When They Come

Tommy Dean

When they come, hold your hands above your head, don’t look them in the eye, and don’t spit on their shoes.

James is going to want his frayed fluorescent orange t-rex, but we march to the speed of those voices of the men with the guns. His lip will quiver, and his hands will tug at your shirt, but he’ll move, not quite single file, quailing under the threat of violence he thought only lived online. You don’t have to explain the rules, he’s intuitive, and there’s no time anyway. You’re allowed one “Sir” gathering at the back of your throat before you’re whisked away. A three-person unit among the thousands of your city.

Your husband, always pedantic, sulks, “Can you believe this bullshit? Are we really living the history of the oppressed in the 21st century?”

A dog barking, spit flying from its stalactite teeth, lunges at your husband’s legs, the guard, letting the leash uncoil, just an inch, smirking, as your husband cowers on your far shoulder. Men have hidden behind the human walls of women for centuries. “I’ve never not lived in the history of the oppressed, you want to say, but silence is the new currency here, eyes surreptitiously landing on abandoned keepsakes of the possibly doomed. A music box, ballerina broken, no longer twirling, a pair of Nike hi-tops the shoelaces ripped away, the glitter of dropped rings and necklaces, no doubt offered as bribes, trampled by numbed feet. What makes you think you can escape; each forgotten item a warning.

Trains at rest huffing like horses forsaken in desiccated fields, breath made physical, people bullied into lines, the silence of people broken by cries of the very young, too immature to understand the threat of violence.  Adults acquiescing toward a resignation of momentary survival.

“Now,” your husband shouts, pushing you sideways. Your shoulders and elbows push through the space between bodies several lines over. The mass swarming as you pivot your son onto your hip. There’s this millisecond, a bright burst of love, like the flare from a struck match, where you understand that your husband wants you alive. But the distraction is too meager an effort, the soldiers flanking each attempt to run. Stand still and risk being trampled, forge ahead and contend with the tiny assaults of listless bodies protecting their fated places in line. The ripe smell of desperation, of fear like trampled melons under marching feet, your head swiveling.

And here, you think, is just as good a place to die, and you stop, because isn’t there a communion to our beating, raging hearts, a wily sense of entitlement to life, to acts of gross disobedience to the power at the hands, always, of men?

And you let them come, because they’ve always been marching nearer. The steady sound of boots upon concrete slipped behind the discourse of freedom, a horizontal line piercing your body right before the scream.

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 previously published in the BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, Cleaver, 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 will also be included in Best Small Fiction 2019. “You’ve Stopped” also won the VERA award from Vestal Review. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.