She'd walked these streets so many times.
Sometimes slowly, taking in the apartments along each block as they moved from utilitarian buildings to grand terraces. Sometimes quickly, dodging and weaving between the other pedestrians on the sidewalk; looking mostly at the concrete, or dashing out in front of yellow cabs, but not taking in her surrounds.
The sounds of the city washing over her. The various vehicles and people clamouring to be heard, but all of the sounds merging into a cacophonous melody that threatened to overwhelm her.
She'd meandered down long avenues of brownstones, wondering about the people who lived within their walls. Coveting their homes, their lives. She strolled through the Park watching the couples. Some engaged in affectionate banter, some in excessive displays of public affection, others bickering and verging on violence, if only in words.
She walked rapidly along the back streets at night, neon lighting up the rain-soaked streets; her head down, but her senses charged and alert for any potential threats.
She'd skipped quickly down the Subway stairs, making a beeline to the platform. Careful not to brush against others if she could avoid it. Focussed on where she was going and avoiding all eye contact.
Her lips and tongue competed with the sun to consume ice creams in the sweltering summer. If the sun won, she would only get the benefit of half of the icy treat. If she won, it would be some insurance against the fatigue the heat brought with it, but it would be scarce protection against the trickle of sweat that would wend its way down her spine, and no protection at all against the cling of her blouse to her skin.
She would gaze up at the skyscrapers, marvelling at the engineering. Admire their sparkle and shimmer in the sunlight, despite despising the ostentation and arrogance of their blocking out the sun.
She watched diners in the prestigious restaurants self-consciously ensuring they were being watched behind the floor-to-ceiling windows. Pinched women with tiny fluffy dogs on the end of leads or stowed in their handbags.
She circled the Square. Watched the advertisements a storey and more tall attempt to sell her a lifestyle she could never afford and probably didn't want anyway.
She visited with Travis, Susan, Patti and Carrie.
She absorbed the art oozing from the streets. Lurked in underpasses. Experienced clubs and bars and cafes, and listened to the music pour out of every orifice. Out of a basement record store. A passing car. A strip club. A busker on a street corner singing Simon and Garfunkel off-key.
She counted her way across intersections. Marking city blocks until she reached the intersection of First Avenue and 42nd Street. She only knew which way the sun would set by the Es and Ws on the street signs; and how far north or south she was by the number of the street.
As she walked through the streets taking in the modern buildings and street scenes, her mind flashed back to the 1970s and ‘80s. The memories of these places stowed deep in her mind from so much exposure. She heard the echos of stock market crashes and organised crime.
All of these visions and sounds washed over her. She lost herself in the moment completely.
For a moment she lost herself so completely that she forgot where she was. And then she remembered.
She remembered that she wasn't where she thought she was. In fact, she had never been there. She had never walked those streets. She had never smelled those smells; heard those sounds; seen that flash of yellow as the cab passed by. Never done her duck-and-weave trick through a sidewalk of people ten-deep between the shopfronts and the kerb.
She'd simply shared a collective dream. Tasted the concoctions and potions of the City mixed together by some of the best filmmakers and writers over the years.
Her memories were poor imitations of their realities. Their stories of a city that never sleeps. Of a city on the edge. Of people on mean streets on a dog day afternoon. Of a Broadway, a Manhattan, a Central Park and a Brooklyn she'd never stepped foot in.
She'd never smelled the Subway on a sweltering hot day. She'd never raised her voice to be heard over the clamour of car horns in the centre of the city at peak hour. She'd never stood on the 102nd floor and gazed out over the city.
She'd never climbed out an apartment window to sit on the landing of a fire escape and swung her legs back and forth whilst indulging in witty repartee with a friend over a bottle of fine wine or a cheap bottle of beer.
The sign above her, not yet illuminated in the afternoon haze of a warm spring day, spelling out the name of a place everyone dreamed of going to 'make it', was about as close to the Big Apple as she had ever managed to be.
Her eyes swept down from the sign to take in the flashing lights and squawking sounds of the arcade behind it. The children attempting to claw soft toys from the machines, and buffeting a puck back and forth in air hockey.
The sign overhead and the ‘Zoltar’ machine spitting out fortunes for a pound were about as close as she would get to New York for now.
[This project is being published as early access on my Patreon. If you want to enjoy new instalments a week before everyone else, become a patron].