I wish I knew how || it would feel to be free
When does a recurring dream become more? If you spend every night in the same place, at what point can you claim it isn't real?
Sam stopped asking himself a long time ago. He's fully aware that creating a subconscious haven is probably symptomatic of real-world stress. But it doesn't harm anyone. He doesn't long to stay in his head. He's a DCI; if anyone knows reality, it's him. So he sleeps without guilt and every night dreams of sand, and sea, and blue sky. He breathes fresh, salt-tinged air and walks alone, with the sun beating down on his back. Then he wakes, rises, showers, and goes to work like everyone else. He never bothers asking where the normal dreams are, the ones that are supposed to help you process what happens in life.
His team – the department – see him as efficient. They think he's smart, and works hard, and follows procedure. He knows this. He's cultivated this. This is what he wants. He's a safe pair of hands, but creative enough to make the big leaps. He thinks outside the box, as a modern DCI must do. He innovates, he cajoles, he encourages his people. He understands when the female officers job-share around their parenting responsibilities, he's reassuring when that male DS gets signed off with depression. In interviews he's a willing ear for the criminals, should they choose to unburden themselves. When they don't, he's tough enough to encourage them to decide it would be a good idea. He's heard colleagues talk of how scary he can be when he wants. It makes him smile – behind closed doors.
He leaves work at six in the evening. Maya teases him for his ability to shed the persona. She says he can be two different people as easily as stepping through his front door; now you see him, now you don't. When she doesn't tease, he knows the job is still draped around his shoulders. She doesn't always understand. He doesn't always understand why she doesn't. But they work it out, or don't, as the situation demands. The easy dinners make up for the uneasy ones, drinks with her friends – and sometimes his – are pleasant and relaxed. He always reminds himself that this weekend, he must get his guitar out after cleaning the flat, and playing squash, and maybe a pub lunch and a film. But if it doesn't happen, there's always next weekend. If he doesn't have to work.
So that's life. He does what everyone does, and lives it. He enjoys himself, and his girlfriend. He's successful at work. There's satisfaction in every conviction, every criminal sent to jail, or rehab, or the psych ward. Sam Tyler has a high conviction rate, and a slow-but-steady decline in the crime figures for his division. Everyone pats him on the back, even if the gesture seems dry at times. Sometimes there are jokes about him being after the Super's job, made in hearty false-jolly tones under laid with unease, and Sam just smiles graciously. A life behind a desk, holding meetings? He's relieved it doesn't hold more appeal. At the same time, it'll end up a good fit for his expertise. Just not yet.
He lies in bed, and listens to Maya breathe. They'd had words after dinner. Sometimes it seems like Maya thinks he should tell her things he doesn't tell the rest of the team. He'd told her at the beginning that she'd get no favours at work from him, and she'd told him she didn't want any. He'd pointed out she didn't need any, she was more than capable of making her own way. And she'd smiled, like he'd said exactly the right thing. He was glad they were on the same page. But now, she asks him questions. She seems put out when he briefs the whole squad, and she'd heard nothing about it first. It started last year, on this case, and he tells himself maybe it's because it's this case. Women being murdered in Manchester, and only the one prime suspect. He doesn't like pinning everything on Colin Raimes, but the evidence is building. Sam goes where the evidence leads him. If that means focusing on one man, then so be it.
Her arm snakes across his chest. He doesn't move, resting his head on his own arm bent behind his head. She's asleep. It's not a sign she's forgiven him. So be it.
His eyes close. He thinks of waves breaking on the sand to lull himself to sleep, because it always works. And yes, he knows why. Disassociation.
So be it.
The beach is both small, and so large it stretches forever. The detail is mostly in the space around him – the visceral sensation of deep, dry sand shifting under his feet, and heat on his face. The sound of the waves is relentless but soothing, and the taste of salt is so real, sometimes he wakes and thinks he can still taste it. To his left, there are dunes that rise to one single mountain somewhere in front. The line of hills blocks out whatever might be on the other side. To the right, an ocean that goes on and on, perfect, blue, calm. The horizon is a line lost in the subconscious haze, a limit he'll never try and reach. For some reason, he never enters the water. He just walks on the sand, suspended in the peace it provides for his mind. Occasionally – so occasionally that he never remembers until it happens again – he feels the warm breeze turn cold. When that happens, he stops walking, and turns his face up to the sun. The heat takes away the chill, and he's calm again.
Maya's silence has stretched through the morning. He suspects she's waiting for him to break it, but he doesn't know what she wants him to say. Everything there was, he said yesterday. She leaves the flat before him, presumably to go home and get some fresh clothes before going to the station. Sam looks at his face, half obscured with foam, in the shiny faux-chrome shaving mirror that extends over the sink. It looks the same as it did yesterday, when he and Maya hadn't yet had words. The same smooth skin that makes him look younger than thirty-six, the same short hair, the same narrow brown eyes that got him bullied, once. Some lad – he forgets his name – decided they were Oriental, and he spent three months being followed by a gang making jokes about chopsticks, and asking if he knew kung-fu. He didn't. He does now, a bit. As he draws the razor down his cheek, slicing the excess away, he wonders whether he would have used it if he'd ever heard of a martial arts class when he was nine. The answer that pleases him is no, I'm above bullies. The truth chews at him, that there probably would have been an ugly, messy fight. They wouldn't have come at him one by one, like in Jackie Chan movies. None of them would know what they were doing, but there would still have been split lips, torn trousers, bruised cheeks. Tears, and snot, and recriminations from school. Detention and lines, the acceptable punishment, along with a stern talking to from the headmaster. Never mind that he wouldn't have started it. You get involved, you get punished like everyone else.
He wipes foam from under his ears with a flannel, and has to remind himself that the fight never happened. There were no recriminations from school. The would-be tormentors had simply got bored, and moved on to something else. He had said nothing, it hadn't even bothered him that much. But here it is, on his mind on a dull Thursday morning, while he cuts away what he doesn't need. Things that didn't happen. Things that only exist as what if? Strange how the mind works.
He sprays on some Right Guard, rinses the flannel out and lays it on the towel rack to dry. His shirt hangs from the top of the bathroom door. Blue, today. He puts it on, knots his tie, and goes to work.
'You used to believe in gut feeling. What happened?'
'Sam, what is going on in there?'
She touches his head, and he tries not to pull away too obviously. But it's not appropriate, her touching him like that in the office, where anyone can see. Not appropriate to bring their relationship here, because that's what she does when her fingers stray near his body. No favours at work from him. He'd told her that. One of them has to stay professional.
'Look. I can't think about this now. OK?' And then, because it's been on his mind and it has to be said, 'I'm going to stand you down from the case, Maya. It's not productive, given our personal problems.'
Personal problems, and differences at work. He should have known better than to mix his worlds, but what's a man supposed to do when he falls in love? He thought he could box them off. He thought she could too. But she still thinks that feelings have a place in this job, as if there's more to it than following evidence provided by forensics, and solid leads from reliable witnesses. And she's wrong.
Her shirt sits on the child's swing as proof of how wrong one of them was. Blood on the collar (did he cut her face? Her neck?), and all he can do is tell them to preserve the scene before he walks away. In the car, worlds collide and he can fight the tears but not beat them. Sam prides himself on being metal; sharp edges, and cool matte surface, the kind of copper people need. He wipes the water away before anyone can see, before it oxidizes and tarnishes his shine. Frustration is OK, anger is fine, beaten out on the steering wheel where it can do no harm. He stops when it becomes unsafe for others on the road. He can take a moment, regain the equilibrium before facing the incident room, before he has to be the oil they need to pour on stormy water. Just a moment to pull away, to separate, to rebalance.
Sam knows what to do when life throws shit around. One thing happens, which leaves a trail, which he follows, which invariably leads to closure. Or leaves him ready for it to happen again, only he's better equipped for the next time, because he's following the signs, the clues, the evidence. Life is one thing after the next, always.
When he's lying in the road, dented into a different shape, there's a fleeting second where he realises that no, he didn't see that coming.
And then he's gone.