X lives over the USA Fried Chicken and Pizza Halal on Hancock Street. He goes by X because he doesn’t have a name and the people at the boys’ home in Williamsburg said that he was wearing a raggedy Star Wars t‑shirt when they found him on the stoop outside in the rain. They said after they admitted him he used to just sit on the floor and cry out for Mom and they got to calling him X because of how he’d smile at the X‑wings in all those battles. When all the other boys came and went, X stayed, and no matter when they walked in or when they ran out, X was there watching Star Wars on the floor waiting for Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke or Leia or fucking anybody to come through the screen and drag him inside.
X fixes things now, anything silver and metal and bitter, and sometimes when he’s rigging an antenna or driving a flathead into a screw that’s stripped too thin he imagines himself Wedge Antilles, a Marlboro cigarette in his mouth and Corellian princess on his side and the smell of intergalactic gasoline on his hands, the Death Star vaporized into stardust behind them, “we saved the world, let’s go and save ourselves, there’s a whole galaxy to explore babe I believe it,” light years away from the humdrum melancholy of canned cranberry on Thanksgiving, honey ham sandwiches DoorDashed on Christmas, the Star Wars Holiday Special that X watches each year. He’s thirty years old now, you see.
When work is out or he’s laid off or he’s bored or it’s two in the morning and the sleep won’t come, X rides the subways back and forth, any line he can hop on, traversing through the city and imagining each car like some new incarnation of Mos Eisley, hives of scum and piss and sweat and villainy, scanning the crowd looking for anybody who might be somebody like the woman in his dreams: “help me X, you’re my only hope.”
The woman with the purple hair and the green eyes is the only one who ever acknowledges him, the one on the 6 PM A train from Penn every day, the one who sometimes nods when he says some affirmation about Alderaan deserving it, or how the people of Coruscant had to have been complicit in the Empire’s arrival, or how the Ewoks weren’t as innocent as they appeared on the surface. She nods when he finds the holes in every tiny mythology, every black and white construct, how it wasn’t as soft and jelly as it seemed, how it was dark and full of holes and porous with rot as all things are. She gasps when he cries and imagines Jabba’s toddler son Rotta the Hutt finding his dad choked to death, or the way the Gamorrean screamed as the Rancor ate him alive, or how every detonated X‑wing had somebody inside it who never came home, and she even puts her hand on his shoulder when he says when he was a boy it was so easy to root for a Skywalker or a Solo but now he just imagines the way each one of those Stormtroopers died alone, in pain, writhing on the floor after being blasted away for a punchline or a plot point.
In the eyes of the woman with the purple hair he can only see his reflection, wet and glassy, staring back and waiting for the answer to the question he can never finish.
“Are you…” he whispers over and over again to her, too quiet for her to hear.
But the subway bell dings and night after night, even as she keeps her eyes focused, she becomes yet another vanishing act in X’s life, disappearing back into Mos Eisley.
By the chicken and pizza joint there’s a half-torn, moldy poster for some new Star Wars movie and by this point X doesn’t even recognize any of the faces: no Vader or Emperor or Luke. But beside it there’s that woman with the purple hair and the green eyes, or somebody he imagined to be her, staring up at the poster like she was looking for something or someone, and though he didn’t and though he wouldn’t, and though he’d never, he imagined walking up to her and asking are you her? are you that person in my dreams? are you here to take me away? far far away…
Andrew Cusick lives and teaches on the Jersey Shore. He’s been published in Booth, Orca, The Hunger, Sky Island Journal, trampset, Flash Fiction Magazine, Blood Lotus, and Underground Voices. His flash piece “Birds” was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022 by the aforementioned Orca literary magazine. He’s working on what will hopefully be his debut novel, and he’s been writing since somewhere around the fourth grade. When he’s not teaching, you can find him hanging out with his wife and kids, surfing (terribly), running on the boardwalk, or leaning into whatever Jersey Shore Springsteen cliché one can imagine.