Caleb came back to the city. He was sixty, but he looked older. He had been broken, cursed by a medical man who snagged him with the malediction of “neuralgia”, and thereafter all hope of painless nights left him.
On the train, he couldn’t feel the way the carriage moved under him, and he stumbled if he did not watch the scenery through the window. During the days, he felt nothing; it were as if his legs and the tips of his fingers were made of cotton wool. At night, the pain came.
His wife was dead and his brother was dead and his mother and father were long dead and dust in the wind. His son was alive, but they hadn’t seen one another for years. But the best years of his life had been in that city; now that every day, every breath, his life seemed to close in tighter, he found that there was no-where else he wanted to go.
The old building still stood where he had left it, all those years ago when he had left her, when he had left their son. She hadn’t changed the locks. There was dust everywhere and tired sunlight slanted through the still air. He walked through dark rooms, unsteady, peering. There were holes in the walls, but even the rats had deserted this dead place.
Caleb opened the door to the courtyard. The glass had been broken and the window was boarded up with thin chip-wood. The courtyard was small. The winter sun was already dipping behind the brick walls, and Caleb felt an anticipatory tingling in his toes. This was the one hour of the day when his flesh felt alive again, perfectly balanced between oblivion and agony. As the light faded, that tingling would kindle to something awful and clawing, fingernails shrieking their sharp pain down the inside of his skull.
The garden was bleak and dead. The boughs of a few tress, scraps of twigs and old, old leaves, and no wind to stir them. He closed his eyes and tried to remember them, tried to picture his wife and his son. But all there was behind his eyes was blackness and the red swelling of pain.
The sun sank and Caleb was alone in the darkness.