I’m Not Confessing Anything

I want to tell you something you’ve never heard before. The grandkids stand in front of the mall fountain, flipping in pennies and dimes, the change from the packs of cigarettes I buy each week.

Tell me you’ll quit, you say, hands reaching out for Paisley but dropping back to your sides when she doesn’t fall in.

I don’t want to lie. I feel bad that you caught me.

You don’t bring up the other sins you’ve longed to forget. The ones I naively assume you’ve forgiven.

No secrets. That’s what you promised me. You pull Paisley’s hair away from her shirt, where it drips on the lacquered floor. She complains for just a second, her head finding your hip. Jackson turns to us with a smile, the front of his shirt plastered to his underdeveloped chest. That sweet age before either fat or muscle takes over.

I’m not confessing anything. I just want to surprise you. Rotate the angle.

Matt, I’m content. Look at these pair of guppies. You laugh, and I feel separated. People walk around us, nodding or shaking their heads, Jackson feet-deep in the water, the fountain spitting around him. His parents will freak. It makes me tired just thinking about it. Even if you’re the one who will take the brunt, who will try to laugh it off.

You pull the girl onto your hip. A flash of you standing in a million places, each kid attached to you. In Disney, the kitchen, next to the bathtub, spotted with blood, at the ballpark, and in the front yard checking on that odd couple with the flat tire.

Your shirt is getting wet. I reach out, but the thought dies, and I bring my hand to my forehead.

That’s hardly news. Do you ever think of letting go?

The boy slips, and he’s back deep in the water, floundering. I’m at the edge, the coins sparkling up at me, the sun awash in the skylight, and my first grab misses. His skin dolphining in the slick water, coins disturbed, dappling.

And the first step over the barrier brings water through my shoe and into my sock. A second of revulsion, but I’m reaching for Jackson again, his hands swatting, panic, over two feet of water.

I trip over his kicking feet, and I’m falling, water entering my nose, hands flailing.

I stand, dripping, jeans tight around my waist, my knees. A security guard turns the corner, and he’s hustling toward us. A camera probably caught it all.

Whatever you’re going to say, you’d better get it out.

A crowd has gathered, the guard reaching out his hand, Jackson already out and by your other side. He looks like you when you were young. Those childhood days before I met you.

I clasp the guard’s hand. I don’t want to fall again.

I’m afraid, I say. A piece of glass just before it’s struck. Afraid.

A black background with red border and a white line.
A man with glasses and bald head smiling.
Tommy Dean

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks, Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021), and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). He lives in Indiana, where he currently is the editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, he can be found in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, Best Small Fiction 2019 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter, @TommyDeanWriter.

Vestal Review