by Tommy Dean


You’ve started talking through the picket fence of your teeth. Drawing me closer with every lisping word. Your breath smells of wilting dandelions, a sugary spike that pokes at the nerve endings in my toes. Your pleas like broken cartilage wrapped in cellophane, as you decide if this is the last time you’ll leave me.

Say it, I beg, but your nose only whistles the tune we haven’t yet placed on the map of your soiled emotions.

I beat at your chest, but the birdcage only rattles, keyless, fragile as plastic fork tines, yet unyielding. Anything unbreakable I find endlessly irritating. Maybe love is one knob turn of agitation away from complete surrender, but that would be too easy for people like us.

I’ll say it then, my mouth opening, teeth bridging the gap between object emptiness and the sated timbre of intimacy decoded into language, but, and here the fuel needle of my need for you dips, trails, hitches, like a hiccup never expressed, because your tears won’t stop the goddamn door from slamming shut or the echo that reverberates into space, a place where all I can see is the backlit shadow of your back, bent like those unbreakable combs given away on picture day, boys like you worrying them until they snapped.

You push my head to your chest, but keep walking until we’re outside, night-vision lit, my blood vessels traitorously flowing toward you, an Earthly gravity I regret. I start to yell, but you say, you only want the quiet parts of me. I stomp I clap, I shout, dancing in the off-rhythm way that follows the earthquakes of your departures.


Every month, I take down a new door, leaving them on the curb for the trashman, small offerings to the spirits of unnamed barriers. Cabinet doors pop from their hinges, exposing industrial cleaners and solvents, cups from shuttered restaurants, plates with scratches from your overzealous stabbing of beef and potatoes. The Disney cups bought at garage sales for nickels, while we joked about needing them for the children, the ones this second marriage was supposed to provide, the cartoon faces twisting toward garish impressions of joy you obviously never felt.

When you stand on the porch, your hand pushing through the empty doorway, I think of snorkeling in Jamaica, how you almost drowned, your lungs mistaking water for air, your arms retracting away from the fish below, sure you were about to be bitten.

I want to give you a tour of my obsession, but you’ve always hated mania, and I won’t apologize. You’ve come back, I say, but you’re still working out how I can dare to live in a state of unprotected bodily harm. I’ve gotten rid of the alarm too, the baseball bat hidden under your side of the bed.

You’ve come back? This time the question closes to the frequency of a liquid metal being struck by the bow of a violin.

And you wave and you wave, and you…


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, Hawaii Pacific Review, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was chosen by Dan Chaon to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It will also be included in Best Small Fiction 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.


What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Wave”?

Traveling on a plane is rarely conducive to anything creative beyond trying to contort your body into the resemblance of comfortability while you try to ignore your seatmates. Flying back from AWP in Portland, the germinating idea for this story came to my mind. I sat there for twenty minutes trying to deny the voice speaking the first couple lines of this story over and over until I gave in. I rarely write by hand on paper, because I’m such a slow typer it takes forever to type up the draft. I hate this inefficiency in myself, so I’d much rather type than write, but the voice of this story wouldn’t be denied! I drafted this story as quickly as possible, pausing a few times to ponder word choice, etc. What I quickly realized was that I was pushing the language really hard, bordering at times at incomprehension. I let the sentences linger and twirl, bounce through similes and rocket out the other side. It felt like all the stages of riding a rollercoaster. This final version is fairly close to the original draft, except for a few sentences peppered into the draft to give it more narrative clarity, to off-set the raucous use of twisting language. The condition of being stuck on an airplane, in my seat definitely contributed to not only the completion of this story but also the pressure I decided to apply to the diction and syntax. I’m not sure I could have written this story at my home, with the normal conditions, the ability to escape both the story, but also the room, the house, whenever I wanted. Sometimes pressure, a crucible is exactly what a writer needs to create.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


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