Knocking on doors in the middle of the night had become essential. We weren’t sleeping anyway. Blood thrushed with sugar from shot gunning cans of Mountain Dew, Beavis and ButtHead was too stupid to even laugh at. Truth or Dare meant nothing when we told each other everything, so the dare, every Saturday sleepover, was the knocking.
After midnight, we cut the music, dropped the lights, and lay head to head, shoulders covered by neon colored nightgowns, while our legs sweated beneath the twin fabrics of our leggings and shimmery sleeping bags. We practiced calming our breathing, hearts hammering, waiting for Gwen’s or Mandy’s mom to do the final check before they drifted down the hall to their own beds. The dads stomped down the hall, never stopping at the bedroom door, never saying good night.
A year ago, Kelsey’s dad sat on the corner of her bed at one in the morning and sang us love songs, his voice weepy, his busted knuckles creaking as he gripped the comforter. We didn’t go out that night. We kicked and elbowed each other, keeping everyone awake, not knowing what would happen if we all fell asleep. Eventually his voice hitched and he whispered, good night now, good night. Kelsey apologized, said he just missed her mom, said it wasn’t fair that he was so sad, and could we just go to sleep? Everyone nodded and faked sleep until dawn, each of us calling our own mothers, asking to come home.
Kelsey was no longer invited. We didn’t have time for sadness, for unpredictable fathers, for Saturday nights spent sleeping. We had to knock and shriek and run and hide behind mailboxes and China grasses that had grown willowy at the edge of winter-cracked driveways first paved in the 60’s. Only here were we brave enough to face these men, our fathers and neighbors, their legs naked but dusted with hair, stomachs rounded from stress and beer, hair sprouted in different directions, their arms lifted in fists, striking out at invisible phantoms. Bewildered and angry, from a distance, they had never looked so safe.
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 published in the 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 is also included in Best Small Fiction 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.