I think of Manhattan, New York, as I put my daughter to sleep. I think of ascending the face of a building, like paper caught in an exchange of air. My thoughts are blockish, grey. Patterned into the tight, potent space between buildings.
I lie next to my daughter. Her sharp fingernails pincer my skin. Holding on to the day. I let my breath drift into her ear like the silence of snow. And snowflakes scud down a New York sky to dissolve in orange-lit gutters.
I think of the dome of Grand Central Station. How cold marbled into its walls and commuters pushed into the rocking subway. A rocking that wraps my arms around my daughter’s body and soothes her under. We are beneath the black trench coat I wore. And she was not there.
I think of reasons why I would remember a city. Each one is extracted from the moorland. How it presses up to the window. I enquire into the stale noise at the back of my head. Why are you thinking of Manhattan, New York? But an owl weeps outside and I cannot shush it out. If I placed the owl under the wheels of a New York yellow taxi, feathers and fine bones and blood would mess into the orange-lit gutter.
My daughter found a barn owl caught in barbed wire, but that was here. Against a drystone wall. The duvet cover is buttoned with shell and feathers cluster into a corner. Sweet, sweet, says my daughter, and chews at my cheek.
Sheep wool caught on reeds is not Manhattan, New York. Nor the dank smell of mist and how it holds drips of water. Nor the spooling of mist into thin threads of yarn that rest on snow-fleeced hills. But I take a knitting needle and punch the dark into the same design of lights I saw at night from the top of the Rockefeller building.
My daughter’s knees press into my hip as I look out over all of Manhattan, New York, and let a soundless laugh fall from my mouth to the ground.
An exhibition at The Bowery Gallery: slapped brush strokes, structural lines, the vertigo of white rooms. Feet hushing on poured concrete, unpaired. Heads turning. Lips whispering approval. My daughter’s toes twitch. It is the first sign of her letting go. Does she think of a place as she falls asleep? Filled with pictures, and rooms, as I do.
The corridor lets in an angle of light and falls on a fact: sixteen years ago, I was in Manhattan, New York. And there were edges. Definition. A grid. I see myself walking from above. I was not cut into pieces. I could push every part of myself along in one straight line. There are no streets like that here.
My daughter is asleep. Her little fingers are hot and twisted in mine.
In Manhattan, New York, difference was a garment against my skin. Expensive and rare. I allowed my accent to plume into coffee shops. Like the fragrant smoke from a thin, black cigar. Now there is nothing about me that is different. And I have nothing to speak about. Nothing I could say about concrete shrapnel falling from the sky, and people covered in dust. I have my daughter, next to me, asleep.
And when I lift out of my body and allow myself to hang like a stretched cloud in the troposphere, caught silver by the moon, I see a mother in Manhattan, New York. She thinks of a house among moorland. Of a gaping green without end.
Lydia Gill is a writer and vocational carer, living in the North York Moors. She is a Writer’s Block North East mentee and a Northern Short Story Festival Academy Writer.