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Nothing So Easily Erased

by Tommy Dean

He kept an unfired shotgun shell in his pocket; the gun itself sold in a police auction. His mother refused to take it back. The house, too, was sold, his room untarnished, but she felt something black, insidious, coiling through the hallway; the rooms, even when lit, reflected an aura. She wouldn’t say more. He ran out of questions and gave in to her fears in order to hide his own. He was the kite, she the string, running to find a new wind.

He sat in the biology classroom, the black science tables stabling pairs of students; the bell was about to ring, allowing their escape, when he pulled out the shell. The gold end catching some fluorescence, Gavin, his table mate, almost falling out of his circular, backless seat. 

“You’re so weird,” Gavin’s voice rose above the chatter, drawing the teacher’s attention away from his computer screen. Mr. Tasker marched over, his shadow cartooned across the tabletop, his shoulders ski sloping. The bell rang, followed immediately by the scraping of chair legs, the rustling of backpacks being scooped up, the thrum of high schoolers escaping, bodies hidden and revealed in torn jeans and slight t-shirts.

In the confusion, he palmed the shell and patted it safely in his pocket, slipping off the chair, rescuing his bag from the floor, and hunching behind the crowd of students filing through the classroom door. Mr. Tasker called after him, but he slipped under the arm of a slower student, the smell coming off of him oniony, glanced off the arm of Charlotte, her voice raised in alarm, but then he was filtering through the halls, sandwiched between his classmates, just another head bobbing in a rapid of bodies, no longer finding comfort in the singular, he tolerated the jostle of arms and legs, the riff of odors of the unwashed, of the beautified, and the anxious.

At home, the stink of permanent marker, an x across his father’s face. The spaces between glimpses of teeth, a partial smile, a whisker of an unformed beard, the flint of a dead retina, the glimmer of peace shattered by the gunshot, an x-ray of what was already decaying. He puts his own face under the microscope, the one his father raved about, twisting knobs and beckoning him away from the real nature outside, looking for the evidence of his own looming depression, his own tendencies of violence, wishing for scalpel, something sharp and excising rather than the impermanence of the marker, something easily erased, the dormant bubbling.

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021), and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press 2022). 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 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, and numerous litmags. Find him at and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.

Lead image: “white microscope on top of black table” (Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash)