The helmet lays in the middle of the snow plow scored street, its plastic cracked and bruised like a piece of fruit dropped from an elevation. The silence of an experiment gone wrong, vapors diffusing, pulling away all the oxygen.
In the store, two helmets in his hands, hopping from foot to foot, the boy can’t decide. One decorated with florescent plastic in the fan of a mohawk, the other emblazoned with forest animals, their eyes dewy and dripping. The father on his phone, checking for reviews, safety ratings, an excuse to buy one over the other, weighing the risks as if there is an ounce of truth left on the internet, in the world. Each breath an act of consumption.
Math is a violence, a calculation that hunts even the most prepared. Rules like bones are broken everyday as the bodies of minor planets collide in the most casual of ways.
A neighbor, unnamed, stands in the shadow of his picture window playing with the soft, grey hairs on his chin. He once was, he once was, he once was repeating in the cylinder of his brain that won’t catch, that won’t quite fire.
Another helmet, black, dinged from falling fiery beams, rattles against the hook in the locker. Jacket comes off next, but there is something he is forgetting. An anniversary. A childhood friend’s birthday. The suck and squeeze sounds of the respirator. A home with an empty chair, but a house full children’s laughter. A discordant soundtrack.
Science is insidious. Rules never broken, only discovered. The heart only beats so many times. None of them saved or transferred.
The women gather around the base of the porch, a murder of crows, looking for something shiny in the bedrock of neighborly concern. Janice is shushed when she starts with the verses, another questions a song, but the door never opens, no matter how much they knock, feet fretting over the cement, wondering if their duty is fulfilled.
Math and science the apostles of logic, crackle like the feedback from an untuned guitar strummed by unskilled hands. The father’s religion, a weight of risks, circles his neck, his finger scrolling back and forth across the reviews, a yo-yo of second guesses photosynthesizing into the roots of his bewilderment.
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 (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). He is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. He has been previously published in the Bending Genres, Atticus Review, 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. Find him @TommyDeanWriter.