the door and stared at the street with watery eyes, and a twelve-year-old girl, meager as a wasp and just as agile as her mother.
At night, the policeman patrolled the quarter, his helmet gleaming in the light of the lone streetlamp. He'd grab drunkards by their collar and shake them until all rebelliousness was jolted out of them. Thieves he'd handcuff and drag to the station house, where he'd send them flying into a cell with a hefty shove.
The rest of the time he'd pace the dark street with his long stride and ponder his secret thoughts: To play lord and master when you have the wherewithal, that's easy. . . I could do it with my hands tied behind my back . . . But what have I gotten out of life, up to now? Nothing, to be honest . . . But this is idle talk. . . This matter's got to be approached cleverly, otherwise I'll get nowhere. I'll show them all what I'm made of.
During the day he'd sit in the kitchen and help his wife sew neckties and suspenders, which he peddled in offices and apartments. At the end of each week his wife would take their savings to the bank. Some people enjoy throwing money around. But the policeman and his wife reveled in thrift. Their little pile of capital stimulated them and spurred them to ever more intense accumulation. The small, musty kitchen filled with dreams.