On those nights when our parents fought, we crawled into their closet and closed the door. The muffled sensation of darted-words hammered at our backs as we dug through the remnants of our parents’ past lives. Yearbooks, and melted candles, track batons with sharpied time trials, baby blankets wrinkled with mildew. Love letters and class rings, old football stats. The sheet music for “Somewhere over the Rainbow” that she played for the talent competition when she was a junior. Our father said that was how they met, but our mother waved us away, said she couldn’t possibly talk about it. There’s a lot they won’t say to us, forcing us to interpret at night— their barbed words ripping through our minds fencing off our curiosity. So we huddle together wrapped in the leathered arms of their Letterman jackets. We try to imagine the people they used to be, the people we might become, the people they were afraid to be.
Now, my own kids setting records, coming home smelling of drying sweat, the funk of exhilaration carrying them upstairs. My wife sitting at the sewing machine trying to thread patches firmly to the stiff woolen shells of jackets we never earned. You missed a stitch, I say, just an excuse to touch a sleeve, to scratch a nail across dates already too far into a future I couldn’t imagine. A place I don’t know how to name.
Forty-four years old, and both jackets hang in the one closet of this temporary housing. I’m too often jolted into the imagining—a dark night, sharp curve, the glow of a cell phone screen, the refracted words of a text bobbing across your eyes like a buoy at the end of a pier. If you came in the door tonight, yelling my name, you’d find me in the closet, leather arms wrapped around my shoulders, phone cradled against my ear, breathing collectively with my siblings, listening to our mother’s song, asking where did we go wrong.
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 Flash Fiction Section Editor at Craft Literary. 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 chosen to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It will also be included in Best Small Fictions 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.