“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time…” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
First light, and Hallie is coming down the stairs. I hear her footsteps as she pads her way along the dark hallway and into to our room.
“Da?” she asks, standing expectantly at my side. I look up at her solemn face, then lift the covers and she crawls in. “Da,” she whispers again, exhaling as she cuddles back down into sleep.
Raising the blinds, I see snow. First of the year, more than expected and still falling. Hallie supplants me, cuddling into Amy as I head upstairs into the hesitant glow of a stalled sunrise.
Showered and dressed, stepping outside is a release. Everything a little brighter, a little fresher. The snow is untouched and the garbage cans are frosted white. The sky, however, broods. A gunmetal, end-of-the-world gray, more twilight than dawn. Even the snow is lifeless, finding too little light to sparkle.
At Family Corner, Jen clocks me at the door, “What up Bell?”
“Nothing much. How are you”
“Morning Derek,” shouts George, moving fast over the carry-out orders.
My spirits rise.
“Egg and cheese,” she asks?
“Yes please, and medium coffee, skim milk.”
“No, no sugar.” But as she turns I reconsider, “I’m sorry, yeah, one sugar would be great.”
The cup is warm, and I bask in the flow – the gentle banter, and the comfort of having a place here.
“Egg and Cheese?” George is looking at me, eyebrows raised.
He tosses it over, rings me up and I’m on my way.
The snow’s turning to rain. Sipping my coffee, I move fast, making it to the train relatively dry. Up the steps and onto the platform, I’m just in time to watch a train pull away.
I walk back to the farthest reaches of the roof, lean against the large metal storage bin and take in the view – my neighborhood from west to east. The great arch of Hellgate Bridge, rising from the railroad tracks as they make their way over the river before bending north to Harlem, The Bronx and New England; the smoke stacks at Con Ed and their rising steam, cotton on slate.
The tenements climb Crescent Street, and the steeple of Immaculate Conception stands over it all. Buildings fall away to the east, and the sky grows large over the Steinway factory. A jet takes off from LaGuardia and I follow it until, magically, it’s gone. Vanished into the mist.
The train arrives and the car is warm. Stepping in, I take my favorite seat. Lulled by the rain, I unwrap my sandwich and look out toward the city. And suddenly I see myself swimming in a vast, unfathomable ocean, and realize that I need to go deeper. More a feeling than a thought, I’m not sure what this means.
The train begins to move.
Making its way through Queens, small flocks of black parkas clamor for seats at every stop until, finally, we begin the slow turn toward Queensboro, arcing toward the city like the grande dame of all rollercoasters, sweeping into view the 59th Street bridge and the skyline beyond. Gravity takes hold and we plunge into the station, pausing briefly for the requisite running back and forth, before continuing on, down to the streets and further still, out of the rain and into the darkness.