Ellie Rue Has Miles and More Miles Still to Go

The next morning the buzzer jolted Ellie Rue awake. That the buzzer worked was a miracle. Hump was snoring. They were both fully clothed. She smiled at his big face. The buzzer went off again. Eyes squinting and with an outstretched arm balancing herself along the walls, she stumbled to the buzzer. Leaning in and pushing the listen button. Through the crackling sound she recognized Hector’s voice.

“Come down, something happened to your…crrrrhhahhh…”

Ellie Rue pulled away from the buzzer and went to the kitchen. She splashed water on her face at the sink and leaned out the window. It was early and still quiet outside.

“Whaaaaat?” Ellie Rue yelled.

Hector was standing in the middle of the street, looking up to her apartment on the fourth floor. She leaned out of the window. His Tweety Bird T-shirt hung loosely on his lanky frame. Hector was short and wiry, skittish and birdlike in high-top sneakers. Tweety looked as if the bird was yelling up to her. She leaned farther out the window to see what Hector was pointing at. The parking sign in front of the building was bent at an angle like the iconic photograph of the Iwo Jima flagpole. Instead of a cluster of soldiers leaning into it, there was a mangle of crumpled metal twisted around the base.

“Shit, that’s my bike!” Ellie Rue said, pulling herself back into the window.

She heard Hump stirring in the bedroom.

“Where are you, Ellie Rue?” he said.

Ellie Rue walked very slowly. Her head felt like something was crunching her brain stem. A vague recollection of shots of rum at the end of the night was like flashbulbs going off somewhere behind her aching third eye. She took her time going back to Hump and kneeled down on the mattress.

“Did you sleep okay? I have to go downstairs. You can hang out. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“You might want to change out of the sequins,” Hump said.

Ellie Rue was still in her leotard from the night before. Hector yelled from the street.

“Yo! You coming down?”

From a pile of laundry, she pulled out a pair of crumpled capris and a camisole and put them on, taking off the leotard without getting naked in front of Hump. To counter her raging bad breath, she swilled a shot of mouthwash. The bike was the Valkyrie she rode navigating in and out of the neighborhood. Coming and going from the block, she careened through the streets.

She ran down the four flights and near the bottom slipped on a worn marble stair. The momentum sent her smack into a neighbor’s door. She heard the tenant, Evangeline, scream and drop something to the floor with a crash. Her young son Benjamin started crying.

“Whooooo’s there?” Evangeline yelled from inside.

Up against the door Ellie Rue was face-to-face with stickers of Ernie and Bert. She spoke into Bert’s yellow face.

“Sorry, I hit the door by accident; it’s Ellie Rue from upstairs.”

She waited a moment, but no further voice came, and the door remained closed. A woozy cloud of rum ghosted up her esophagus.

In front of the building, Hector was wrestling with the twisted bike. The battered blue beauty had been a gift from Telemachus, the Argentine mime, after he attended one of the Siren of Sleaze shows. She had graciously accepted the bike, falling in love with his accent and practical knowledge of carpentry. He was rather moody and depressed, had a trust fund, and broke up with her rather suddenly when she used the wrong fork at a dinner party thrown by his rich aunt, who had a creepy crush on her nephew. When all was said and done, she refused to give him the bike when he asked for it back. It was a gift, she explained, and changed the lock.

Down on the street the heat from the sidewalk came through her flip-flops, comforting her aching bunions, which she had tortured the night before wearing spike heels for the performance at Danceteria with the Sirens. She flexed her warming toes in front of the bicycle, which was a pretzel of twisted metal.

“What the hell happened?” Ellie Rue asked.

On top of all the other physical maladies of a hangover, her lazy eyelid twitched, and another vomit-tinged backwash came up after she spoke. She took a deep breath.

“It was Raymond, you know, Little Ray with the big head, from the bodega. He was drunk last night and took the turn onto the block way too fast.”

“I was drunk last night too, but I didn’t hit anything,” she added.

“Are you sure?” Hector said with a toothy grin.


“I’m joking. I saw you come home. You were a little wobbly, but Hump was with you; he made sure you got upstairs.”

“You saw us?”

“Very neighborly of him.”

Ellie Rue blushed and rubbed her throbbing forehead.

“My poor bike.”

“Seems like you had fun last night?”

“It’s all coming back to me.”

Ellie Rue shielded her eyes from the sun, taking a closer look at the bike. The metallic blue frame was upside down and cracked in half. She handed Hector the key. He looked like a doctor observing a dying patient, trying to maintain some semblance of hope. There would be no recovery for this trusty companion.

“You ever see those metal sculptures John Chamberlain makes from wrecked cars?” Ellie Rue asked.

She had recently seen the sculptor’s massive creations. Her bike could have held its own alongside the artist’s masterworks.

“Can’t say I have. Are you thinking about doing something with this mess?”

A line from a poem by Robert Creeley, a favorite of Ellie Rue’s, came to mind: A bicycle across the way…two other cars green and blue parked too and miles and more miles still to go.

“Did Little Ray get hurt?” Ellie Rue asked.

“He jumped the curb, smashed the pole, and your bike stopped him from hitting the building. Not many people out at three a.m. But he’s in better shape than your bike. His car is a little messed up.”

“Where is he?”

Hector pointed across the street to the bodega.

“At work.”

The bodega was the block’s drug trade headquarters for the Laundromat next door, which was the dispensary. Ellie Rue did not like the idea of confronting a lackey in the drug trade who was upset over the damage to his prized GTO. She had seen him speeding down the block in the metallic blue car. It was the same color as her bike. Sighing at the wreckage of her sweet ride, she felt queasy from another reflux of rum.

“Do you think I should talk to him?” she asked.

“Go. I’d go with you, but he doesn’t talk to me,” Hector said.

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t approve of the business. He owes you a bike.”

“Well, I guess I have nothing to lose.”

“That’s right, don’t be shy; stand up for yourself.”

“Okay. I wish I wasn’t hungover.”

Hector examined the bike carcass to see if any parts could be salvaged before it was thrown in a dumpster.

“He owes you.”

Hector took off toward Avenue D, where he worked at a storage facility on Tenth Street.

Ellie Rue checked her reflection in a puddle of oil and fluffed her hair. She kicked one of the wheels and focused on its slow, wobbly spin of rubber and bent spokes. She felt a poem coming on.

Sliced sections of orange caught on wires rot in the sun, a wheel spins, going nowhere.

She convened an imaginary triumvirate to back her up for the confrontation with Little Ray. Sandra Day, O’Connor, recently the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, poet Robert Creeley, and macho sculptor John Chamberlain walked across the street with her to the bodega to mete out justice or at least have her back if things got out of hand. Inside the tiny storefront the only legal merchandise on the shelves was Mazola Corn Oil, Krasdale cat food, and Diamond strike-anywhere matches. Everything was coated in a thin film of grease and dust, giving the shelves the pallor of graying peach fuzz. Little Ray’s big head bobbed behind the plexiglass divider that separated him from customers. Only one person or two people could fit in the narrow aisle between the shelves and register counter. Little Ray was watching Saturday morning cartoons on a tiny television. He acknowledged Ellie Rue’s presence with a suspicious look.

“Hey, sorry to hear about your accident,” Ellie Rue said to break the silence.

“News travels fast on this block,” Little Ray said.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“A little stiff in the back, nothing major, but my car is messed up,” he said.

Surrounded by her triumvirate, Justice O’Connor gave Ellie Rue a nudge with an arm under her robe; Creeley cleared his throat and pulled out a pen and notebook; and Chamberlain tapped a ball peen hammer on the plexiglass. They were encouraging, but impatient.

“You’re that girl moved into Hector’s building?” Little Ray said.

“Yes, nice to meet you, I’m Ellie Rue.” She awkwardly lifted her hand in a feeble hello.

“Do you need something?” he asked.

She imagined the triumvirate closing in and protecting her.

“That bicycle you hit last night was mine.”

“Oh, damn, I was wondering whose it was. Listen, I’m really sorry,” he said.

Chamberlain tapped the hammer of the plexiglass divider. Creeley held up the pen to his lips, as if to say, “Choose your words carefully.”

“Glad to hear you’re not hurt badly, and what do you think we should do about my bike?”

“I’ll get you another bike, no problem.”

Another cloud of undigested rum rose up, and she covered her mouth as a belch passed.

“I’ll bring it by in a couple of days,” Little Ray said.

“Okay, then maybe you should get your back checked out, and good luck with the car.”

He went back to watching The Smurfs. Having anticipated a more troubled exchange, Ellie Rue backed out of the bodega.

Her council of three pushed her quickly to the street and made sure she went directly home. She took aspirin and returned to bed. Hump was gone. He wrote a note on the bathroom mirror in pink lipstick.

“Nothing untoward, nothing revealed. We both slept well. You were funny onstage. I am a fan. Bravo.”

The cats wanted to eat. She should have bought a can of Krasdale from Little Ray. There was only a half a can of tuna left. The cats ate what was there and looked up for more.

“Later, I’ll get you more. Let’s go back to bed.”

Four days later Ellie Rue’s buzzer crackled. She pushed the button to listen.

“It’s Raymond. I got your bike.”

Ellie Rue went downstairs. The bike was blue and the perfect size.

“It’s nicer than the old one,” she said.

“Hector told me you liked blue.”

“A girl’s bike. I haven’t had one of those in a long time.”

“You wear those short summer dresses. I thought maybe you didn’t want to have to lift your leg over the bar.”

Embarrassed and feeling exposed, she still marveled at her new ride. Taking hold of the handlebars, she took a spin around the block. Delighted to feel the breeze in her hair again and the freedom of riding through the streets. She had an uptick in her faith in the neighborhood. She returned to the front of the building. Little Ray was still there.

“Feels great,” she said.

“Glad you like it. Let me know if you need the seat adjusted,” he said.

The next day she was riding by a storefront on the block that was an ad hoc bike shop run by an mechanic/T-shirt designer. His tees were always black with anarchist quotes in white scripted lettering. He was outside when she rode by and looked up from an overturned ten-speed he was working on.

“Hey, that’s my bike!” he yelled.

Ellie Rue’s heart dropped into the open manhole she had just avoided. New blue bike was stolen. Disappointed and disillusioned she dismounted and wheeled the bike to him. She focused on the quote on his T-shirt: Irony is a statist calling an anarchist a threat to society. She wasn’t sure what that meant for her “liberated” bike.

“So sorry, I had no idea. Here you go.”

He pointed a wrench and said, “Is something wrong with it? I built that bike for Little Ray. He asked me to make something special for someone new on the block. Said she was petite, but tough. Must be you. Use it in good health. Welcome to the ’hood. No irony here.”

Ellie Rue rode off, dodging potholes and smoldering sofas, all part of this now familiar landscape. As time would allow and circumstance would dictate, there would be more moments of embarrassment, more bikes, but she would hang on, and there would always be miles and more miles still to go.

Photography Credit: Al Naclerio

Emily Rubin’s debut novel, Stalina (2011 HMH/Mariner Books), was a selection in the Amazon Debut Novel Award Contest. She was the first recipient of the Sarah Verdone Writer Award in 2011, a finalist in the International Literary Awards, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Red Rock Review, Confrontation, Ghost City Review, Mudlark, NY Observer, Poets & Writers Magazine, HAPPY, and All the Restaurants in New York by John Donohue. In 2005, she founded Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose, a reading and performance series that takes place in laundromats around the country. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America, PEN, and AWP. Emily Rubin has been running The Write Treatment Workshops in New York City hospitals since 2011 and has taught fiction workshops at Bard College and for Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Program.