Charlie hesitated a moment at the curb, glancing up from the miniature river navigating its curve to the drain a few feet away where it made the echoing splash of a far-mightier waterfall, pulling his mind out of deeper thoughts to check the oncoming traffic before stepping across the river into the crosswalk.
By the time he approached the opposite curb and sidestepped the crowd huddled impatiently around a coffee cart, he had pulled the lapels of his black peacoat tight around his neck and again entered the dark caverns of his own thoughts in response to the events of the past few days. He was striving to discern the meaning in the cacophony of voices and confounding emotions, as if searching for a path forward on a dimly lit night.
All around him the noise of the city toiled on, under the chill in the air and the persistent drizzle, with the ebb and flow of traffic released from the gates of red lights and barkers calling out their wares on the corners as he bobbed and weaved through the fray, waiting here and ducking there, then stepping up the pace for the safety of the next curb.
Inside his mind, though, the noises and images came at him without ceasing like the incessant drone from the wall of televisions and speakers overflowing from the doors of Lee’s Electronics store in the lower corner of his apartment building on East 16th Street.
He struggled to distinguish the real from the unreal, the important from the trivial, and looked for the “off” button for the voices he could mark as insignificant.
The words of Darcy, his 17-year-old daughter, had become the definition of significance and the ruler by which he measured everything else, even the force that pushed him to review everything he had thought certain about his views on the world around him and how he intended to make his way through it.
Darcy had asked a single, simple question, just before saying goodnight and bringing an end to their routine of late-night updates. Every night, while they danced through the motions of cleaning up the small kitchen, opening and closing drawers and cabinets as they dried and put away the last of the dinner pots and pans, they chatted about their days and relished each other’s attention.
“So what do you think we should do about this, Daddy? We have to do something.”
The deepest conflicts raging in Charlie’s mind centered around those words and the way they challenged the security of the life he had forged for himself and Darcy over the last six years since the tragic death of Rachel, Darcy’s mother.
Darcy, and his determination to protect her, had been the only thing that pulled him back from the edge of his own bitter tragedy in those dark days. As he learned to be a single father to a pre-teen girl over the ensuing months, while dealing with his own grief, he saw Darcy as a living memorial to Rachel. He swore he would do everything in his power to keep Darcy from becoming the next victim of this world’s apparent hunger to destroy everything good.
As he replayed Darcy’s question over and over in his mind, he was shocked by the sharp edge of the idea that he should do anything. Through all of the conversations, the news reports, the books, the radio talk shows, and the political jokes he had allowed his mind to entertain on the plight of the poverty-stricken and the diseased down-n-outers in this seemingly God-forsaken city, and even his own block, he had never considered such a notion that he could have cause to respond. He had already given more than his fair share. He didn’t owe anyone anything.
Now, the very one for whom he had forsaken all personal interests and had worked so hard to provide protection was challenging him to step beyond his comfortable, secure little world and get involved in the problems that belonged to someone else. Darcy couldn’t have understood what she was asking, or the further heartache she was inviting into her life.
As he entered the back door of the garage, walking past the Lexus under which he would spend the next eight hours, saying good morning to the other guys, he pushed the thoughts out of his mind, knowing he would have to return to them later. The picture from the paper of the little dark-haired girls, discovered in the basement of the townhome just two doors down from his own building, and the way their faces had reminded him of the grief-stricken horror on Darcy’s face a few years earlier, couldn’t be pushed very far away.
He cursed under his breath, then poured thin coffee into a styrofoam cup and carried it back toward the Lexus, eager to get grease on his hands and to deal with something he knew he could fix.