When they’d exhausted the stories of first loves, naughty escapades, personal tragedies, a silence fell. And that was the most unsettling thing. Not the lack of anything to say, not the certainty that there were no certainties tonight. No, it was the silence. It was wrong. Illogical; threatening.
The worst hurricane to make landfall in the States in one hundred years. The Frankenstorm. The furious, cross-current crazy weather system, posing an inestimable threat to life on the eastern coast. And yet the trees outside the window were still. The air was still.
They stuck their hands, their heads out of the window. Once, twice, three times. Still nothing. They knew that buildings were burning nearby. Children were screaming, cars were swimming drunkenly down swollen streets and a building they’d seen three hours ago now stood naked, its front ripped off. A monstrous electrical explosion had turned out the lights on most of the island.
The stillness outside their window must be a mistake.
Eventually, they went outside. ‘Do not leave your homes,’ the newsreaders had instructed, before the power went down. Vivid graphic-straps punched orders across the screens. Do not leave. Call 911 only in an emergency. Expect power outages. Take shelter on upper floors.
There was a party in the lobby. Two men with gin and tonics; a jolly security guard. ‘Meh,’ they shrugged. ‘Pathetic. Nothing going on out there. It’s a nice evening!’
The air outside was speckled with rain but still. Pleasant, almost. It was dark, but everywhere there were small lights, torches, candles, mobile phones. New York was out. Dogs were being walked. Children were playing quietly in the dark. A store stood open, unbothered by the monster nearby. It was lit by candles; people chatted by the till about rents and bosses and insurance as they waited to pay for their cookies and crisps.
They rounded the corner onto Seventh Avenue and gasped. America. About twenty blocks away. The Dream. Bright lights eating hungrily into the ink-black sky; flashing neon and twinkling stars. Times Square was awake, switched on and open for business. The stretch of Seventh Avenue leading up to it was a apocalyptic. Outlines of black buildings faintly silhouetted against an even blacker sky. But then this: an explosion of defiant light and strange energy.
They stared. It was almost too much to take in. They felt small, and they felt confused.
Eventually they returned to their apartment and slept. None of this made sense.
It didn’t make sense the next morning, either. The city was both dead and alive. Busy and inert.
Night fell again.