Everything is Fine and no one is Drowning by Tommy Dean
They came for us on a goddamn Tuesday. Our streets were underwater. An epic flood that led them to us on black boats, lights flashing sirens silent to respect the dead. We, the living, our skin bloated with humidity hung from 2nd and 3rd floor windows, our voices bouncing across the water like tennis balls striking the net. Each scream a lost point in a game of survival. Our legs rubbery from treading water for hours, our necks never feeling so short, our lips trembling from the exertion and the cold.
They brought swells of inky water with their ropes and their buoys. Towels for the rescued, and bowed heads for the victims. Droughts had scorched us, left us panting, and ducking for shade, but it never submerged us, never clatched at our ankle, never swallowed us whole.
They’ve emptied all of the pools just to be safe. There was talk of scooping out the water of the ponds and the lakes, of damming the rivers and cementing in the creeks and letting the sprinkler pipes rust, but there were rights and laws that had to be considered. Freedom, they are told, doesn’t fall victim to the whims of safety.
So the people flocked to the side of marshes and the cat-tailed sides of ponds, picnicking and wading, mingling with microbes and bacteria, swatting at flies and gossiping, wondering aloud when they could return to the chemical clean of the pools, to the coal-hot cement, and the lazy drips of ice cream trendeling down the stubby fingers of children.
There was talk of protests, of colorful signs, and rhyming shouts, of withholding tax dollars, of secession from town limits, of screen-printed flags, and a man or two who waved their hands violently, making threats.
We found the pill bottles in the bottom of our mother’s bathroom vanities. The labels were half-torn off, addresses of the pharmacy and the unpronounceable names of the drugs smeared and cut away in jagged curls of paper. The dare sat on the tips of our tongues, and while no one will admit who said it first, it could have been any of us. We all were on the edge of violence to self to others, and willing the world to crack open just for us, some vision of rainbows and searchlights that would guide us past all the bullshit of algebra and changing after PE, and our mother’s shouts of dinner, and our fathers’ absences. So here were the pills, glossy or chalky on the tongue washed down by room temperature beers stolen from garages and the boat coolers left to mold until the spring. Some of us fall to the floor catatonic, faking until the feeling comes too real, lips caked with spittle, while the rest of us ignore each other, finding corners of the house to claim, the high a titling platform ready to send us sprawling into the deep.
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 Fiction 2019 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, and numerous litmags. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.