It was a slate-gray, clammy afternoon in that uncertain, tentative time between winter and spring, when they finally took the old man away.
He had been coming to the mission for his dinner for as long as anybody could remember. His demeanour was always haughty, and the suit coat he wore had once been a fine one. The kid who always had a library book—the runaway, disowned by a family three states West—asked, now and then, “Did he use to be fabulously well-to-do?” And perhaps he had been.
On that afternoon, in that time when the park trees had bloomed but been cut back by a late frost, the old man picked a fight with the runaway. He tried to burn the runaway with a cup of black coffee. A mission volunteer leaped over the serving counter to pull the old man back.
Eventually, the police came. The police took the old man to the hospital.
The old man called the orderly “Hank,” and the orderly wondered if he resembled someone the old man had known years before. The doctor who supervised the psych ward was “John.” A tall patient who commanded the respect of the others was “the Judge.”
That night, in a haloperidol peace, the old man made small motions with his hands, as if he was turning pages in a notebook, making jottings with a pen. “New York,” he whispered. “Cleveland—Chicago… New York—Philadelphia… New York… New York… New York…”