“The Wreck,” oil on canvas, by Knud Baade, ca. 1835.

by Tommy Dean

I might as well admit that I’m sinking. You know the joke about lifeguards drowning? Rip currents don’t care who they plunge to the bottom. Lake Michigan, a beast, roaring, devouring. Only in death, sanctifying. All sins washed away in the black print of your name in the paper.

The water thrashes around me; a movie I can’t pause. I’m separating from my body, each neuron a dry fire against the inevitable. Muscles ache and tingle as arm after arm goes out and into the delicate skein of the water.

I had laughed through the training videos. The mothers always so sad. Each one of them saying “He was a beautiful soul. A kid any mother would be happy to have. He was just starting to figure things out.” Then, on cue, they point to a row of trophies and certificates decorating the deceased’s room. They always zoom in on some goofy photo. A trip to Disneyland, a bike ride for diabetes, picking up trash on the highway.

Me? I’m a fuck-up extraordinaire. Swimming by myself, at night, half-high, the stars smeary like the headlights through a rain-soaked windshield. I’ll live forever or I won’t, the odds pointing toward something violent, painful, anything but boring. But alone?

Tired? Like a marathon runner stumbling through those last fifty feet, gravel scarring their knees as they crawl through the finish line. The water a swirl of limbs grasping, slicing through, tunneling me under each time my arm fails to complete the next stroke.

A message? Tell my mother not to use my senior picture, to find the one with my hair dyed blonde, my tongue out, hands air-jamming on an invisible guitar. Don’t let her find the ones where I’m drunk. Skin bruised, waxy like an apple left out in the sun, a riot trying to escape. Burn those. Let those be the ashes you scatter anywhere except over water. No more water; there’s nothing holy there. Back to the photos. Oh, that one from kindergarten, with the cowlick and the square teeth, the dimples. You could add a freckle or two. Make it look wholesome. She’d like that.

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks, Special Like the People on TV and Covenants. 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, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, Best Small Fictions 2019, Monkeybicycle, and Atticus Review. He has taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, and The Lafayette Writer’s Workshop. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and @TommyDeanWriter.