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Always, Goodbye, Always

by Tommy Dean

You see they have come to this place, this playground on the top of a hill in a small town who never replaced their one stoplight, as the paint chipped and the lights faded, as the wires slowly drooped like a party balloon left unnoticed in a dusty corner of a bedroom that always smelled like socks. And so these young lovers, now middle-aged, their joints creaking, sat in the shadow of the tornado slide, wiping cobwebs from their faces, their hands resting in their laps, not allowing the other to notice the tightening skin, the pop of veins like erupting tree roots. They speak of Little Miss competitions, and deodorant pranks, the way Josh Simpson’s pants glimmered in the hallways, how popularity was such a fuck-up, how they each had lost a son, a daughter—texting and driving, a rare cancer—how husbands and wives were at home, at the office, at a conference, at the other children’s games and plays, how it was nice just to sit with an old friend, how they witnessed each other’s lives through the luster of social media, how their season of love might have been their best season alive, how holding hands now was just a memory, a reflex, how kissing wasn’t cheating, because they’d done it before, done it for hours, until they had to suck the spit back into their throats, laughing as they swiped away the spittle, and tucked back in for another hour, how they’re glad and maybe a little sad that there isn’t a hotel in this town, because who would want to stay here anyway, how they’re certainly too old for any back seat of the car kind of tricks, how just having the thought, the possibility of being intimate was probably enough, that the rest of their lives might rely on probablies, how love was maybe more than sex anyway. How this goddamn world had left them so brittle, so exposed to the elements, that they were just happy to be alive, how this moment, these moments under the slide, probably shouldn’t happen again, but already they are taking out their phones, looking at their digital calendars, pointing out dates, and rejecting some, as their children and husbands and wives would surely be disappointed if they didn’t attend those plays, those volleyball games, those company picnics, and national honor society ceremonies, how they were mostly relegated to the background of their families lives, and yes, two months from now, the weather probably already turning toward the chill of fall, and the scent of decaying fields, corn just about harvested, they’d meet again, unless they couldn’t, and that might just be best, because they were always doing what was best now, but always there was the possibility, and that was sweet, a sustenance. And yes, don’t forget, to give everyone their best, and just one more kiss, and then a good bye—

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). Hollows, A collection of flash fiction is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press. He lives in Indiana where he currently is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he is currently working on a novel. 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 the Atticus Review. He taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, and The Writers Workshop. Find him at and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.

Lead image: “Maturity is not when we start speaking big things,it is when we start understanding small things” (via Flickr user Irudayam)