Page 60 of Mystic River


"Okay then. You take care, Dave."


They shook hands and Dave tried not to wince at the pressure on his swollen hand.

"You, too, Sean."

Sean walked down the stairs as Dave stood at the top on the landing. Sean waved once over his shoulder, and Dave waved back even though he knew Sean couldn't see it.

* * *

HE DECIDED to have a beer in the kitchen before heading back to Jimmy and Annabeth's. He hoped Michael wouldn't come running back down now that he'd heard Sean and the other cop leave, because Dave needed a few minutes' peace, a little time to get his head right. He wasn't entirely sure what had just transpired in the living room. Sean and the other cop had been asking him questions as if he were a witness or a suspect, and the lack of a firm tone to their questioning had left Dave uncertain as to the real reason they'd dropped by. And this uncertainty had left him with a bona fide motherfucker of a headache. Whenever Dave was unsure of a situation, whenever the ground seemed to be shifting and slick beneath his feet, his brain tended to split into two halves, as if cleaved by a carving knife. This gave him a headache and occasionally something worse.

Because sometimes Dave was not Dave. He was the Boy. The Boy Who'd Escaped from Wolves. But not merely that. The Boy Who'd Escaped from Wolves and Grown Up. And that was a very different creature than simply Dave Boyle.

The Boy Who'd Escaped from Wolves and Grown Up was an animal of the dusk that moved through wooded landscapes, silent and invisible. It lived in a world that others never saw, never faced, never knew or wanted to know existed? a world that ran like a dark current beside our own, a world of crickets and fireflies, unseen except as a microsecond's flare in the corner of your eye, already vanished by the time your head turned toward it.

This is the world Dave lived in a lot of the time. Not as Dave, but as the Boy. And the Boy had not grown up well. He'd gotten angrier, more paranoid, capable of things that the real Dave could never so much as imagine. Usually the Boy lived only in Dave's dream world, feral and darting past stands of thick trees, giving up glimpses of himself only in flashes. And as long as he stayed in the forest of Dave's dreams, he was harmless.

Since childhood, though, Dave had suffered bouts of insomnia. They could slip up on him after months and months of restful sleep, and suddenly he'd be back in that agitated, jangling world of the constantly waking and the never quite asleep. A few days of this, and Dave would begin to see things out of the corner of his eye? mice mostly, zipping along floorboards and across desks, sometimes black flies darting around corners and into other rooms. The air in front of his face would pop unexpectedly with minute balls of heat lightning. People would turn rubbery. And the Boy would lift his leg over the threshold of the dream forest and into the waking world. Usually, Dave could control him, but sometimes the Boy scared him. The Boy yelled in his ears. The Boy had a way of laughing at inappropriate times. The Boy threatened to leer up through the mask that normally covered Dave's face and show himself to the people on the other side.

Dave hadn't slept much in three days. He'd been lying awake every night watching his wife sleep, the Boy dancing through the sponge of his brain tissue, bolts of lightning popping in the air before his eyes.

"I just need to get my head right," he whispered, and took a sip of beer. I just need to get my head right and everything will turn out fine, he told himself as he heard Michael descend the stairs. I just need to hold it together long enough for everything to slow down and then I'll catch a nice long sleep and the Boy will go back to his forest, people will stop looking rubbery, the mice will go back in their holes, and the black flies will follow them.

* * *

WHEN DAVE got back to Jimmy and Annabeth's house with Michael, it was past four. The house had thinned out and there was a sense of things gone stale? the half trays of doughnuts and cakes, the air in the living room where people had been smoking all day, Katie's death. During the morning and early afternoon there'd been a quiet and communal air of both grief and love, but by the time Dave got back, it had turned into something colder, a kind of withdrawal maybe, the blood beginning to chafe with the restless scrape of chairs and the subdued good-byes called out from the hallway.

According to Celeste, Jimmy had spent most of the late afternoon on the back porch. He'd come into the house a few times to check on Annabeth and accept a few more condolences on their loss, but then he'd worked his way out to the back porch again, sat there under the clothes that hung from the line and had long since dried and stiffened. Dave asked Annabeth if he could do anything, get her anything, but she shook her head halfway through his offer, and Dave knew it had been silly to ask. If Annabeth had truly needed something, there were at least ten people, maybe fifteen, she'd turn to before Dave, and he tried to remind himself why he was here and not get irked by this. In general, Dave had found, he was not the kind of person people turned to when they were in need. It was as if he weren't even on this planet sometimes, and he knew, with a deep and resigned regret, that he'd be the kind of guy who would float through the rest of his life as someone who was rarely relied upon.

He took a sense of that ghostliness out onto the porch with him. He approached Jimmy from behind as Jimmy sat under the flapping clothes in an old beach chair, his head cocked slightly as he heard Dave approach.

"I bothering you, Jim?"

"Dave." Jimmy smiled as Dave came around the chair. "No, no, man. Have a seat."

Dave sat on a plastic milk crate in front of Jimmy. He could hear the apartment behind Jimmy as a hum of barely audible voices and clinking flatware, the hiss of life.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to you all day," Jimmy said. "How you doing?"

"How you doing?" Dave said. "Shit."

Jimmy stretched his arms above his head and yawned. "You know people keep asking me that? I guess it's to be expected." He lowered his hands and shrugged. "It seems to shift, hour to hour. Right now? I'm doing okay. Could change, though. Probably will." He shrugged again and looked at Dave. "What happened to your hand?"

Dave looked at it. He'd had all day to come up with an explanation, he'd just kept forgetting to. "This? I was helping a buddy move a couch into his place, slammed it against the doorjamb squeezing the couch up a staircase."

Jimmy tilted his head and looked at the knuckles, the bruised flesh between the fingers. "Uh, okay."

Dave could tell he wasn't sold, and he decided he'd need to come up with a better lie for the next person who asked.

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