He’d never been good at leaving messages. On the odd occasion when he’d ring her up only to be greeted by a recorded message, he’d awkwardly begin talking only to soon start rambling and lose his entire train of thought. Voice mails – those things were torture. Worse still was social media. He’d never know what to type, and just about anything he did type made him feel foolish. He was a man out of his depth and out of time and circumstances, the preeminent outsider out of place in the world and out of luck with the ladies.
The Elvis Costello song, “Man Out of Time,” echoed across his brain from day to day. It was as if the song was written just for him, but even the thought of it made him feel disingenuous. He was sure he wasn’t the only one who felt this way but many times that’s exactly how he felt. That seemed to be the ongoing theme of his life. In fact, he was sure just about everyone else had their lives all figured out, and like some cruel video game, he was stuck on a level just about everyone but him had long ago surpassed.
It was 11:48 at night and all he could think of was the look on her face earlier that evening. It was a look that told him she was only there to see him because there was nothing better to do that day, a look of desperation for anything – anyone- more interesting than him to come along and sweep her away from the dull boredom of staring across at his ugly face. It was all there plain as day for him to see, but there was nothing he could do. It was like he was frozen in time. All he could do was stutter through small talk and awkwardly depart from her company as if she was a queen and he was her servant. Everything was just an awkward mess and just as she walked away from his sight, the verse from the Elvis Costello song crept into his mind reverberated there for him to ponder through the night, “He’s got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge / He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege.” If ever there were words that could better characterize him, he’d never know.
All he knew was that it was now late and that private investigations of the heart become a fruitless enterprise at this point in time. What good would it do to tell her how much he adored just about everything about her? What good would it do to think about the way she walked, the way she smiled, and the quirky way her cheeks broadened when she laughed. What good would it do to think about her lovely brown hair falling just short of touching her shoulders? If there were anything else more elegant to behold in the world, he’d fail to notice, yet she’d always be unattainable despite his persistent fascination with her.
There would be work to do in the morning. Death stopped for no one and murderers never truly sleep. In the morning, once his shoes were on he’d be off and running to his post unsure of what he might encounter along his beat. He’d turn his face to stone and look forward to his vertical patrols and take on an affectation of cool insouciance. He was a man of contradictions- confident and self-assured on the outside- yet always on the brink of stumbling and falling on the inside, especially when it came to her. For all the winks and smiles he threw her way, he was sure that though she reciprocated every now and again that she probably didn’t actually care for him all that much. When it came to her he’d become an insecure bundle of nerves.
He looked forward to sleep where paranoia eventually gives way and the freedom of dreams welcomed him to a world of his own. In his dream world all the murderers, thieves, and deviants would cease to exist. It was a world just for him and her. He’d wake up next to her, make her breakfast, and spend the day gardening outside. He’d harvest fresh beans and avocados and make his favorite Mexican dishes and they’d dine by a candlelit table, and he’d look at her and she’d look at him and there wouldn’t be that boredom that creeps in from real life. There would be a mutual fascination and admiration and there wouldn’t need to be words because he knew all too well that words were useless. He’d casually look down her dress and she wouldn’t mind and he wouldn’t feel self-conscious about it, but then that’s how he’d know he was dreaming. Hell, even in his dreams he couldn’t give himself license to get as close to her as he wanted to. If he could only reach out and touch her, he felt that even if he died in his sleep it would be worth it and he’d die a happy man.
There was just something intangible about her that kept his thoughts fixated on her. Maybe it was because he navigated through this cruel world every day for a living where almost everyone was on the take and everyone else had some angle to play. We live in a world where your every weakness gets easily exposed and word spreads about like wildfire as soon as the other side knows just where to kick you. He dealt with the scum of the city from day to day to day and although the faces on the people may change, the crimes never do. The weak are driven by their desperation and the strong are driven by their need to control the weak. All he could do was hope to protect the right people because in this modern world there is no right and wrong. There’s just shades of grey, but perhaps it was always this way. Long before the digital age the city had been just as corrupt and just as eager to swallow any weak and innocent being. Anyone with any sense knew that in order to protect yourself you needed a holster and a gun at your side, but it was only those with a good level of decency and a concern for their fellow human beings that decided that along with that holster and gun they’d also need a badge and a uniform and a beat to walk.
Daylight. The uniform stared back at him with the sharpness of a blade. The sunlight shimmered upon his badge and he knew it was time to get on out and get to roll call. He’d have to put her out of mind. Daydreaming on this job could get you killed.
Later on after his shift, he’d make a point of going out of his way to see her. Maybe he’d ask her out. Maybe she’d accept and maybe she won’t. He thought about all the compelling reasons she had for turning him down, then he adjusted his collar, fixed his blue cap, and turned his face to stone.