“Retrospective” by Andrew Crossan

Retrospective
By Andrew Crossan

He’d grown up a liar, bold-faced and bona fide, with good reason to do so. According
to popular opinion, of just about everyone he’d ever come into contact with (save
for his devoted parents), he was kind of a prick. Friends, dates, teachers, his priest,
and his youth group leader – hell, all four of his grandparents – could take him or
leave him on account of his personality. Former philosophy and psych double-major,
eventual college dropout, privileged and spoiled brat, Nickelback fan, wasteful and
self-obsessed online personality, “gay boy,” “arrogant asshole” and “all-around fuckup,”
Ricky “Little Ricky Rick” Equivo was on the brink.
He liked Fleetwood Mac and cardigans. His father worked in an outlet mall when
Ricky was coming up. His mother owned a record store. One brought home free, fashion-forward
clothes – khakis, flannel, the works – and the other, favorite music from
her prime – the Ramones, Bee Gees, Parliament-Funkadelic. He remembered going
to both stores with them as a kid, initially unwilling. His parents pitched these visits
to him under the guise of needing his “help at work.” Each time he heard this call to
action, a stupid smile spread across his face. It was only later when he realized this
always happened on days when they were both working and couldn’t leave him home
alone. He made it through visits by flipping through cheap fur coats and cardboard
boxes filled with vinyl, wrapped cleanly in protective plastic. On one of these mornings,
he ran his little hand across the splotchy, somewhat melted casing on London
Calling, observing the impassioned punk with his guitar in a downswing. He idled this
way until he came across Janis Joplin’s aloof, sedated spread across the cover of
Pearl. He twiddled the plastic’s twisted corners, feeling the intensifying a.m. sun soak
in through the enormous tinted side window. He flipped until he got to the anonymous
crotch on Sticky Fingers, which perplexed him. What was that in the man’s pants?
Why did he get photographed with his zipper down? Did Mick Jagger approve of this
crudeness? He didn’t know what was going on but he knew he didn’t like it. On her
lunch break, mom dropped Ricky off at daddy’s store. This is where he spent the afternoon
mispronouncing ‘Vera Wang’ and ‘Haggar’ to incoming shoppers. Dad strolled
over to him during a lull in business, applauding his early knack for sales. “Look at
you, buddy!” raising him up on his shoulders, “You’re a natural!” Ricky grimaced, fully
aware how deserving he was of this praise. He spent the rest of the evening fingering
through the clearance rack, replaying the day in his head.
He was eager to leave for college. He was even more eager to drop out three and
a half years later. The stress had proven too much for him when he made the latter
decision; he was in and out of therapists’ offices his entire junior year, on and off
medicines, but no one could ever “heal” him. He saw “healing” as his end-game as
opposed to “getting better” or “feeling all right.” After failing four of five classes that
spring, he declared self-love as his mission. He stopped seeing professionals and
consulted shoddy self-help leaflets and TED Talks on YouTube. He started his mental
health vlog, “Rick-trospective,” to help other young people similar to himself. This dual
autobiographical documentary/”self-help Mecca” (per his vision) was supposed to
validate his efforts, but made it only to 1,000 viewers. He went on to delete his YouTube
account.
He attended a university in the city, which he didn’t leave after dropping out. He remained
financially dependent, with every meal relying on belts and Beatles being
sold. He bummed around town every day, unhappy and increasingly incoherent. Unstable,
even. He sat dourly at a bus stop. The corner of Partridge and Pollock had
changed over his years there. As a student, he would only ever come through this
“drab hellhole” on his commute. He would eye homeless people critically and look
away as soon as they noticed him. The bus stop waiting area itself had four black
poles supporting a measly little roof the same homeless people likely slept under. Its
transparent walls made for poor support as well, not even shielding him from the cold
at this moment. The old Ricky would turn his nose up at public transportation, too. He
would later do the same, except while using that which disgusted him so greatly.
Hours passed, as did people and vehicles, but not a single bus in sight. He realized he
didn’t even have to go anywhere, or anywhere to go. His mind danced with dark images
that tormented him in even the most minor actions. Darkness fell. He felt hollow.
He didn’t think or just feel like a piece of shit – he knew, in his mind, he was a piece of
shit.
A woman who he could only assume was a prostitute sauntered over to his lair of selfpity
at an inebriated snail’s pace. “Hey… the next closest bar, the fun part of town, you
know where that is? This place’s lame as fuck,” she spouted, slurring her last proclamation.
She was about forty, maybe a mother. She reeked like the stench of a local
dive – one he could name just by getting a whiff of the unfortunate woman. He hadn’t
been there in years but he knew she’d just come from Bette’s. Bette’s was the only bar
close to his apartment, whose pathetic patronage incidentally matched the aesthetic
of his sad lack of a social circle (his words, no one else’s). He knew he could help her.
He pointed down Pollack, “Yeah, just a few blocks that way, down the hill and you’re
there.” The plastered woman stared blankly for a noticeable second. She stumbled,
turning to leave. She hadn’t thanked him, let alone given any response to his directions.
He looked after her with the frequently-present urge to start sobbing. “Bitch,”
he said. His eyes were narrowed, fists clenched, body trembling. “You don’t want my
help?” he started, “You don’t give a shit about me? Awesome, fuck you anyway.”
He looked out the non-glass of the bus stop windows. The orange street lamp lit the
night around it. He stifled more thoughts, which his fourth therapist wouldn’t have
been happy about, and was finally able to let it out. He cried, and cried. At a bus
stop. In this stupid place. With the streets he hated, the fucking street lamps and absence
of cars and people at this hour, looking across from that goddamn bank that
had turned him down for a loan two months ago, the poorly-planned bus route, his
godforsaken almost-alma mater, all his past failures, soiled past glories, that mother-
fucker Jackie Lowe who deemed him “Little Ricky Rick” in the sixth grade, the sycophantic
bastards who latched on to it immediately and kept it up nearly through
high school graduation, that astute YouTube commenter who called him a “gay boy”
in response to one of his videos, his first romantic partner who left him with the final
words of “you’re an arrogant asshole, Ricky,” and his mother relaying to him that his
grandmother had written him out of her will with the rationale of “he’s an all-around
fuck-up, Sharon.” This was his life. His lonely, sad, fucked up life. All he had was his
least favorite person, sitting right there with him through it all.

“The Secret Admirer” Rachel Pittman

The Secret Admirer
By Rachel Pittman
He came walking out of the grocery store not entirely like a man who is well.
He walked in a way that said that maybe a while ago he’d been injured so badly that
he’d had to limp for a couple of years. He was wearing a derby and an argyle vest,
both old, and he was carrying a bunch of yellow chrysanthemums in slick brown paper.
That was when I was young and lanky, leaning on a rusted out Toyota Corolla
with a cigarette and what I liked think was a “fuck you” sort of attitude. I wasn’t forbidding
at all, not really, and I wasn’t aloof, either.
The guy in the vest walked by me pretty slowly, making his way to a sidewalk
with ground-up concrete that was broken here and there and that ran alongside the
grocery store to an intersection and some crosswalks. He stopped at one of these
crosswalks and checked his watch, maybe making sure that he was still on time, that
he wasn’t late for something important.
As he waited on the light to change from red to white, he stuck his nose in
those flowers and it was so pure a movement. He could have been taking those yellow
chrysanthemums to anyone, but I liked to think he was playing the secret admirer
and leaving those flowers to surprise a wife or maybe a perfumed lover. I wished then
that I had a wife or a lover.
It happened like this, so quick:
I watched this boyish old man take his secret flowers across the crosswalk and then
all I saw next was a crumpled body and all these yellow flower petals scattered over
the hot, broken pavement, drowning in puddles of blood and yesterday’s heated rain.
The driver who had done it was supporting her frame with the open door of her car
and had her face hidden in an accidentally guilty hand. Paramedics and cops tried to
untangle the mangled man in the mangled vest. They hurriedly pasted the man into
a glaring ambulance, scrambling like they were the king’s men and the man was a
broken egg that maybe they could piece together again, if only they could move fast
enough. I looked on, sad. Tragedy is rare if you think about it. I watched the passersby
watch the scene with little open mouths of horror. The traffic light changed from red
to green but everyone just ignored it.
And then, just as quickly as it had happened, it was over.
The blood was scrubbed from the pavement and then people seemed to come
alive again. They rushed to their errands and jobs. The driver was left alone to feel
remorse and the man was tucked up into a hospital bed somewhere, already mostly
dead but in a place where he could squeeze the last bit of his life out in a little more
peace, with the wife or lover by his bedside but without his flowers.
I put out my cigarette as gently as if I were putting out the man’s soul.
There I was. The man was gone, the blood was gone, the cigarette was gone,
the cops were gone, the bystanders and the gawkers and the driver and the derby
hat, they were all gone… I only had the shredded yellow petals as my companions
and reminders. I picked up a bloom out of a patch of scrubby grass in the dirty place
around a power line pole. I held the petals in my fingers and what was reflected out
of them was a world that needed only the blood to be removed from the concrete to
forget a death and to mask a tragedy.
So quick to move on, that’s what got me. So temporary. I would remember him,
it was a fierce promise, I would remember his death.
I would remember that almost corpse and the flyaway scattering of chrysanthemums
and then maybe I get a reward for still holding the memory when I went.
Maybe then someone would watch me go, watch a lonely man die, and let me haunt
them. They would be a secret spectator.. a secret judge.. a secret admirer.
I wondered if that secret admirer would put some flowers on my grave. I thought I
would like for them too, and I still think that. Just not yellow ones, and not chrysanthemums.
I’m keeping the memory of the dead man at the crosswalk, not stealing it.
 I’ll take some white lilies, I guess.

Paper and Ash

Paper and Ash
by Larissa Johnson
Editors’ Choice

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy descends upon the world.
-William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

The girl ran up to my covered bench in the park, a flurry of black hair and water, shaking herself off like a dog in the rain. A drop fell onto the page of my book and formed a tiny, dark circle. She flopped down without saying a word, legs splayed out like a baby deer, pulling out a torn matchbook and a crumpled up cigarette carton. She was so young, and fragile, like a painted eggshell. Mascara ran down the contours of her cheeks and her soaked clothing was sagging as if it could barely support the extra burden of the fallen rain. I stole glances at her like someone slowing down to drive past a car crash. Continue reading

Life: And Other Meditations

Life: And Other Meditations
by Michael C. Gore

Has your heart ever beaten slowly? Perhaps so slowly that its familiar rhythm quiets to a nearly imperceptible pulse? Mine died long ago. Not my heart, that is, but my phone, the useless brick that now weighs on my pocket like an unbearable grief. It takes what feels like hours, but I finally notice the child next to me crying. Is this my future? My past? But now I see his juice on the floor, a bossy violet lake, and feel something akin to pity. The pity might as well be juice on the floor now as his mother begins scolding him. How embarrassing for them both. I feel that I have not enough time to care, and I now languidly turn to the old man next to me who has started ejaculating overly audible sneezes into a cheap tissue. Continue reading