Today, I am pleased to start off the blog tour for The Room by the Lake by Emma Dibdin, the claustrophobic tale of an impressionable young woman who has been drawn into a cult. My review can be found here, but I am really happy to share an extract with you!
Caitlin never meant to stay so long. But it’s strange how this place warps time. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, it’s easy to forget about the world outside.
It all happened so fast. She was lonely, broke, about to give up. Then she met Jake and he took her to his ‘family’: a close-knit community living by the lake. Each day she says she’ll leave but each night she’s back around their campfire. Staring into the flames. Reciting in chorus that she is nothing without them.
But something inside her won’t let go. A whisper that knows this isn’t right. Knows there is danger lurking in that quiet room down by the lake…
New York, new start, New York, new start, I repeat to myself like a slogan as the 1 train screeches hard around a bend. It’s not rush hour but the subway is still full, horizontal sardines packed together from Penn Station onwards, and I wonder whether anyone on board can tell that I have no destination. Here for the ride.
I stay on until the very last stop, watching the carriage grow gradually empty, and at Van Cortlandt Park I cross over the platform and wait for a train back downtown. A roundtrip, one end of the line to the other. And why not? The subway is soothing, the 123 line in particular because it has electronic screens listing when the next train is coming, and I like my environment to be predictable. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tackle the 2 train, all the way from the Bronx down to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn, its distance mind-boggling even when scaled down to fit onto an MTA map. The subway is cheap, after all, and I’m broke.
The platform is deserted, and it strikes me I’m a very long way from anywhere. This is the Bronx, unchartered territory for a tourist, and though my surroundings look leafy and harmless maybe going to the end of the line was a bad idea. Maybe something will happen to me here.
I know that in thinking this I’m only echoing my cab driver from JFK, who whiled away the drive with ominous nuggets like ‘girl like you should watch your back in the city’ and ‘whatever you do, don’t go east of Prospect Park’ and ‘nothing good happens past a hundred and tenth’. Right before he forced me to write down his number and told me to call him if I got lonely.
Nothing happens to me in the Bronx. Nothing happens to me on the train back downtown, and when I finally emerge at South Ferry I feel deflated, robbed of the false purpose that roundtrip gave me.
I need a job. After putting it off for as long as I could, this morning I finally sat down cross-legged on my hotel quilt and counted my remaining cash, crumpled dollar bills laid out corner-to-corner like a bleak mosaic. Adding up the cash with the figure on the ATM receipt, I have enough to get me through another two weeks, if I eat only two meals a day and don’t run up any more $60 tabs in moments of ostentatious desperation. I spent last night in a sparse midtown bar, the kind of place that seems sleek and empty even at its most crowded, feeling like this was the thing to do as a single girl alone in New York. Getting steadily more drunk, half-hoping that one of the sharp-suited Wall Street types would make a move, half-terrified of the same.
If one of them did buy me a drink and take me back to a high-rise apartment that feels closer to cloud than ground, the kind that envelops you in space and silence, I could stay the night and maybe stay forever, and my memory of home would fade like the street noise below, just faint enough to be soothing.
But nobody approached me, and I wandered back to my no-frills solo-traveller-friendly hotel at the very tip of downtown Manhattan, and watched Good Will Hunting on Netflix until I fell into five hours of twitchy sleep.
And now I have a stack of CVs and a head full of caffeine, and I’m trying to get a job against the odds. I have thought none of this through.
‘You Australian?’ the barista asks. She’s chubby in that uniquely wholesome, self-confident American way, the kind of girl who could say ‘There’s just more of me to love,’ with a straight face. She wears a name badge that tells me she’s Marcie.
‘English,’ I answer. People always guess Australian. My accent morphs involuntarily when I’m in America, probably betraying my desperation to belong.
‘Cool. We’re actually not hiring right now, they just made cutbacks.’
‘Yeah,’ Marcie shrugs. ‘But I’m still here, so.’
Take a look at the rest of the blogs on the tour:
With thanks to Clare Gordon and Head of Zeus for arranging the blog tour.