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The Ones that Remained

The door swung easily out into the street, and Ethan Routledge had his hands on his collar, ready to flip it up to protect against the cold. It turned out to be unnecessary. By the time he had actually gotten the nerve up to get dressed and get out of there, the weather had become much more tolerable. The bite to his face made him clench his teeth but it was exaggerated for the most part as Ethan walked down Broadway towards the Lafayette Avenue stop.

His spirit, unclouded by the awkward finality of the scene not five minutes ago, was high. He was still riding a soft beer buzz, despite the long pause in her bed between the end of the make-out session and his leaving, and he knew that soon he would be back in his warm room, finally able to smoke that bowl he’d been trying to fit in since ten o’clock, when his shift ended. The blackness was starting to lift from the eastern rim of the horizon now and Ethan, peering through the bodega windows, figured that if he happened to see a clock it would probably be close to five in the morning. His scratched eyes fixed on the subway entrance at the end of the block. He was weary, but highly alert. His backpack rose and fell from his back gently, without argument, following his bounce. The restaurant neons were mostly off. Ethan noted the waning influence of the ones that remained.

The first thing that hit him when as he descended the staircase was the spread of wet cardboard placed at the first landing. There were four pieces, more or less in a square, kicked about somewhat by the stream of snowy boots and shoes from the overnight. They were blackening and limp, but purposeful in their patience and sturdiness. Ethan ended up stepping on one or more of them, he supposed, as he strode towards the next set of stairs, thinking about the time they all came up this same stairway, dragging their amps, to play their audition gig at CBGB’s. The stop to Bleeker Street and Margaret Sanger Square. The loaded perception in each step. The revenge, and the waiting.

He thought about scratching at his beard as he put his MetroCard back in his wallet and returned his wallet to his back pocket. He would have to shave for sure, soon, probably tomorrow, probably after the laundry, and all that. His premonitions swam in bleated optimism. Maybe you can go home again, he thought. Maybe it’s never too late. He thought of the clichés, thinking about the fact that the reason they were clichés was because people said them over and over, and people must’ve said them over and over again because they fit. Did they fit because they were true? (the clock, with an illuminated dentist advertisement next to it, asks Ethan to trust it that it is ten to six) Maybe it was that we weren’t giving the clichés enough credit. Cliché does not equal false (necessarily). He can’t believe he’s still in love with the ex. He can’t believe it would ever become this true, this obvious, this immediate, this fast. This obvious!

Distractions hanging by the wayside and somewhat relevant though dismissed for the moment, Ethan looked down the track to see the B-train peeking its head around the corner. He was glad to leave and glad he had explained to her the deal, more or less, as he could, the best he could. He didn’t think he’d have to see this new one again, at least not under any kind of pretense of a possible relationship. He tapped his coat pocket and felt the pack of cigarettes he’d bought before going upstairs with her, foolishly believing he’d be able to smoke freely in a non-smoker’s apartment. Her roommate’s boyfriend smoked. That’s why they had ashtrays. But it was all kind of suspect to him, something off about the whole thing. They had no history, and he was absolved by that knowledge.

He knew, once he registered that on his trip home he’d have to either take the B or the D, whichever came first, that he’d get to see the river and therefore at least the beginnings of the sunrise, from the suspension under the Williamsburg bridge. But it didn’t prepare him for the profundity of it. He got out of his seat as the train passed over the river to see the sky cut in two, a purple-red cushion horizon spread out over Queens. What he’d seen, on the opposite side of the river, when he lived there, not all that long ago, was thrust into him, a reverse of the color of the thing, making him think photographic negative. He wanted to laugh, but didn’t. Ever respectful of the moment. He looked around. There were a couple of quiet people in the car, minding their own business. A woman with her back turned to Ethan read a paperback, oblivious. The train stopped at DeKalb Avenue; two people at the far end of the car got out. The passengers, the ones that remained, looked up from their collective selves in unison to assess the situation. The bell that preceded the closing of the doors was louder than normal; it rang shrilly through the car, whose air had gotten very still and cold after a few hours of harsh weather and light human traffic during the overnight. The car, then, rumbled on.

And just like that he was off the train, which had gone local in Brooklyn, allowing him to get off at the stop closer to his apartment. The cold was a bit more affecting, a factor of his own desire to get home, in the warmth (he knew it’d be warm), working off the knowledge that he was so close. He laughed it off and decided to get a cup of coffee and maybe a bagel, maybe the paper, at Jimmy’s, which would surely be open already. It wasn’t out of his way at all, really, so he couldn’t consider this act to be standing up to the cold, but its importance was largely symbolic in his mind anyway. So he could perceive it as such.

He’d use it as a primer for real life. Now that he’d more or less made up his mind, more or less made up his mind on the love thing.

He entered the deli and shook Jimmy’s hand. “Let me get the biggest cup of coffee you’ve got, Jimbo.”

“Sure thing,” Jimmy said. He spoke with a soupy Greek accent that gave his words a slurred tint. “No sugar.”

“Right, just milk. And,” Ethan said, pointing, “A paper.”

“Where you come from? You just get home?”

Ethan nodded. “I was out with a woman tonight.”

Jimmy firmed his lip and nodded his eyes back at Ethan. “That’s right, that’s the place to be when you’re young.”

“It’s just for amusement these days,” Ethan said, content with the image of a cigarette just outside the doors, before the toasty warm of the apartment.

“You’re young, have yourself some fun,” Jimmy said, and Ethan agreed silently and left with his coffee and his paper and a slice of pound cake. The weather was bearable again, a pleasant surprise and a good indicator, Ethan thought, a good indicator or things to come. Changes in the atmosphere, changes in the pressure.

The understood need to go on. It didn’t mean, though, taking it literally, the understood need to go on with one’s life. Like, getting past something. Just, the understood need to go on. He’d been writing that in his journal. I’m going on, I’m going on, on, going on, etc. Ad infinitum? It wasn’t going to give up that last part of the statement, it wasn’t going to let anyone assume that. Ethan knew the words better than that.

He came home and it was warm, as expected, and he passed out without setting his alarm clock. He didn’t care, apparently, that he wouldn’t wake up until six in the evening, the next day. No, sir.

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