“You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?”
“You know that you are recalled to life?”
“They tell me so.”
“I hope you care to live.”
“I can’t say.”
-A Tale of Two Cites, Charles Dickens
The changing air—a new odor, a shift in pressure—was Catherine’s first clue their journey was ending. The last few passages smelled of basements—danker, wetter than the Tunnels she was used to. At some point, although she couldn’t have said when, Vincent told her how they settled the home Tunnels in the driest areas and only ventured into damper regions when the water could be mitigated. But here, near the surface, rainwater draining off the asphalt had its influence, no matter how decent the storm drains.
“We will be at Peter’s in a moment,” Vincent announced, confirming her suspicions.
Catherine hitched up the sleeping baby in his sling.
How is ten pounds so heavy?
She tried to ignore her aching back and tired feet. Even with her sturdy Tunnel boots, it had been a rough climb to the surface. And Peter did this walk often? In good shoes?
“There’s an entrance to the Tunnels at Peter’s?” she asked, trying not to huff between the words. Clearly, if Peter did walk this easily, she was in worse shape than she realized. “How did that happen?”
“It was a…coincidence, a happy one…well, partially.” He hesitated, trying to find the words for a story that sounded longer than they had time for. “A great deal of work was needed to realize the potential, so Father told me.” He steered her through a narrow door that, when closed, deftly hid the entrance to the greater Tunnels.
The smaller area reminded her of her basement, the halfway aura of it, although it was longer and seemed to go on past the length of just one townhouse. Vincent reached without hesitation for a light chain that had been invisible to her and tugged, while he continued his explanation.
“Peter’s home was once a stop in the Underground Railroad. His basement connected to a nineteenth-century tunnel system that allowed slaves to travel the city on their way further north. A number of the upper tunnels in this area are from that time. While on the streets, the runaways paired with other servants so they might blend in, but below, these shafts and channels were their passages to freedom. Even in New York, the bounties for runaways were high and collected. We blocked any other entrances in the neighborhood and dug down, adding that last staircase we ascended.” He pointed back the way they had come. “Winslow’s father did much of the work himself. He thought it of great significance that his people used these Tunnels for safety and now we were using them in the same way, but in the forms of connection, supplies, and medical expertise.”
“Winslow’s father sounds like a good man,” she offered.
Vincent unlatched a false wall door and pushed a few boxes forward so she could step into the true cellar before he answered.
“He was, but an exacting one.” And he might have said more, but for the music.
Peter had left the basement door to the kitchen open. From the first floor, echoing down, came the vibrant notes of a piano piece, maybe Bach or Liszt.[i] It must have been on a radio program, or possibly a CD. It didn’t have the muted, hissing quality of a record. The piano notes circled, spiraling, constantly moving upward and accelerating. It was unexpected, overwhelming in the beauty of it, in its complexity.
Has it been so long?
There had been music at their wedding and at other times in the last weeks, but it was amateur, aspiring, home-grown, compared to this…cultivation. No, she hadn’t heard music of this quality since their last concert, before she was kidnapped, when their bond was broken. They hadn’t attempted another since, agreeing without discussion not to leave Jacob, nor risk taking him to a place that demanded quiet for secrecy’s sake.
Instant and unwelcome tears escaped her eyes. She missed the music. The men who took her denied her any distraction––no music, no books, no beauty, not even a magazine or newspaper—just a window to a world too distant to notice her. But that was past, and she’d cried enough for that. She wept now because Vincent would know. He would feel the longing in her heart for the things he hadn’t given her. She never wanted to wish for more than he could offer. He had given her so much.
Vincent placed his hand on her back, as if to say everything you’re experiencing is understandable, normal. She wiped the traitor tears from her cheeks.
They stood in the single bulb-illuminated basement, looking up the wooden stair to the open door into Peter’s kitchen.
Once you walk up those steps, there’s no stopping this train.
Catherine inspected the baby under his blanket, lulled to sleep by the swing and sway of their journey.
You can do this. You have to do this.
She grabbed the banister and climbed towards the light.
They emerged into Peter’s kitchen that remained much as she remembered it – the old gas stove, the tall, white cupboards, the small metal and Formica table against the wall encircled by three green chairs. The last chair, unneeded for the walled side, was still banished to the corner, used almost exclusively as a step to the higher shelves.
Vincent and she glanced around the kitchen, but didn’t stop. Instead they rounded the corner into the golden wood and blue-colored dining room. The lower window shutters were shut, while the open upper ones allowed in light from the small back garden. There didn’t appear to be close structures that would allow others to look in, but as Vincent stepped behind her, she felt the tension through his touch, almost as if she too could sense the pressing and dangerous humanity all around the house. The music, still playing from the stereo, rose and fell, jumped and rushed, seeming to reflect his discomfort.
Peter’s house was gigantic by New York standards – a three-bedroom on the Upper East Side. Although he had a successful medical practice, this type of house at this address wasn’t bought even with a doctor’s prodigious salary. There was a story there she didn’t know; perhaps Vincent did. She had grown up close by, gone to school with Susan, been to Peter’s house many times, yet knew so little about him.
The creak of the stairs or their footsteps in the kitchen must have signaled their coming. Peter walked into the room from the front hall. Behind him stood Joe, his briefcase in hand, looking as on edge and out of place as Vincent and she felt. He must have just arrived as well.
“Cathy,” Peter said in a soft greeting. He kissed her cheek. “It’s so good to see you. It’s been too long since I’ve seen my favorite patients.” He pulled the blanket back from the baby’s face. Jacob slept still, not stirring even under the sunlit scrutiny.
“Peter, thank you for doing this, but…” she began. Peter raised a hand to cut her off.
“Now, I’m only too glad to host you,” he looked behind her to Vincent, “and host your family while you are away.”
So, Vincent was staying. She had suspected as much. Vincent had packed the bottle she had (feeling very cow-like) hand-expressed that morning. What she’d gotten probably wouldn’t be enough, and then what? Vincent insisted it was nothing she should worry about, but if he knew the magic “turn off worry” spell, he hadn’t taught her.
She walked around Peter to hug Joe, careful of the baby between them.
“Cathy,” was all he said as he dropped his briefcase and hugged her back. The slick fabric of his suit and the stiff starched collar pressed against her face. His cologne, piquant and familiar, still a drugstore brand despite his rise in status, surrounded her senses and triggered her memory. She knew this suit, this persona. He saved it for trials.
She pulled back smiling, but it was strained. Her reflected concern rebound off Joe’s own as if they played a silent game of tennis.
Without asking he lifted the blanket and peered into the sling at the curled bundle of new life. He examined the baby long and hard like a piece of evidence, still not glancing where Vincent stood. He finished, placing the blanket back, and she stepped back towards Vincent before she realized she was moving.
Vincent said nothing; Joe said nothing, and the lack of discourse from these men, the one known for his rapid, biting speech, and the other for his gracious eloquence, allowed the tension to speak for them.
The music ended, and only then did Catherine remember it was on, the soundtrack of their little drama. Peter seemed to remember too. He eased around Joe in the doorway and walked into the den.
There was a pause at the end of piece, then the calming voice of the announcer: “That was the ‘Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor,’ by Johann Sebastian Bach here on classical WQXR, New York…Next up we have…”
Peter must have made it to the stereo, the sound cutting off mid-sentence, leaving Catherine, Vincent, and Joe in a silence no one was willing to break. Peter would have to take over as host.
“Mr. Maxwell,” he called as he walked back into the hallway proudly, disregarding any tension, “I don’t think you’ve had the pleasure.” He then sidled past Joe again into the dining room and stood near the head of the table, pointing. “This is Vincent, Cathy’s husband. I’ve known him almost as long as I’ve known Cathy and been lucky enough to call him my friend for many years.”
Catherine noticed that Peter led with the words Cathy’s husband and wondered how that would play to the room.
Vincent and Joe gauged each other, both barely moving, eyeing one another up and down.
Vincent stood mid-room, a table between him and Joe, looking out of place in the bright light. It came from everywhere, reflecting off the table, off the shining wood floor, making his cloak irrelevant. It hid nothing. Instead, the fringed and pieced cloth accentuated the rest of his anachronistic outfit and magical (there was no other word for it) appearance.
Joe stood opposite, opposed, glaring. His eyes jumped to her left hand. No ring—Vincent and she had agreed. Joe’s focus returned to Vincent, his frown deepening.
This was never how Catherine imagined them meeting, when she could imagine it at all—at times scenarios of friendship and warmth, or at others, ones of anger and fear, but not this prolonged…assessment. The testosterone was unmistakable, tangible, and rising.
“Mr. Maxwell,” Vincent acknowledged the other man, not reaching for the hand she knew wouldn’t be there. It was at this point in the introductions that Vincent usually asked for tolerance, begging a new person not be afraid. He didn’t. He stood tensed, but still, waiting to see what Joe would do, and Joe didn’t say a word.
This was going badly.
“Vincent,” Catherine called, touching his hand, but Vincent’s eyes stayed on Joe as if watching for movement, for a fight.
This was going very badly.
She tried again. “Vincent.”
His gaze lowered.
“I’m going to feed the baby before I go.”
Vincent nodded, but clearly did not mean to follow her.
“I’ll show you upstairs,” Peter said, placing a hand on her back.
She hesitated against the gesture, second-guessing herself, wondering if leaving the two men alone was the right decision, but the baby had to be fed. Vincent could handle this. She had to trust him. She allowed Peter to take her out of the room and escort her up the steep, elegant stairs.
They reached the second floor. Peter pointed out the back stairs at the end of the hallway, although she remembered them well enough. As they walked, she peered into the red and blue room that was Peter’s. Then, turning to the opposite side of the hall, she glanced into Susan’s old bedroom, still dominated by her tall canopy bed, so enormous to a jumping seven-year-old, Catherine had thought it had been made for a castle. Attached to Susan’s room by a shared bath was the guest bedroom, a room of yellows, blues, and creams, prepared for her and Vincent’s use. It was homey, functional. Catherine saw Susan’s hand in it; her friend’s good taste and gentle demeanor shone in the tastefully selected details. A large photo from their twelfth-grade trip to France hung on the wall alongside a framed painting by a child, a Tunnel child she would’ve bet. The four-poster bed she remembered from years ago beckoned, but that would have to wait. There was a chair near the windows that also looked wonderfully inviting, decorated with a throw that seemed familiar, knitted by Kim or Rebecca perhaps.
A white, wicker basket bassinet sat on a long dresser behind the chair. It looked old, although its sheets had a sheen that said fresh-from-the-package. She walked over and ran her fingers along the edge.
“I had Josephine get the room ready for you,” Peter said as he followed her. “She asked about you. ‘I’m getting old if my babies are having babies,’ she said. I had to agree. It’s the type of thing that certainly forces you to confront your age.”
Catherine smiled at the memory of the housekeeper and the mysteries of a happy person. In almost every memory Catherine had of Josephine the woman had a smile on her face…except one.
Peter continued. “She then regaled me with the story of you tapping at the kitchen window from the sweetgum branches. You remember?”
Catherine nodded, the vision of the small Black woman’s shock and the subsequent story told of the event—brought out every time Catherine visited, securing her in the Alcott family history as the bold and reckless girl compared to cautious and careful Susan—could not be, was not allowed to be, forgotten. Catherine was the daredevil, while Susan had refused to climb where angels, or at least sensible little girls, feared to tread.
Peter scanned the room to see if anything needed tending to, but appeared to find everything in order. “Jacob thought you might be more comfortable here since you stayed with us when you were younger. He thought it would be better for Vincent, as well—Above, closer to you, but with Tunnel access.”
Close, but not too close to downtown, so Vincent won’t wait near the Federal building, not during the day…Father would think of that…
Father resolved they should stay at Peter’s, not Vincent. A slash of guilt cut across her heart—she’d been unfair and it wasn’t the first time.
Peter joined her and ran his hand over the woven arched top of the bassinet. “This was Susan’s when she was a baby. I thought I might have given it to one of the Tunnel mothers, but it seems I forgot to,” he said with a wink.
Catherine looked around the warm and private room. “I haven’t been up here in years, but I still remember,” saying, without saying, thank you for thinking of my family’s comfort in this.
She turned to the photo in the corner, the one Susan had taken—the antique shop. Was it in Provence?
Even then Susan had shown remarkable maturity. While everyone had been snapping off rolls and rolls of famous landmarks and returned with unremarkable photos of clichéd views, Susan, with her new 35 millimeter in hand, her eyes assessing light and shadow, took only the pictures she wanted. Catherine had been envious of Susan’s patience, her clarity. Did she know about the Tunnels then? Is that where she learned her sure-sightedness? She must have—with no mother around, and her father being so involved…
Since the beginning…
Now, too involved…
Catherine faced the doctor and attempted to say what ought to be said.
“Peter, it’s a lovely room, but…”
Peter overrode her again. Of course he did. “No…now, I owe you.” He grasped her shoulders as if to try to make her listen.
She flinched at the gesture. (Why? This was Peter.)
His hands retreated down her shoulders to her upper arms, trying to comfort her before he continued. “I owe you because I should’ve let you tell Vincent about your blood.[ii] You weren’t some medical curiosity, you weren’t even the little girl I used to know, you were a patient and I should have treated you as such. I shouldn’t have blurted out what we’d found. I’ve thought long and hard about that.”
Catherine sighed, letting go of a grudge she hadn’t realized she was holding. All the changes within her because of what happened, because of the baby…
They were mine to tell.
Peter wasn’t without perception. He was right about the past, but that didn’t change the present.
“Thank you, Peter. You’ve been more than generous, but…” She pulled herself out of his embrace. “I’m afraid you don’t understand…”
He cut her off . “I don’t understand what type of trouble you’re in? Who might be looking for you? What Mr. Maxwell could do if he decides that Vincent’s too much of a liability?”
Catherine winced at the truth in his last question.
Peter placed his arm around her in a half hug that didn’t panic her, and for that, as much as the comforting gesture, she was truly thankful.
“Cathy, Jacob told me enough and the rest I can guess. You’ve survived a terrible ordeal. You’ve been so brave. What kind of friend to your parents, what type of doctor would I be, if I didn’t do everything in my power to help you?”
Peter finished and patted her arm in a gesture that reminded her of her father. She turned away with sudden tears, again, but the ache of his loss—just one year gone—staggered her. She missed the safety he represented. Even after the attack, even after she chose to find her own way, he always had a way of cheering her. Nothing was too serious in his company. She wiped the tears with quick brushes and tried to breathe the pain away.
She tried to distract herself and her jumping thoughts rested on the men below.
You girls always thought it would be so romantic to have two men fighting over you.
She could imagine her dad, leaning in the corner, arms crossed but with a finger pointing downstairs, chuckling at the irony. He loved a good joke.
Vincent’s and Joe’s voices drifted up the two stairways even to the back bedroom, although what they were saying was indistinct. Judging by what she was sensing from Vincent, they probably weren’t discussing the Yankees’ playoff chances.
The ghost in the corner felt the need to explain. They always did.
They’re frightened for you, Cathy, and who can blame them. You’ve got some tall trees to climb.
She nodded, and her acknowledgement banished the vision.
She would deal with the F.B.I. and the fallout of her last butchered case with the D.A. She would come back, and she and Vincent and the baby would move on. It didn’t matter that she was floating, breathless, a car with a gas pedal to the floor but no steering. It didn’t matter she was still seeing things, that there seemed less choosing and more ramming in her course. It didn’t matter at all. She would get this done.
End of story.
And they lived happily ever after…
“You can nurse the baby there,” Peter said, reminding her he was still in the room. He pointed out the padded armchair near the window. “I’ll have Vincent bring you a cup of tea.”
“Thank you, Peter.” She sighed, wishing for the time he wanted to give her. “But I doubt I’ll be here that long. Joe and I need to go soon.”
“All right, water then, doctor’s orders.” He shook his finger at her and then walked to the door.
He stopped and said aloud, although he could have been talking to himself. “I’ll send Vincent up with it. Sadly, I think the less time he spends with Mr. Maxwell, the better.”
Peter left, easing the door not quite shut in deference to sleeping baby Jacob. He needn’t have bothered. Banging pots wouldn’t have woken the warm bundle in the carrier.
Catherine walk-danced the baby over to the window that looked out on million-dollar homes on the impossibly bright, and, by New York standards, mostly clean street. Her childhood home hadn’t been far from here–few blocks down, a few blocks over—she walked it in her mind before presenting the infant to the sunlit world. He shut his eyes tighter, either attempting to cling to sleep or against the unaccustomed light of the day. Defeated, Catherine shook her head and shut the curtains.
The baby fluttered only a bit as she lifted him from the patched sling and laid him on the tall bed. She took the carrier off for Vincent’s eventual use, placing it next to the sleeping boy. His arms stretched up, but barely reached the top of his head. She undid his sweater, feather soft and ridiculously small under her fingers, and began to rub his belly.
“Jacob.” she singsong called, trying to wake him. She pulled off his socks. Like his sweater, they were unneeded in the warm room.
“Jacob…” she pestered again while she drew the sweater out from under him. He startled, but, obstinate, eased down, his arms slowly falling, sleep again overtaking him. She sighed and took off her now crumpled linen jacket and threw it on the bed.
“Jacob,” she said in a sterner tone, lifting him up and away from her, hoping the open air would work on him. “Your dining car is leaving on another track—last call for breakfast.”
He began stirring—drawing up his legs, raising his arms, uncoiling and twisting in a dramatic stretch—and Catherine seized the opportunity. She pulled him back into a one-armed hold, moved the throw to the bed, and sat in what proved to be a very cozy and well-sized chair. She readied the half-asleep baby for feeding, turning him inward and pulling his hands from his face. The buttons on the too-thin blouse were cheap and gave way easily through the holes. She prayed none popped open while she was out. She lifted the bra, centered the baby, and latched the half-interested child to her breast.
And then she had nothing to do but wait and hope.
She hoped that the baby didn’t spit up on her, or blow out his diaper on the one skirt she had. She hoped he didn’t cry too much when she left. She hoped the F.B.I. wouldn’t need her too long, that she could offer them just enough truths while keeping their secrets. She hoped her pantyhose held up. She hoped she brought no danger here.
The warm room, coupled with the already long morning by 8:30, and perpetual sleep deprivation, should have sent her to dozing as well, but tension bombarded her. She was wide awake because of her unease or Vincent’s—it was getting hard to distinguish.
She studied the barely nursing child in her arms while listening to the muted voices from the men below. These men in her life—Vincent, with his temper rising, Joe, tight and untrusting, and a baby boy who couldn’t understand the concept of an absent mother. They all loved her; they all needed her. Implicit and explicit promises were made, and she couldn’t shirk her responsibility to any of them.
The voices downstairs stopped. Vincent was coming to her.
“Catherine?” He nudged the door open with a tentative hand full of a heavy tumbler of ice water. On the other arm he held the pack with their things. She nodded for him to enter. He set the glass on the small table next to her and placed their bag on the bed. From within the leather and cloth satchel he retrieved the borrowed tan pumps that should have fit by the numbers, but bound her feet like a Chinese bride.
Vincent still wore his cloak. He was on edge, due to conversation with Joe, or because he was in Peter’s home during the day, or the situation—all, possibly. His nervousness quivered across their connection.
We are one.
“What did you and Joe talk about?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he walked over and knelt, head bowed, like a knight before a queen. At first, she had no idea what he was doing there. Then she felt his claws pulling the laces of her boots free—he did so in silence, his attention seemingly only on his task. Finally, he pulled the shoes of his world away so she could replace them with the ill-fitting ones of hers.
When she broke the quiet, she feared the quaking in her heart would travel to her throat.
“I forgot to change him before I started. He’ll wake up as soon as you try, and he isn’t nursing much. How are you going…”
Vincent overrode her. “Catherine, Peter and I will take care of Jacob. He will be fine, I promise, and we will be here when you return.”
How can he be so calm? He wasn’t seeing the whole picture. “What if someone follows me…”
“Catherine,” he said to quiet her, to remind her anxiety could upset the baby. “You will not return the same way, and the others will see you are not followed. It is…taken care of.” He emphasized his last words, meaning to say the matter was managed—and should be closed.
All right, Vincent, I’ll trust you. I’ll try to compromise…on this…
She looked down to the baby, who had fallen back asleep, probably still tired from the dreams they didn’t talk about.
“I can’t take him with me,” she said, her voice quiet and low in the intimate bedroom. They had discussed the possibility, but she had refused.
I won’t take him into that. The police, maybe reporters, maybe Gabriel’s men—there are too many factors we can’t see or predict. Someday, but not yet…
“I know I can’t take him…” she babbled. She knew she was babbling, teetering. “It’s…” She tried to explain the feeling that brought her close to breaking. “It’s just…I don’t know how to leave him either.”
Vincent, still kneeling before her, ran a hand along her skirt, smoothing it. “I know, Catherine.” He whispered her name as he always said it, like the beginning of a poem. “We are one,” he quietly asserted, his words echoing her thoughts.
“Yes.” She smiled in commiseration and recovered some control.
“We will be together again,” he promised, and she understood the words beneath. You have survived, you will survive, and so will we. I have to believe this.
“Your faith has kept me strong, Vincent.” She nodded, while with her free hand she pushed the hood back from his face. “Even when I doubted myself, ever since we met—you are my strength.”
And today is no exception.
“Cathy?” a voice from the hall called. Joe was right outside the door. Vincent stood up facing her, shielding her modesty while she dislodged the sleeping baby and straightened her clothes. Her husband then circled around the chair as she called Joe in.
Joe stood in the doorway, clearly taken aback by the picture they presented—Vincent standing over her and the baby, his hand on her shoulder, protecting them. Catherine didn’t know what Joe had expected, but obviously not this. He was uncomfortable, eyes darting to the floor and then to her feet, but not past.
Really, Joe? Is it so impossible…
Joe took a moment before speaking to the rug. “We..uh…have to get going if we want to get there by nine.”
A rush of defeated air escaped her as she nodded and stood. She turned to Vincent, stepped around the chair, and transferred the baby into his arms. Maybe she should have placed Jacob in the bassinet, but something inside her defied Joe’s unvoiced objections, wishing to shout with her actions—Vincent’s child…
“When you leave,” he said, looking only into her eyes, ignoring the other man in the room, “walk south down 2nd Avenue. A cab will meet you there.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Vincent,” she said, accepting, trusting in his plans.
She kissed the baby’s head, the wisps of his hair just touching her lips, while hoping against probable certainty the he would sleep through most of this, that it was an easy day for them.
Her last portrait of her family—her husband holding their son in a bright room, sunlit despite the curtains. Vincent looked out of place, and at a loss, but he would do this, just as she would. She loved him for his faith.
She couldn’t say, “I’ll see you soon.” It sounded too much like a hollow promise. Instead, she stood on her toes to reach his face. He tensed, vibrating in her hands, the single indication of the struggle he waged to let her go. He was using what she’d taught him to hide himself, his feelings, so she could do what was needed.
She kissed his rough cheek, inhaling his scent, holding onto the moment as long as she dared.
She pivoted away, grabbed the heels and her jacket and pitched forward down the stairs so fast it was closer to falling than running. If she looked back, if she slowed, the natural forces that tied her to Vincent and the baby would make leaving impossible. In the front hall, she regained some balance, tugged the shoes onto her feet then twisted the brass door knob open.
The sunlight hit her with a force that was almost physical, through her eyes and skin and into her brain, bringing on a sharp and instant headache. Her hand shot up for extra cover as she groped for the black painted handrail at the top of the outside steps. She could only stand there as her eyes tried to adjust. The intensity of the light, the tinge of warmth, said that despite the morning chill, she wouldn’t need her jacket by mid-afternoon…if they were done, if she saw the mid-afternoon.
Behind her, Joe’s quick feet echoed from inside the house, tapping down the stairs until he caught her on the front stoop. He slowed when he reached her.
“Here,” he said, slightly out of breath, pulling a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket, “I brought you these—thought you might need them.” His voice betrayed his disapproval, as if to say, you need these because you screwed up, you made the wrong decisions. She had never told him where she’d been hiding, but he started out at the D.A. as an investigator, just like her. He probably guessed how she was living, if not exactly where. That he was right didn’t reassure her at all.
Catherine regarded the backhanded gift Joe offered and couldn’t help but remember the last time she saw Lisa Campbell, hiding behind sunglasses, hiding her famous face from the world, running from her lover.
When all I want is to run back to mine…
She put on the glasses and started walking past the beautiful homes of the mostly residential street. Their window boxes were filled with the colors of early and costly flowers, while workers fixed things that probably weren’t broken purely for change’s sake. So much money, wasted…
She and Joe turned onto 2nd Avenue. Businesses replaced residences and, soon enough, New York consumed her. The rush hour of competing rhythms—clashing notes of store stereos, people yelling in languages she didn’t recognize, the pounding of hundreds of feet on pavement, the honking horns and sirens—and then the smells— cigarette smoke, warm bread, smog, cooking grease and diesel fumes. The sights—the buildings, traffic, bikes swerving too close to barreling cars, graffiti, the masses of people. After so much confinement, they hit her all at once. There were too many people—in suits, uniforms, men wearing shorts and headphones, oblivious to the world and cool weather, old women hiding under head scarves and layers of clothing, children running to school, their packs jumping up and down their backs with each footfall.
None of them noticed her and Joe. They all had their own concerns, their own lives. She watched them with a mixture of envy and pity. Most of them didn’t recognize the crime that surrounded them every day, everywhere, the water they didn’t realize they were swimming in.
There were too many people. She scanned rather than saw them, assessing for danger while the city rumbled and raced, alive and vibrant in a way it never was before being locked away from it.
New York wasn’t one city. It was a hundred, a thousand, maybe a million, a city for each resident, all running parallel, ignoring the others when possible. It was deafeningly loud, visually crushing, fume-filled, and garbage-ridden, and, above all, jaded.
With her new yet weary eyes, she saw the truth—a disturbing one for the cherished daughter, the crusading A.D.A., but for the girl who climbed trees to escape the world, for the woman who fought to be nothing and no one, it was strangely consoling: New York didn’t know she was alive. It was uncompromising, uncaring, aloof, and relentless, and if this was all going to work, that’s exactly what she needed it to be.