Shithole, she’s thinking, probably. Marie watches as her mother takes careful steps around the small dorm room. Her mother wouldn’t dare let her pristine clothing be touched by anything in there. Marie had spent hours cleaning to make it look presentable for them. Every piece of furniture dusted, every book straightened, each piece of clothing from the floor thrown into the closet. Her father stands in the doorway, arms crossed, taking in his surroundings. Two beds, two desks, and a small window. Shithole, he’s thinking, probably.
Marie walks over to the window and opens the blinds revealing a New York City street. Tall buildings with Christmas lights hanging from balconies. People in their coats walk by as tiny snowflakes start to fall. Her mother joins her to examine the view. Her father finally steps inside the room.
“Not much of a view, but it could be worse,” Marie says. When she first moved in, she thought that this was the greatest sight she had ever seen. How many people get to see a glimpse of New York City from their dorm room window? Now, she can see what her parents see. Historical buildings turn into trashy, old ones, and New Yorkers living their lives into rude strangers. Marie closes the blinds halfway and steps away from the window.
After looking around, her mother nods and then gives Marie a half-smile, the smile that says she’s hiding what she really thinks. She takes another slow look around the room. Her father swipes a finger across the desk checking for dust.
“It’s so… quaint,” her mother says. Marie smiles, trying to take that as a compliment. Marie can’t blame her for her reaction. The woman has a status to uphold. “But, you know, a change of pace is always nice,” she continues. Her father nods.
That’s something Marie can actually agree with. She has traded boring dinner parties for a loud cafeteria and Saturday tennis matches for Saturday study sessions. There’s no unspoken competition to be better than the person standing next to you. She’s good enough here.
“So, NYU doesn’t give you a private bathroom? I think Audrey got one as a first year at Harvard,” her father says. Ten minutes without mentioning Marie’s sister. Audrey is three years older than Marie. Her early acceptance letter to Harvard was featured on the 2018 family Christmas card. Their father was the first in his family to go to college, and it was Harvard, at that. Marie’s acceptance to NYU didn’t make the cut last year.
“You’re right, she did. I also don’t remember Audrey’s being so small,” her mother chimes in. She should’ve known. Three hours of cleaning just for judgy stares and snarky comments. But not even one genuine compliment or somewhat positive facial expression?
“Well, we’d better get back to the hotel. Get some rest for tomorrow,” her father says. Both Marie and her mother nod in agreement. After a short goodbye, Marie closes her door behind them. As soon as she does, she takes a long-awaited deep breath. She sits at her desk and opens her laptop. At least that’s out of the way now, but that wasn't the hard part.
Marie’s door opens again. This time, it’s her roommate, Jess. Jess’s bright blue hair makes Marie’s dull brown hair look even duller. Jess’s confidence and Marie’s quietness balance the other out perfectly. And Jess actually cares about Marie’s interests. She listens to rants about books and finds quiet places in the cafeteria. Jess somehow knows what she’s thinking even when she isn’t saying anything.
“So?” Jess says as she flops down onto her bed. Jess patiently waits for Marie to look up from her laptop. Marie keeps typing, then shrugs.
“They were only slightly disgusted. She called it quaint,” Marie says, showing Jess a sarcastic smile. Jess scoffs. “I have no idea where to bring them tomorrow.” The clock is already ticking. She needs them to stay at least until tomorrow night, and they’re not above leaving early. Marie looks at Jess for an answer. Jess answers at once like she knew Marie would ask.
“Just choose your favorite place and that’s where we’ll go. If they don’t like it, then that’s their own fault,” Jess says. Marie had told Jess all about them. About how judgmental they are, how snooty, how conceited. Now Jess gets annoyed with them each time they’re mentioned despite having never met them. It’s nice to have someone on her side for once.
Marie nods. Tomorrow has to count.
Marie waits on the steps next to the huge columns of the building’s entrance. The morning sun isn’t warm enough yet to melt the thin sheet of snow on the ground. Marie hugs herself trying to stay warm. She’s hoping the weather will get better later. But right now, each gust of wind stings her face. Jess sits on the steps next to Marie, her head in her hands. They’re thirty minutes late. When Marie finally sees her parents walking up, she taps Jess’s shoulder. First impressions matter. Jess shoots up just in time.
Her parents somehow look more miserable than they did the day before. Her mother is bundled up in a coat and a scarf, her arms crossed and her face sporting the ever-present frown. She despises the cold. Her father walks alongside her mother. Every few seconds he looks at her, just waiting for the impending complaints.
Marie had decided to bring them to the New York Public Library, where she’s spent countless hours just browsing the shelves alone or studying with Jess. It’s a beautiful change of scenery in a busy city. She’ll get an hour here today, if that. When her parents make it up to Marie and Jess, they walk right past them for the door.
“It’s freezing,” her mother says as they dart by. Marie still stares out at the street. Couples holding hands. Shopping bags filled with Christmas presents. Jess touches Marie’s arm. Marie takes a deep breath, and the pair finally head inside.
“This is my roommate Jess. Jess, these are my parents,” Marie says. Jess smiles and holds out her hand. Her mother raises her eyebrows at the blinding bright blue hair. Her father shakes Jess’s hand firmly.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he says. Cordial.
“This is where we are most afternoons,” Marie says. Her parents nod, taking in their surroundings. Marie leads the group through the halls. The library looks more like a cathedral. Tall ceilings, paintings lining the walls, and a heavenly mural on the ceiling. The first time she came here, Marie marveled at the paintings for at least an hour while Jess intently listened to Marie’s interpretations. Her parents don’t take more than a few seconds to glance at each one. Tacky, they must be thinking.
Marie wastes no time and takes them straight to her favorite part of the entire building, the Rose Main Reading Room. It's a large room with dozens of tables and chairs in the center with shelves and shelves of books lining the walls. Even now, the room entrances her.
Marie glances at her mother. The frown prevails and her eyes are bored. Then at her father. He looks around the room, but not because he’s in awe. More like he’s trying to find the exit sign. Her mother could tell her about the most astonishing library she visited in France. Her father had probably spent his time studying at Harvard in libraries three times this size with five times as many books. Of course this place wouldn’t work.
“Isn’t it so nice? This is our favorite place in the city,” Jess says, breaking the silence and staring at Marie’s parents. Marie holds her breath. Her mother just tilts her head at Jess and her father continues to look around. Her mother shrugs and then corrects herself with a nod.
“It’s very pretty. Is it always this crowded?”
“Actually, no,” Jess says without missing a beat. Her mother raises an eyebrow, unconvinced. At least Jess tried. Marie thinks of telling them a story to interest them in the place. Or in her. About how one time she stayed in the reading room so long that she didn’t realize the library was closing until a staff member tapped her on the shoulder. Or the time she and Jess almost got kicked out for laughing too loudly. But she doesn’t. She can hear their voices saying disrespectful and impolite.
The more yawns and judgmental glances that come from her parents, the more Marie wants to leave. The tall ceilings just get shorter and the people in the paintings stare at her. She finally leads them all out of the library and they all say a quick goodbye to Jess. Marie watches as the blue hair gets farther and farther. Only one more place to take them before tonight. Last chance.
The park is just as serene as the library, an escape from the city. Trees coated in snow surround them. Friends laugh as they pass by. People walk their dogs. Parents watch their small children play in the snow. People-watching in Central Park is Jess and Marie’s favorite pastime.
Marie and her parents find the bench with the least snow sitting on it. Marie sits on the far edge and her parents on the other. Her mother rubs her hands together, trying to generate any kind of warmth. Her father puts his arm around her. He sighs, annoyed. Not at his wife but at the weather. Marie can’t control the weather.
“Marie, how can you stand to be out here?” her mother says. Marie shrugs. It’s not like she isn’t cold. She definitely is. Maybe she’s just used to it. “We should go back to the hotel.” Her mother stands up. Why did Marie even bother?
“We can just keep walking around, that should warm us,” her father says. That makes Marie look up. Her mother shakes her head. She knows what’s best. Marie and her father lock eyes. He’s trying. Please try. He turns back to his wife.
“It shouldn’t be that–” he starts. She cuts him off without speaking. Just her stare. He nods. Nothing but silence. He’s deciding whether to fight back or not. Her stare is strong. He sighs. “How about we just reconvene later?” her father says finally. Her mother nods immediately. Time’s up.
“Yeah, go warm up,” Marie says. She looks out at the park. A young mother and her daughter in the distance try to catch snowflakes in their mouths, laughing as they fail.
“We can call you later to meet up or something,” her mother says. Marie nods but her parents walk away before they see her answer. Marie sits in the middle of the now empty bench.
She almost feels guilty. They hate New York City. If Audrey had shown them her NYU dorm room, they would've fawned over it. If they had gone to the library on their own, they would’ve stayed there for hours. If anyone except Marie would’ve taken them to Central Park, they would’ve taken a nice, relaxing walk. But the dorm room is Marie’s dorm room and the library is Marie’s library and the park is Marie’s park. But this is nothing new.
Marie doesn’t notice the tears on her face until they reach her chin. She wipes them away. She sits alone in the middle of Central Park as it snows. An hour and a half goes by without her noticing. That is, until her phone rings.
“Hey, your mother really isn’t feeling very well. I think it’s this weather,” her father says. Marie already knows where this is going. Maybe it’s for the better. “I moved our flight up to early tomorrow morning, so we’re going to stay in tonight.” He almost sounds disappointed. But how can he be expected to choose Marie? “You didn’t have anything planned already, did you?”
She pauses, but she already knows what she’s going to say. A blue bird flies and lands on a tree in front of her. If they can’t stand to be around Marie, then they don’t get to be around her.
Hours later, the sky is dark, and Rockefeller Center is full of people. It’s night, but somehow the air feels warmer than before. Marie stands in the crowd on her tiptoes searching over the crowd. Finally, she sees Jess’s blue hair. Marie waves to her over the crowd. Jess won’t bring with her any judgements or expectations. Marie can just be.
As soon as Jess reaches her, she hugs Marie. There’s no room to do this, but she does it anyway. Jess doesn’t let go until Marie does. She hadn’t been able to tell Jess about the rest of the day yet, but she didn't need to. Marie checks the time on her phone.
“With two minutes to spare!” Marie says. Jess laughs and they both look in the direction the crowd is facing.
A dark 80-foot-tall tree sits in front of the crowd. There’s a barely visible outline of a star at the top of it. Everyone in the crowd, including Marie and Jess, feels the anticipation. Every face is smiling, including Marie’s for the first time today. The countdown starts.
Five, four, three, two, one. All at once, the star on top of the tree lights up bright white and thousands of colorful lights cover the tree. As Marie watches the tree with Jess’s hand in hers, the reflection of the colorful lights sparkles in her eyes.
About the Author:
Madelyn Furman is an English writing major at McNeese State University. When she’s not
reading or writing, you can find her playing guitar or finishing a crochet project.