Inside, the corridors brighten. The living-room windows begin to reflect the lights on the plastic Christmas tree, and the view through those windows is fading, the woods growing thicker, the birches glowing in the dusk. At the end of the long corridor, a white-haired woman in a plain housedress and sneakers leans against a radiator, a cane in her hands, and she gazes out at clouds. She is very forgetful and yet very nostalgic and, of all the people who live here, the most devoted to windows. ‘They come and go,’ she says of the clouds. ‘I guess that’s to be expected. First they’re dark and then they’re light. First they’re there and then they’re gone.’ She makes a small laugh. She goes on gazing through the glass. ‘I don’t know what all this business is about, living this way. I tried to figure it out, but I can’t.’ The clouds hovering above the silhouette of the far ridge are sharply etched, clouds of the north wind, dark grey in the last light of a sky still too bright for stars.
The light seeps away. The windows throw back watery images of carpeted corridors that could belong to a clean motel. It is night. Lou Freed comes out of his room, just past the elevators. Lou is small and plump in the middle, with fleecy white hair and thick, dark-framed glasses. The lid of his left eye droops. His close-cropped moustache is a dash of white across his face. His forehead and cheeks are deeply furrowed. Lou wears a look of concentration. He holds a cane in his right hand, its black shaft striped like a barber pole with yellowish tape. Lou applied the tape several years ago when his eyes began to fail and he couldn’t cross a street very quickly any more. He used to hold the cane aloft as he crossed, hoping it would catch the attention of drivers. He no longer has to worry about crossing streets, but he’s left the tape in place.
Lou leans on his cane, but not heavily. He walks with his legs spread well apart, his left arm swinging free and a little away from his torso, while his right arm works the cane. He crosses the corridor and then turns south, following the carpet’s border, travelling in a slow, sturdy gait, like an old sailor on a rolling deck, passing along a wall equipped with an oak handrail and adorned with cream-coloured wallpaper and rose-coloured mouldings, framed prints of flowers, puppies and English hunting scenes.