By Tommy Dean
We stood at the water’s edge, Lake Michigan frigid in early Spring, throwing in pennies from our vacation fund. The Ferris wheel behind us, stationary, a bike without a rider, people spaced out on the boardwalk like lone trees left to wither in the middle of Midwest cornfields.
Our marriage was five days old, the culmination of a five-year engagement, consisting of three separate but serious break-ups, our friends casting wary looks behind tight-lipped smiles as we said our vows, the kiss aggressive, our shouts a rally cry as we danced up the aisle and out into the cold, your uncle’s car running, engine exhaust in the corner of each photo.
The carp swarmed, mouths gulping, pennies sliding down their slick throats. You refused to wear a coat, and I won’t give you mine. Sacrifices don’t come naturally to either of us, and you want to talk about Florida, the sun, beaches––as if we ever had a chance to go there. We could be different people. The water sloshed against the concrete barrier. How long would we have to stand there before erosion would let us slide right in? Why do I want all the bad things to come from some other cause, refusing to choose? Your father called it a character flaw. The way he made me take a shot in the preacher’s office, straightening my tie, his face reddening, rage a guitar string I’d strummed, one that I can still feel reverberating.
It’s just the wake. Not everything means something. I lean in to kiss you, but you turn your head, your hair whipping across my face. Something in my eye. I don’t ask if that means something. I plucked out the change by the fistful, quarters wedged against my knuckles, regret sliding like the shifter in a car as I chucked them into the frothy water. It felt good to make it rain. How it could be anything else for the fish below. To them, it meant something.
I could jump in. Say you pushed me. People would believe me. You straddled the metal guardrail, paint coming off on your leggings, skin pebbled from the cold, making the mermaid tattoo on your shoulder three-dimensional, its mouth a pout of disgust.
I wanted to ask what this would mean: the carp closing in on your feet, the lake spray glistening in the strands of your hair, your back arched backward as your fingers struggled to stay attached to the cold metal.
My hands fisted in my pockets, shivering.
Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. He is the Editor at Fractured Lit. He has been previously published in the BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020 and the Best Small Fiction 2019. He won the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. His interviews have been previously published in New Flash Fiction Review, The Rumpus, CRAFT Literary, and The Town Crier (The Puritan). He has led writing workshops for the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, The Lafayette Writer’s Workshop, Bending Genres, and for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash. Find him @TommyDeanWriter.
Artwork provided by Loren Erdrich