SHE STANDS AT the window, dropped into a jet-lagged dream. The street below is covered in snow. She knows what subtropical heat feels like. She knows the frisson of an electrical storm, the thundering sound of violent rain on a tin roof, the clean, earthy smell and golden light that settles over Brisbane when it’s over. She does not know what snow feels like. Exhausted and alert, she looks down at the barren trees searching for references. Traffic is universal, and the engines of Broadway comfort her. She feels held by the body of the apartment, as if it were keeping her defined in space, safe from the moil of humanity beyond. The room she stands in is like a small face; it has two large eyes that stare across into other people’s windows. It has bland, even features, and a long, throaty hallway that leads to the bedroom, dark and warm and cramped. It has only two bud-like limbs: a tiny bathroom and a kitchen just large enough for a stove, sink, bar fridge and cutting board. She is on the Upper West Side, alone in a city of
8 million. She feels like the only one awake.
She spends the week making tentative tracks around New York, seeing the obvious sights. She visits the galleries and takes the lift to the top of the Empire State Building, where she sees Manhattan laid out in a simplifying grid that hides teeming labyrinths. She makes her pilgrimage from celebrated site to celebrated site with determination. Like many before her, she enjoys the self-satisfaction of having arrived. Coming here, being here, has marked her. She is not content to live obscurely at the foot of the orb. She will be at its centre, its throbbing and calamitous heart. Having packed a sole inadequate coat, she shops for scarves, hats and gloves. She buys a long quilted parka fit for the Antarctic. It’s well below zero and nearing the deep end of winter. At night, white lights wrapped around the trees blink through falling snow. She checks in at Columbia. She is here on a PhD scholarship, but despite having convinced them with her application, she has no idea what she will write. The point was to be here, the rest is strategy. By week three she asks herself if she misses home. Australia seems distant and obsolete. She misses people, she decides, misses being known and knowing. She makes a memorial in a corner – framed photographs of family and friends.
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