A Creed for the Third Millennium by Colleen McCullough




  Version 1.0

  COPYRIGHT 1985 by Colleen McCullough

  ISBN 0 7088 2953 8


  The wind was particularly bitter, even for January in Holloman, Connecticut. When Dr Joshua Christian strode round the corner 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 colours 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 overhead, 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 vacant lot next to the long-closed Abie's Liquor Store and Bar on the corner 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 moulded 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 colour of no-colour. The epitome of grief. The form of loneliness. The quintessence of desolation. Oh, Joshua! Wear not the colour 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 aluminium and therefore fresh-looking.

  Dr Christian's pair of three-family houses was on Oak just around the corner 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 three-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.

  The kitchen. Mama was at the stove, where else? Given all the premises of her nature and her choice of occupation, she ought by rights to have been a little dumpy woman in her middle sixties, wrinkled of face and thick of ankle — he laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of it, and she turned around, smiling, holding out her arms to him in generous welcome.

  'What's so funny, Joshua?'

  'I was just playing a game.'

  Because she was the mother of several psychologists, familiarity with the breed often made her seem more intelligent and better educated than she actually was; as now, when instead of asking, 'A game?' or 'What game?' she asked, 'Which game?'

  He sat down on the corner of her work table and swung one foot, fishing in the bowl of fruit she always kept there until he found a sweet sound apple.

  'I was imagining,' he said between crunches, 'that your appearance matched the rest of you.' He grinned at her, half closing his eyes in a mock assessment. 'You know — old and plain and marked forever with the stigmata of years of toil!'

  She took this in the spirit intended, and laughed. Her face creased up deliciously, dimples popping out in either smooth silky cheek just where the pink bloom over the high bones faded quite sharply into palest cream. Never sullied by cosmetic, her red lips parted to show perfect teeth, and the great blue eyes, myopically misty, shone with liquid health between their long dark lashes. Not a thread of silver marred her glorious hair, gold as ripe wheat, thick, wavy, glossy, long, worn simply in a knot on her neck.

  And he caught his breath, astonished — oh, perpetually astonished — that his mother — his mother! — was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in all his life. She was utterly unconscious of it, or so, fondly, he thought; no, Mama didn't have a vain bone in her body. And though he was thirty-two, she was still four months short of her forty-eighth birthday. She had been a child bride; they said she had loved his much older father to distraction, and had deliberately got herself pregnant in order to overcome his scruples against marrying such a beautiful young girl. Comforting, to think that his father could not resist her blandishments either!

  Joshua Christian remembered his father only vaguely, for he had perished when Joshua was barely four years old, and Joshua was never sure at that whether he actually did remember, or whether he saw his father in the mirror of his mother's many storie
s. He was the image of his father — poor man, then! What on earth had he owned to make Mama love him so much? Very tall and very thin, sallow-skinned, black-haired, black-eyed, with a face that caved in below its cheekbones and a big narrow eagle's beak of a nose…

  He came to with a start, realizing that his mother was watching him out of eyes brimming with love; the simplest, purest love. So pure he never felt it as a burden, even, but could accept all of it without fear or guilt.

  'Where is everyone?' he asked, going to stand beside the stove so she could talk to him more comfortably.

  'Not come in from the clinic yet'

  'You really ought to pass a few of the domestic chores to the girls, Mama.'

  'I don't need to,' she said firmly; this was an ever-recurring topic. 'The girls belong in 1045.'

  'The house is too big to run alone.'

  'It's children make it hard to run a house, Joshua, and there are no children in this house.' Her voice was faintly sad, but carefully devoid of reproach. Then she made a visible effort to cheer up, and said brightly, 'I've no need to dust, which must be the only advantage of a modern winter. Dust just can't get in!'

  'I'm proud of your positive thinking, Mama.'

  'A fine example I'd be to your patients if I complained! One day James and Andrew will each have his child, and I'll be in my element again, because the mothers will go right on being needed in 1045. After all, I'm the one with the real mother experience! I belong to the last lucky generation, I was free to have as many children as I wanted, and I wanted — oh, dozens! I got four in four years and if your father hadn't passed on I would have got more. I'm blessed, Joshua, and I never forget it.'

  He couldn't bring himself to say what he burned to say, of course: oh, Mama, how selfish you were! Four! Double yourself and Father at a time when most of the rest of the world had gone down not to duplicating its parents but to halving its parents, and a large part of it was asking itself louder and louder why we in America should continue to have it all? Now your four children must pay for your blind and insular thoughtlessness. That is the real burden we carry. Not the cold. Not the lack of privacy and comfort when we travel. Not even the strict regimentation so far from any true American heart. The children. Or rather, the no children.

  The intercom screeched.

  Dr Christian's mother beat him to it, listened a moment, then put the receiver down with a word of thanks. 'James says if you're free he'd like you to come over. Mrs Fane is there, and she's brought another of the Pat-Pats with her.'

  Undoubtedly he should see James before encountering Mrs Patti Fane and her other Pat-Pat, so Dr Christian elected to go up one floor and cross via the bridge to 1045, thus avoiding the waiting room.

  Sure enough, James was hovering at the 1045 end of the passageway.

  'Don't tell me she didn't cope, I won't believe it,' said Dr Christian, turning to walk with his brother towards the front of the middle storey, where his office was located.

  'She coped magnificently,' said James.

  'Then what's the problem?'

  'I'll bring her up. She can tell you better herself.'

  By the time James showed Mrs Patti Fane in, Dr Christian had settled himself not behind the enormous desk straddling one whole corner of the room, but on a lumpy, friendly couch.

  'What happened?' asked Dr Christian without preamble.

  'It was a disaster,' said Mrs Fane, seating herself on the far end of the couch.


  'Well, it started off okay. The girls were all glad to see me after my four-month absence, and very taken with my tapestry work, Doctor! Milly Thring — I must have told you how dumb she is — couldn't get over the fact that I'm earning money doing work for antique restorers.'

  'Were you the source of the disaster?'

  'Oh, no! So long as I was talking everything went fine, even when I told them the cause of my breakdown was the letter I had from the Second Child Bureau notifying me I hadn't been lucky in the lottery.'

  Though he watched her closely, he could detect no 13

  real distress emanating from her as she spoke of this most bitter disappointment. Good. Good!

  'Did you mention coming to me for treatment?'

  'I sure did! Of course the minute that news came out, Sylvia Stringman had to put in her two cents' worth! You are a charlatan because Matt Stringman the world's greatest shrink says you're a charlatan, I must be in love with you because otherwise I'd see straight through you — honestly, Doctor, I don't know which of them is the bigger pain in the ass, Sylvia or her husband!'

  Dr Christian suppressed his smile, continuing to watch his patient minutely. Today had been her first real trial of strength, for today had seen the first Pat-Pat convention Patti Fane had felt well enough to attend since her breakdown.

  She was the elected elder of the Pat-Pat tribe, if a group of seven women all much the same age could be so described. Seven women, all christened Patricia, who had been fast friends ever since the day when fate had thrown them into the same freshman classroom at Holloman Senior High. The resulting confusion had been so great that only the first of them in age, Patti Fane — or Patti Drew, as she had been then — had been allowed to retain a Patrician diminutive. And though all seven Pat-Pats were very different in nature and appearance and ethnic background, that catastrophe of nomenclature had welded them into a gestalt nothing since had managed to dissolve. They had all gone to Swarthmore, then they had all married highly placed faculty or executives of Chubb University. As the years went by they continued to meet once a month, taking turns to provide the venue; so powerful still was the bond of affection that their husbands and children had been drafted into the Pat-Pat ranks as auxiliary troops, and bore with resignation Pat-Pat solidarity.

  Patti Fane (whom he catalogued in his mind as Pat-Pat One) had come to Dr Joshua Christian as a patient some three months before, in the grip of a severe depression brought on by the drawing of a blue loser's ball in the Second Child Bureau lottery, a rejection made all the more difficult because she was in her thirty-fourth year of life and therefore subsequently would be crossed off the SCB books as the potential mother of a second child. Luckily, once he penetrated the outer defences of her depression Dr Christian found a warm and sensible woman, amenable to reason and easy to channel into more positive thought patterns. As indeed was the case with the majority of his patients, for their woes were not imaginary; they were all too real. And real woes responded to reason allied with spiritual strengthening.

  'Boy, did I open a nasty can of worms when I told them why I'd had a breakdown!' said Mrs Patti Fane. 'Can you tell me why women are so secretive about applying to the SCB for permission to have a second child? Dr Christian, every single one of us Pat-Pats had been applying every single year! But did any of us ever admit it openly? No! And why hasn't one of us at least managed to draw a red ball? I find that amazing!'

  'Not really,' he said gently. 'The odds in the SCB lottery are ten thousand to one, and there are only seven of you all told.'

  'We're all comfortably off, we've qualified on the means test and the medical since we married and had our first children, and that adds up to a lot of years.'

  'Even so, the odds are stacked against you, Patti.'

  'Until today,' she said, a little grimly. 'Funny, I thought Marg Kelly looked colossally pleased with herself when she came in, but of course everyone was chiefly interested to find out what had happened to me and then how I Was, and they kept on marvelling over my state of mind, this new content and acceptance—' She broke off, smiling at Dr Christian with genuine, affectionate gratitude. 'If I hadn't overheard those two women in Friendly's talking about you, Doctor, I don't know what I might have done to myself.'

  'Margaret Kelly?' he prompted.

  'She'd drawn a red ball.'

  He understood and could have told her everything that followed, but he merely nodded, encouraging his patient to tell her story in her own way.

  'My God! You've never se
en women change so fast! One moment we were all sitting around drinking coffee and having the same kind of conversation we've been having for years and years, the next moment Cynthia Cavallieri — we met at her house today — Cynthia looked across at Marg and asked her why she was looking like the cat that got the cream, and Marg said she'd just had a letter from the SCB informing her she could go ahead with a second child. Then she reached into her pocketbook and brought out this stack of papers — every page looked as if it was notarized and stamped with some big official seal — I guess the SCB has to be super careful about forged permissions, or something.'

  Patti Fane stopped, her eyes straying back to that scene in Cynthia Cavallieri's living room; she shivered, shrugged it off. 'They all went so still The room was cold anyway, of course, but I swear the temperature dropped way below zero in a split second. And then Daphne Chornik jumped up out of her chair. I've never seen her move so fast! One minute she was sitting, the next she was standing over poor Marg Kelly and she had snatched the SCB papers from Marg's hands, and — and — I've never seen or heard anything like it from Daphne! I mean, Daphne's always been a bit of a joke among us Pat-Pats, with her churchgoing and the way she's always preaching kind deeds and actions — we've always had to be careful what we say when Daphne's around. She stood there and she tore the SCB papers to ribbons, all the while accusing Nathan Kelly of pulling strings with the SCB in Washington because he's the President of Chubb and had an ancestor on the Mayflower. Then she said she ought to have been the one to get an SCB approval because she'd bring up a second child to fear and love God just the way she'd brought Stacy up, where all Marg and Nathan would do was teach a child not to believe in God. And she said the way we lived was wicked and profane, that it was in defiance of the laws of God, that our country had no right to sign the Delhi Treaty and she didn't understand how God could have permitted His spiritual leaders to be the prime movers behind the Delhi Treaty. And she began to spit out the worst foul language — I never dreamed Daphne even knew the words! Some of the things she called poor old Gus Rome, and Pope Benedict, and the Reverend Leavon Knox Black!'

No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]