Notes Tobias, "This is his city, with its terrible message of violence and hope all twined together and so tangled sometimes one cannot be told from the other, but it's his city." What really happened to Ed may seem ambiguous, but it helps him learn to embrace his home base in a way he never expected.
By Tobais Charity
He's been awake a lot lately, just thinking more than anything. Random thoughts chasing their tails around his mind, nipping at each other's heels, vying for top position on the 'to do' list in his brain. No, not a 'to do' list, more like a 'to ignore, to repress, to try and get out of my head' list. So many things that needed to be forgotten.
It's hot out, too hot to sleep, too hot to draw a breath that isn't laden with exhaust fumes and smoky scents from the street down below. Skin gleaming with sweat in the garish neon lights from the strip joint across the avenue, sheets tangled in a dingy heap at the bottom of the mattress, because it's just too muggy. The air is damp with pent up rain, like eyes that are burning from unshed tears.
Tires screech on the wet pavement six stories below, and he blinks once, slowly, the invasive, piercing sound pulling him laboriously out of his stupor. This is New York City. This city doesn't pause, or lose itself in thought, or even close its yapping mouth for a moment to clear its cluttered mind. Silence is nothing but a fleeting idea, and quiet merely a dream to this city.
He loves this city for reasons he's unsure of, but he loves this city. He loves this city because it seems to know him better than he knows himself, knows that he cannot stand to have silence, so it seems to generate the constant chatter for him, just to keep him occupied focusing on the ceaseless rush of cars below, the oncoming lure of dawn. Just so that he won't have to think about other things quite so much.
He loves his city for reasons he's unsure of, but all he knows is that a city is not the people who populate it. And he hates this city for its citizens. Denizens might be a better word for those who skulk around the corners of dark alleyways, lurking in wait for--
His original train of thought is too dark, too secret to be considered while he's fully awake. So he sits up, rubs his dry eyes, and runs the back of his hand across his mouth, just thinking. Stands, tugs absently at a string on his boxer shorts, pads out through the living room into a tiny kitchen in an apartment he's still struggling to call home. Glances at a stack of papers on the Formica counter, his gaze travelling to the flashing answering machine light beyond, and the mocking red numbers on the clock behind that. Four-thirty in the morning? Has he really not slept for nearly three days? Something must be off, the time or his internal clock; he's not tired, he's been running on an adrenaline high for days now, some manic energy from an unknown source. No, no, he knows the source; he just won't acknowledge it.
He reaches into a cabinet for a coffee mug; his hand knocks a glass out and he watches it twist and writhe on its way to the tile floor. It shatters the instant it hits, pieces of shrapnel spiraling off, beyond his line of vision. The sound is unnaturally loud in an apartment so silent. Not silent, because this city is never silent. Just...calm. Obnoxiously, ominously, disturbingly, tauntingly calm.
How can it be so calm while inside his mind it's nothing but a blur of colors, sounds, gaping red maws snarling insults, pasty white hands beating him into submission, high shrill voices like wind through black branches. Nigger, the voices whisper maliciously, hissing cruelly into his ears. Nigger bastard, fucking scum, you wanted it. You uppity nigger, you needed it, you wanted--
The coffee mug smashes against the wall, another invading sound, and he shakes himself, the voices retreating with a sigh and hiss. He bends down to pick up the pieces of the glass he'd dropped, and bites back a cry as a shard gouges the palm of his hand. He ignores the pain and dumps the pile of glass into the trash can, and cleans up the shattered pieces of the mug. Rinsing his bloodied hand underneath the faucet, red-stained water rushing down the drain, he wonders just how he's going to face the daylight.
"You flyin' high, Ed? You look like you haven't slept in a month." Lennie drops down into his chair and takes a sip from his police academy mug, one inquisitive eyebrow raised.
Ed says nothing, only sifts through a stack of files from IAB on corrupt cops. What would Lennie know about this? Lennie, the typical Irish cop, who's never faced a day of discrimination in his life? So he shrugs, and leaves to make copies.
He shuts the door of the copy room behind him and suddenly feels dizzy, the room tilting at a sickening angle. An aching emptiness in his middle makes itself known with a rumble, and he realizes that he can't remember the last time he ate or drank something other than coffee. He leans back against the wall and closes his eyes, but imprinted on the backs of his eyelids are blurred images, almost indiscernible, but he knows what they are. This is why he doesn't sleep; every time he shuts his eyes he sees them closing in on him, not certain where one ends and the other begins, but they're all there, each reveling in his own power over him.
"Ed." The door opens and he hears his partner step inside and make a shocked noise. "Ed, you all right?"
He nods, then something inside of him crumbles, and he gives up, shakes his head and slides down the wall until he's sitting on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chest, shaking hands clutching the sheaf of papers.
"C'mon. Up, dammit, get up!" He's hauled to his feet and he staggers for a moment before regaining his balance and looking up at Lennie.
"I'm fine, Lennie," he says hoarsely. "Just the flu."
"Flu, my ass," Lennie snaps, tugging him out of the copy room and back into the noisy, rambunctious squad room. "It's the middle of August. You're dead on your feet and you've been useless at every investigation since Monday. What's going on, Ed?" He pushed Ed into his chair and perches on the corner of his desk, fixing him with a pointed stare.
"Nothing," Ed says sullenly. "I'm not two. You don't need to monitor my movements every day, Lennie."
"I do when it's affecting the way you function as a partner, and as a person, Ed." Lennie has a look of stunned concern on his face, and Ed knows he should feel grateful to have a partner who cares as much as Lennie does, but Ed can't make himself feel any emotions other than raw, animal anger, and disturbing calm. But Ed knows that Lennie won't stop asking questions until he finds out why Ed's acting like this, acting the opposite of his normal self.
Ed shrugs. "I'm fine, Len. Bad weekend." So bad he can barely find the courage to draw breath when he thinks of it, and he can't help but think of it constantly, so he doesn't think; he shuts down all function of his brain to block out everything related to it, and anything that might remind him of it.
"Lose some money at the tables? Is that it?" Lennie's offering him a way out, but Ed's not certain that he wants to take it, wants to lie to this man he trusts each day with his life; that trust is something that can't be breached. It can't be tossed aside carelessly because that trust is what makes him slip his badge into his pocket each day. But maybe, just maybe, keeping this out of the daylight is more important than keeping his partner's trust. And maybe, just maybe, he can get away with an omission of the truth instead of an all-out lie.
"I lost some money, yeah." And he drops his gaze back to the papers, because there's just no way he can watch his partner accept this as the truth when it's as far from the truth as it's going to get. "I'm gonna go make some copies, and then get started on the Martinelli case. IAB's riding us to get it done as fast as possible. So can I go do my job?" He doesn't wait for Lennie's reply, just stands up and gathers some unrelated files together, and flees the room and his partner's questioning stare.
Ed looks around, unsure of who it was speaking to him. He doesn't know anyone in this part of town; shouldn't be in this part of town except that he ran out of money for taxi fare back on Twelfth Avenue and the subways aren't running so often this time of night. Morning, he corrects himself, because it's one in the morning and he skulked out of his date's apartment half an hour ago, leaving her asleep with nothing but a scrawled message that he'll call. Subway stop, subway stop, he racks his mind frantically, is there a subway stop near here? No, not until Tenth, so he's trapped, stuck ignoring the shadow trailing him, calling to him. He glances back behind him; the shadow's closing in, no, wait, there're more, one, two, no, six or more of them, all closing in. He speeds up, almost running, and he hears feet pounding behind him.
"Hey, you! Look at me when I talk to you, nigger!" His arm his grabbed from behind, wrenched behind his back and he feels the bones grind in protest, his shoulder aching with a sharp pain; he grits his teeth to keep from crying out. He tries to twist away from his assailant, but is shoved up hard against the brick wall of a building, his hip slamming into the bottom stair of a fire escape and his skull hitting the wall with a sickening crack.
"Niggers don't belong in this part of the neighborhood," the voice hisses in his ear, and is joined by what sounds to him like the cackles of demons, high raucous laughter that doesn't belong in this putrid alleyway.
"You don't like us, do you, nigger bastard?" The voice oozes, winding its way through his ear and making him shudder down to his bones. He can't see a thing; the blood's dripping into his eyes from a gash on his forehead; his vision's left him and all of his world is the feel of the blessedly chilled concrete beneath his cheek and the sounds of the malicious laughter behind him, beside him, surrounding him and drowning him until he blacks out from pain and--
He looks up, their haunting shouts echoing in his brain, and sees his partner staring at him, concern creasing his forehead. "Sorry Lennie, I spaced out for--"
"Nearly five minutes," Lennie interrupted. "Ed, what the hell is the matter with you? You look nauseous the majority of the day; every time I call your name I practically have to grab you by the shoulders and shake you to get you to acknowledge me; and I hate to say this, but you've been like a wet blanket since Monday. What happened? Tell me, Ed. You gotta tell me."
Lennie looks so worried, so genuinely anxious over his state of well-being, that he nearly blurts out everything, nearly tells Lennie things that will land Ed on Skoda's office couch for a year of therapy, nearly breaks down and lets it all out, but he can't. "Yeah." You liar. "Yeah. It's just trouble sleeping."
Lennie doesn't seem convinced, with his mouth kind of pursed and twisted upwards in a little grimace and his eyes narrowed, but he says nothing and Ed silently thanks him for not making Ed dredge this up and bring it out into the daylight. Ed knows Lennie won't press the issue, because maybe Lennie's a little afraid of what he might find out.
But he knows he's self-destructing inside, and he knows that no one wants to hear that. He knows. His city knows. And his city wraps him in its blanket of noise and neon, letting him slip back into the recesses of his shattered mind once more.
He sleeps, finally, twelve straight hours of a coma-like unconsciousness and is roused by the telephone at the disturbing hour of ten in the morning; disturbing to him because he looks at the clock, notes somewhere that he should have been at work an hour ago, and can't seem to make himself care.
His hand feels like lead, and he watches it closely, wondering just how all the joints underneath his skin are connected, just how the skin itself moves and adjusts so fluidly to movement, just why that skin had the misfortune of having just the right or wrong combination of pigments to turn him a shade of brown that not everyone sees as equal. He picks up the phone and moves it to his ear, mumbles a greeting, and registers nothing but fragments.
"wondering where you"
"didn't call anyone"
"looking really sick"
And he can't seem to hear anything but the throb of his own heart. Even his city is silent, his city with its mindless blather has hushed itself and he cannot hear a thing but the voices in his head.
And he hangs up the phone, because it's just fragments. Fragments like that glass he shattered two nights ago, because two nights ago was a night after three nights ago, and three nights ago was the night after--
And he won't think about that.
So he stares out the window for a brief moment, and wonders why his city has failed him.
He sits on his front steps, watching this city, no longer his city, this city of neon and exhaust, cigarette smoke and short skirts, liars and racists, and every now and then it's this city of something true. But not today, it's not, and it's not going to be like that ever again, not this city, not his city.
And it's not his city, because his city has failed him.
His city has failed him, his city has become the mother of those who violated him, who did the vilest thing known to the human race short of taking a life. His city has turned traitor and abandoned him to lie on the pavement, face pressed to the asphalt still warm from baking in the August sun for so long, reeking of old piss and new trash.
This is not his city.
He can hear one thing, just one thing so clear and sharp it hurts like a knife wound to his chest. The city's screaming its beautiful terrible song of the death/sex/violence/life/love/hope that lives in it, that makes this city what it is, he slowly realizes, that makes this city his and hers and theirs and that of those who tore him apart inside and out and that of those whom he strives to bring to justice and that of those who he's never met but he knows exist because there must be something good and right and true in this city, in his city.
This is his city, he realizes, with its terrible message of violence and hope all twined together and so tangled sometimes one cannot be told from the other, but it's his city, and nothing, not a gang of bastard racists armed with fists and insults, not a week of sleepless nights, not his sanity slowly crumbling, not anything will change that.