The Maintenance of Well-Cared for Things

Tommy Dean


It’s wet, windy, a dismal start to Spring, but my son is digging a hole with a school bus yellow plastic trowel we purchased when we first took over the house, because we thought we’d keep up with the landscaping. Continued maintenance of well-cared after things like yards and driveways look easy, especially when you never see the work that went into this angle of perfection. He digs at the corner of the Resurrection plant, exposing its roots while he looks for worms. There’s an urge to push the dirt back in, to apologize to this plant, but it’s just another sacrifice nature will have to make for the happiness of a child. He doesn’t understand why the worms pop up all over the roads and sidewalks when it rains, but he can’t find them snaking across the grass of his backyard. He’s frustrated and he wants the whole world to know. Sadly, I’m his only audience, because I always come running when he yells or cries or shrieks. I want to help him like I’ve never wanted to help someone before. At five, he’s not that vulnerable to the elements or to the accidental violences of the world, but there’s a perfect symmetry to his face that breaks my heart. It moves me great distances even when I’m in pain, or tired, or done with the day’s problems. I should be teaching him independence, but that feels like letting go of the balloon string, watching the splash of color drift across the sky, and never knowing where it might land, but knowing it will fall to the earth, eventually. As the world becomes more monochromatic, why are we so quick to give up our remaining dabs of color?

So I watch him dig, assuring him that, yes, worms love water, that they seek the rain like a warm shower, that the ones that make it to the sidewalks are happier, that they’ve been on a journey to reach the sun, that if he continues to dig, he’ll find the worms trapped in the dirt, that he’ll be saving them, helping them, that none of his actions, the digging, especially, could never hurt anything. Lies, especially these white ones, bloom with the force of blood underneath skin slick with sweat as we grip that string as hard as we can, feeling it worming toward the surface, its nature and will stronger than our own, until it’s gone, rising beyond our vision. Gone, gone.


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 editor at Fractured Lit. He has been previously published in the BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His stories have been included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.