Page 53 of Mystic River

Lately, though, he'd just been tired in general. Tired of people. Tired of books and TV and the nightly news and songs on the radio that sounded exactly like other songs on the radio he'd heard years before and hadn't liked much in the first place. He was tired of his clothes and tired of his hair and tired of other people's clothes and other people's hair. He was tired of wishing things made sense. Tired of office politics and who was screwing who, both figuratively and otherwise. He'd gotten to a point where he was pretty sure he'd heard everything anyone had to say on any given subject and so it seemed he spent his days listening to old recordings of things that hadn't seemed fresh the first time he'd heard them.

Maybe he was simply tired of life, of the absolute effort it took to get up every goddamned morning and walk out into the same fucking day with only slight variations in the weather and the food. Too tired to care about one dead girl because there'd be another after her. And another. And sending the killers off to jail? even if you got them life? didn't yield the appropriate level of satisfaction anymore, because they were just going home, to the place they'd been heading all their dumb, ridiculous lives, and the dead were still dead. And the robbed and the raped were still the robbed and the raped.

He wondered if this was what clinical depression felt like, a total numbness, a weary lack of hope.

Katie Marcus was dead, yes. A tragedy. He understood that intellectually, but he couldn't feel it. She was just another body, just another broken light.

And his marriage, too, what was that if not shattered glass? Jesus Christ, he loved her, but they were as opposite as two people could get and still be considered part of the same species. Lauren was into theater and books and films Sean couldn't understand whether they had subtitles or not. She was chatty and emotional and loved to string words together in dizzying tiers that climbed and climbed toward some tower of language that lost Sean somewhere on the third floor.

He'd first seen her onstage in college, playing the dumped girl in some adolescent farce, no one in the audience for one second believing that any man would discard a woman so radiant with energy, so on fire with everything? experience, appetite, curiosity. They'd made an odd couple even then? Sean quiet and practical and always reserved unless he was with her, and Lauren the only child of aging-hipster liberals who'd taken her all over the globe as they worked for the Peace Corps, filled her blood with a need to see and touch and investigate the best in people.

She fit in the theater world, first as a college actress, then as a director in local black-box houses, and eventually as a stage manager of larger traveling shows. It wasn't the travel, though, that overextended their marriage. Hell, Sean still wasn't sure what had done it, though he suspected it had something to do with him and his silences, the gradual dawn of contempt every cop grew into? a contempt for people, really, an inability to believe in higher motives and altruism.

Her friends, who had once seemed fascinating to him, began to seem childish, covered in a real-world retardant of artistic theory and impractical philosophies. Sean would be spending his nights out in the blue concrete arenas where people raped and stole and killed for no other reason but the itch to do so, and then he'd suffer through some weekend cocktail party in which ponytailed heads argued through the night (his wife included) over the motivations behind human sin. The motivation was easy? people were stupid. Chimps. But worse, because chimps didn't kill one another over scratch tickets.

She told him he was becoming hard, intractable, reductive in his thinking. And he didn't respond because there was nothing to argue. The question wasn't whether he'd become those things, but whether the becoming was a positive or a negative.

But still, they'd loved each other. In their own ways, they kept trying? Sean to break out of his shell and Lauren to break into it. Whatever that thing was between two people, that total, chemical need to attach to each other, they had it. Always.

Still, he probably should have seen the affair coming. Maybe he did. And maybe it wasn't the affair that truly bothered him, but the pregnancy that followed.

Shit. He sat down on his kitchen floor, in the absence of his wife, and put the heels of his hands to his forehead, and tried for the umpteenth time in the last year to see the wreck of his marriage clearly. But all he saw were the shards and shattered pieces of it, strewn across the rooms of his mind.

When the phone rang, he knew somehow? even before he lifted it off the kitchen counter and pressed "Talk"? that it was her.

"This is Sean."

On the other end of the line, he could hear the subdued rumble of a tractor-trailer idling and the soft whoosh of cars speeding past on an expressway. He could instantly picture it? a highway rest stop, the gas station up top, a bank of phones between the Roy Rogers and the McDonald's. Lauren standing there, listening.

"Lauren," he said. "I know it's you."

Someone passed by the pay phone jingling his keys.

"Lauren, just say something."

The tractor-trailer ground into first gear and the pitch of the engine changed as it rolled across the parking lot.

"How is she?" Sean said. He almost said, "How is my daughter?" but, then, he didn't know if she was his, only that she was Lauren's. So, he said again, "How is she?"

The truck shifted into second, the crush of its tires on gravel growing more distant as it headed for the mouth of the plaza and the road beyond.

"This hurts too much," Sean said. "Can't you just talk to me?"

He remembered what Whitey had said to Brendan Harris about love, how it doesn't happen even once to most people, and he could see his wife standing there, watching the truck depart, the phone pressed to her ear but not her mouth. She was a slim woman and tall, with hair the color of cherry wood. When she laughed, she covered her mouth with her fingers. In college, they'd run across campus in a rainstorm, and she kissed him for the first time under the library archway where they'd found shelter, and something had loosened in Sean's chest as her wet hand found the back of his neck, something that had been clenched and breathless since as long as he could remember. She told him that he had the most beautiful voice she'd ever heard, that it sounded like whiskey and wood smoke.

Since she'd left, the usual ritual was that he'd talk until she decided to hang up. She had never spoken, not once in all of the phone calls he'd received since she'd left him, calls from road stops and motels and dusty phone booths along the shoulders of barren roadways from here to the Tex-Mex border and back somewhere in between again. Yet even though it was usually just the hiss of a silent line in his ear, he always knew when it was her. He could feel her through the phone. Sometimes he could smell her.