by Tommy Dean
To decide who would jump first, we fell into an old habit of rock-paper-scissors. I won the first game, because you always picked rock. I lost the next two in a row, because I knew you’d always call my bluff. The bridge shuddered as you stepped onto the rusted metal railing, flakes drifting down to the muddy water below.
“We’re going to break our dumbass legs,” I said. It couldn’t have been more than thirty feet to the bottom, rocks jutting out of the water, its current spilling around the cragged edges.
Legs braced against the railing, your body, arms and shoulders thrust out into the air, sun winking off your earrings. “See you on the other side, Gavin.”
I close my eyes, a camera shutter whirring, the blurry lights of a carnival playing behind my eyelids. I keep counting until I hear the splash.
Some days I try to pretend we never met. No bridge, no pact, no death. Of course, you could never move in next door, your sister never experimenting with meth. There’s an alternate history somewhere, a couple of held breaths, and we’re entirely different people. But that goddamn bridge is still suspended above that muddy rift of water, the whispers still swirl around me, lurking just outside my earbuds, that Smashmouth song reverberating, synced to repeat. Hopelessness dwells on the other side of this song, a hand thrust out, grasping, continually failing to grip. Polaroids of you that line the headboard of my bed can’t smash the image of your hair tangled with sticks and pop bottle plastic, bled of color as the river mud reigns forever. And I’m left to tell this story, the version changing for each audience: parents, cops, classmates, the fractured selves of this living personality. Maybe I’ll always be reaching back, as you continue to sink into that murky river, while I rise above into the fog of the future.
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 BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, 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. He recently won the VERA Award from Vestal Review. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.