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the burden of his song forever used to be

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Sometimes Dickory misses the way things used to be. She's not sure what, exactly – it's certainly not the tenement that she misses, not Blanche and Donald bickering, not the confusion of trying to reconcile Garson's phoniness and vanity with his kindness, not the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach she used to get passing by Manny Mallomar's door.

Everything is better now, but somehow it isn't.

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Garson hasn't left the upstairs apartment at all in the two weeks since Quinn released him and Isaac. Not that Dickory's seen, anyway – there are plenty of times when she's not home, she supposes, and on some nights she thinks she hears him coming in the front door. Rather than go upstairs, she just thinks quiet, observant, fields a dozen calls from Julius Panzpresser, schedules a weekly grocery delivery, and waits until it's time to follow his lead again.

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She tries to explain it to George one day. It's difficult enough to explain it to herself, but it's nearly impossible to get across to him, since she can't, won't, tell him about Garson, Isaac, Sonneborg, and Schmaltz.

"Wow," George sighs when she finishes, looking at her with the touch of bewildered awe he seems to see everything with. "I can understand how things would feel boring now, you probably got used to all that excitement."

Dickory nods mutely. That's not it at all, but she supposes that's how most people would interpret her feelings.

"Come on, George," she says, "let's find something to sketch."

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Dickory comes home one day to find Isaac sitting on the stairs. She realizes, guiltily, that she hasn't really thought of him since he's been back – out of sight, out of mind, though she's certainly thought about Garson. She waves uncertainly and lets herself into the downstairs apartment, but he's still just sitting there a few hours later when she goes out to check the mail. She's not sure if Garson's been ignoring Isaac since they got back, but the idea pains her enough that she clumsily mimes an invitation to dinner. She, Blanche, and Donald never had much to work with, so Dickory only knows how to cook a few things, but Isaac seems to like pasta. After they eat she's not really certain what to do, if she should be engaging him or ignoring him or what, but he seems fine to just sit and watch her work on assignments. It's nice to have someone around who doesn't want any answers out of her.

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Everyone else in class, is, of course, fascinated by the whole story. Dickory, one of their own – almost murdered in the house of a famous artist! Neither Dickory nor Professor D'Arches would actually call Garson famous, and nobody in the class has even heard of him. Unfortunately, Harold Silverfish finds the same biography that Dickory encountered early in the semester, deems this enough to prove Garson is a Serious and Successful Artist, and their fanatical interest only grows from there. She used to crave this kind of respect and recognition from her classmates, but she can't talk about the situation truthfully and she's tired of faking it. To avoid their questions, Dickory starts getting to class at the last possible second and bolting out the door the second it's over.

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Dinner with Isaac becomes a standing engagement. Dickory's not sure if he and Garson ever ate together or if Isaac's used to getting his own meals; it's the kind of thing she wouldn't have thought to ask even if Garson had welcomed questions. She still feels like he should have something to do while she works, but she doesn't know him to have any interests or activities other than making frames and helping Garson. She buys him a sketchpad and some markers one day, but when she puts them on the table in front of them, his face is completely blank, like they mean nothing to him.

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She walks in the door and the first thing she sees is Garson, leaning over the banister on the upstairs landing.

"About time," he says. "The phone's not going to answer itself, and I have brushes that need cleaning."

And just like that, they're back to normal. But it's not normal – it's the same stilted, unfamiliar silence they worked in when she had just started. Garson paints, and she keeps things in order and runs the house. When he's out of the room she looks at his canvas – yet another lifeless, uninspired portrait, and knows in her heart that whatever's under the velvet cover on the easel across the room, Edgar Sonneborg's easel, is both immeasurably better and likely to never see the light of day.

That's it, she realizes now – she misses knowing there was more to Garson but not knowing what, because knowing his secret hasn't changed anything, for any of them. Frederick Schmaltz is still as good as dead, and even without the threat of blackmail, Edgar Sonneborg still has to wear the mask of Garson. The only difference now is that Dickory has to live with the reality as well, and the house sits in silence.

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In class one Monday, Professor D'Arches is criticizing their efforts with his new favorite tirade, lamenting the fact that there isn't a single noteworthy artist left in New York and that this (he holds up Dickory's effort to illustrate his point) is apparently the best the future has to offer. Of course, some brave, stupid soul always feels the need to disagree. This time, it's Vincent, piping up that of course there's life in the New York art scene, doesn't Dickory work for a successful artist?

There's an almost frightening silence as D'Arches takes a deep breath before launching into an impassioned speech on why anyone familiar with Garson's body of work would never even consider applying the term "artist" to such a third-rate cartoonist. Dickory stays out of it because she agrees and knows Garson would too, but somehow it still ends with her being thrown out of class for being a distraction and undermining the meaning of art.

Rather than go straight home, she waits outside for George, who exits an hour after the scheduled end of class. "He kept up that thing about art and artists this whole time," he tells her, looking harried. "Our assignment is to find and sketch true art." They agree that this feels distinctly like a trap, but it's somehow liberating to know that no matter what she brings in tomorrow, D'Arches will hate it. They part ways – George heads for the subway, hoping he'll find a particularly artful-looking musician down on the platform, and Dickory meanders towards home, hoping she'll spot something along the way.

She's so distracted that she doesn't even notice Chief Quinn standing at the front door until she's already walked right into him.

"Hickory!" he says cheerfully.

"Hello, Chief Quinn," she replies, opening the door and ushering him up to Garson's apartment before he can start reciting nursery rhymes again. Garson starts when they come through the door, but his composed, almost haughty expression quickly slides back into place.

"Chief Quinn! To what do I owe this visit – are you here for surveillance or assistance?"

"Surveillance? Of course not," Quinn replies huffily, before quickly realizing that his feigned indignation is doing nobody any favors. "It's the damnedest thing, Garson. A band of masked men has been robbing banks. Every time it's the same masks, men with the same heights and builds. They don't wear their masks when they enter the building, but we've compared security tapes and we can't see anyone who appears on the tapes from more than one robbery. It's like they appear out of nowhere. You think you could paint the culprits for me?"

Garson glances at Dickory. "Well?"

"I don't see why not."

"Well then, fetch the hats! Chief Quinn, a pleasure as always, thanks for stopping by, just leave us those photos and we'll get right to work." He all but shoves the chief out, slams the door, and turns. "Any derelicts outside?"

"No," she says, waving to Chief Quinn through the window. "No derelicts, no blind men, no exterminators, no guitar players, no tattooed sailors."

"Now that that's in order – Captain Kod, to work!" He places the deerstalker hat on his head with a flourish, the single motion full of more life and purpose than she's seen from him in months. "I call this one The Case of the Masked Marauders."

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"Who is Dick Ory, and what does he think is artful about a manikin dressed as Sherlock Holmes? That's the problem with art students today, you all have this juvenile tendency to slap anything on a frame and call it art…"

D'Arches rants on, but Dickory just smiles. Not everyone appreciates the beauty of a good disguise.