Something Nice, Something Gleaming
Ryan Ridge

After the severance package, I returned to the armpit of the nation, rented a mild-rise room overlooking an anonymous graveyard and began taking things in stride as best I could. The city was a factory on strike. The streets—named after sunken battleships, notorious conmen, and other lesser-known tragedies—were lined with picketers, glass and hubcaps. Everywhere I went somebody had spray-painted something sad but poignant. Still, I made an effort, no gains, but a good solid effort. What else could I do?

July was a dog on speed.

August busted. 

It was autumn in the slums.

I figured if I ruminated long enough and well enough then the answer to my personal ad would materialize in some form or another. Then I thought again.

By Halloween, I'd started becoming aroused by the slightest obscenities and began having gymnastic dreams involving flight attendants. I awoke feeling jet-lagged and amazingly flexible, but somehow less sturdy than before, my stomach wobblier than an ancient ping-pong table.

My therapist prescribed holidays every other weekend. "Just pretend," she said. "Buy yourself something nice, something gleaming. Then take yourself to dinner, a real nice dinner."

The restaurant was filled with men with handkerchiefed lapels and pinky rings, women who felt comfortable walking a fine line. Families? They were there too. I felt nuisanced and stupid in the presence of small children. They reminded me of miniature celebrities. I was envious, heartbroken, and awed by their inability to conform to the standards of municipal places.

I drank my dinner with terrible goodwill, undertipped the overaggressive waiter, and struggled out into the darkness of this terribly underimagined place.

News kept breaking and no one could fix it. There was a rash of elderly kidnappings and a string of dollhouse arsons that had everyone swiveting. My landlord impregnated another tenant's teenaged granddaughter, then repentant, hung himself upside down on a homemade cross in the boiler room. They buried him the next day in an unmarked grave in the anonymous cemetery and then his brother assumed lordship. This brother looked like a man who'd returned from somewhere difficult. He admitted to being destroyed by recent events but collected our money just the same. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you."

Days passed, weeks mounted. The town newspaper folded. My room was dark and televisionless.

"I imagine you'd be happier if you worked more," my sister said over the telephone one night. "If you worked more then you could spend more, but if you're smart you'd save some like I do. Put some away for a rainy day. Is it raining there?"


"It's always raining somewhere."


"Christmas is coming. What are you going to get mom and dad?"

"Something nice," I said. "Something gleaming."

"What, like one of those phony certificates for a star?"

"Yes, exactly like that."

On New Years I go out with the brother, the newish landlord, to a bar where everyone is out of their minds. I pay for the pitchers and he subtracts them from my rent. After five drinks, there is something resembling conversation, so we keep at it. By the time the ball drops we understand that we'll probably never understand one another. We shake hands, head home. If pressed further for information, I'd say that he's probably my best friend. And I may as well be forthcoming regarding the foreseeable future. As the Magic 8-Ball has told me repeatedly: Outlook not so good.

Do I trust it?


Ryan Ridge lives in Southern California. He has work in or coming from The Collagist, PANK, The Los Angeles Review, Juked, Salt Hill and others.

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