I never noticed how naked the building looked until now, as I stop to dig for my key at the door. In spring the red brick from this old Boston relic is concealed by opulent, green Boston Ivy—parthenocissus tricuspidata—and by October, it’s lit on fire. But now, in February, the ivy looks like old, shriveled veins, or arthritic hands grasping at the gaps and corners in the exposed brick. I look closely and see no pattern, just a messy web scattered across the side with an occasional vine jutting from the wall, reaching out to nowhere. I shift a finger out of my glove and touch one spidery branch: cold and brittle. I suddenly think of the 1982 Poltergeist movie and quickly replace my finger.
I look up. The vines have almost reached the top of the building, halting just below the fifth floor, where I live. Boston Ivy can grow one to two meters each season. I squint. By this time next year, I think, its fingers will be at my window.
I peek down the street and see that the vines are cut off at the next brownstone, in a straight line up and down, exact as though by an artist’s hand. Why should that be? The brownstones on this block are connected all the way down the road, ten or twenty houses, with no gaps or changes in building material. Not one of them has vines. Perhaps the landlord cuts them.
All around me the snow from yesterday’s blizzard is melting. I’m aware of a thousand tiny droplets falling. One falls from a vine overhanging the doorway and creeps down beneath my jacket collar. A tremor erupts.
Or perhaps, I think, there’s nothing it wants with the neighbors.
The key in my hand is ice.