Tiny Little Mirrors, by Chad V. Broughman
Congratulations to Chad Broughman whose story Tiny Little Mirrors came in second place in the 2019 Axe to Grind flash-fiction contest!
Tiny Little Mirrors
Our senior year, Bridgette Wheeler poked holes in Dean Foster’s rubbers. She told her best friend, Nikki, how she had straightened out a paperclip, then speared the butt end through every condom in the pack. She provided all the gritty details with zeal and a bent smile. How she crept into Dean’s new Dodge Charger while he was at wrestling practice, pulled them out of the glove compartment and just started stabbing. How when some of the “slippery stuff leaked out,” she was afraid of getting any on his door handle, so she licked it off her fingers. How it tasted like hairspray and felt nasty on her tongue, the way Jell-O leaves a film after you swallow it. When Nikki asked her why she wanted to get pregnant so badly, Bridgette answered plainly: “Dean ain’t leaving me behind. Just ‘cause he rolls around on a mat with a bunch of other guys, doesn’t mean he should get his college paid for. Besides, University of Wisconsin?” she said, more like a question. “That’s too far away. And, it’s like, cold city there.”
That’s when I stopped eavesdropping, tried to refocus on my calculus quiz.
Got a B- on that damn thing––ran out of time.
To this day, whenever I turn on the car radio, I cringe for a split second, hoping that thin, wobbly voice of Crystal Gayle’s doesn’t slip through the airwaves and start knifing at the old wound, making me bleed again from that place that scabs over sometimes. The place where I buried the fact that Dean Foster’s run-of-the-mill life was my fault for keeping a secret that wasn’t mine to keep. The place that jolts me back to 77, with “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue” playing in the high school gym. Most of us boys standing against the wall, wishing we were one of the few who had the balls to ask for a slow dance instead of side-stepping like crabs to the bathroom, pretending we had to piss whenever the DJ played a song with less than a four- count rhythm. I remember all eyes being on Dean and Bridgette––him with one hand crammed in the back pocket of her form-fitting Vanderbilts, the other stroking her feathered hair, furled out like the ocean’s tide. And their hips pressed together tight. Everyone jawing about whether they were doing it or not. Andrew Martin declared, “When they’re sucking face in the hall, I can see her tongue”––eyes wide, nodding up and down like he’d just discovered uranium––“that’s how you know Bridgette’s getting the Manwich.” And in a singsongy voice, Chad always chiming in with, “Two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun,” then both of them nickering like ponies.
Not me, though. I twisted and squirmed, begging God for the courage to bust between the lovers and scream, “Dean, you swinging fox, she’s trapping you! The rabbit’s gonna live, man!” yet knowing in my heart of hearts that I wouldn’t. I mean, this was about destroying dreams and raising babies. Holy shit kind of stuff. But I stood still, holding up the wall, watching the disco ball shimmering silver like a fish’s underbelly, praying like hell those hundreds of tiny, little mirrors weren’t reflecting my underbelly. The soft one, splattering its sickening, yolk-colored bullshit across the floor, up the walls, and all the way into my future.
Took me years to come to terms with the real reason I didn’t tell Dean that night. Or ever. Truth is, I didn’t want him to leave either. Not because I’d miss him; we hadn’t talked since middle school––when jocks became jocks, and the rest of us hovered on the fringe like shrubbery. It wasn’t a boy meets boy kind of thing either. Sure, I was mere hedging in the landscape of my school days, but I was certain about some things.
Quite simply, I was afraid Dean Foster might do better than me. I’d always been smart, that was my knack. And someone like him, getting to go to college out of state because he was a bit more agile than most, well, it just wasn’t fair.
Guess it’s true what they say: if certain things go unsaid for too long, your penance is to absorb the silence, let it soak into your bloodstream and invade your chromosomes. And like addiction or blonde hair or oily skin, it becomes part of your genetics. You pass along the guilt and self-doubt to your own kids. Then, they to theirs.
So, every Christmas as I make my way home, I take a little detour. Just past the Beaumont the Beautiful sign off Route 2––the one that reads “Come see us again” on the backside in red, swirly letters––I turn left, head down Perkins Street. Through friends of a friend, I learned that Dean lives by the Smith Slaughterhouse. It’s a ramshackle two-story with big wood shingles and a droopy overhang above the porch, a square block of concrete. He drives the same Dodge, but the tires are bald now and one of the side mirrors dangles down. I heard Bridgette left him for the lead mechanic at the Nuts and Bolts Auto Shop the year after graduation, lives out by the county line. And that Dean only sees his daughter on weekends. Though I’ve never seen it, I imagine Dean pushing his little girl on the swings at the Beaumont Elementary playground, having blanket picnics with bologna slices and cubed cheese. And her––creamy skin and thick, wavy hair like her mother’s––not yet knowing that she’ll probably never leave Beaumont either, that she’ll never expect just a little bit more than the village of barely two thousand people, unworthy of a yellow splotch on a Michigan roadmap. A red dot with a circle around it, only because it’s the county seat.
Yet I ache, thinking, oh Lord, when did my brown eyes turn so damn green?
Chad V. Broughman was the recipient of the Rusty Scythe Prize Book award in 2016 and in 2017 was awarded the Adobe Cottage Writers Retreat honor in New Mexico. Most recently, Chad was awarded a chapbook contract for his collection of short stories, “the forsaken,” which was published by Etchings Press, and was one of three winners in the “First Chapter” contest, hosted by Arch Street Press. As well, his fiction can be found in several reviews and journals nationwide––such as Carrier Pigeon, East Coast Literary Review, River Poets Journal, Burningword, Faith, Hope & Fiction andSky Island Journal. He holds an MFA from Spalding University, recently served as co-editor for the fiction/poetry blog, Café Aphra, based out of the United Kingdom, and teaches English and Creative Writing at the secondary and post-secondary levels in Harbor Springs. Chad is a husband and the proud father of two rambunctious young sons.
Commentary from Michelle Barker, Darling Axe editor and contest judge:
Second place goes to Tiny Little Mirrors, by Chad Broughman
Another wonderful story with a strong voice and keenly observed detail. The author captures the difficult emotions of both jealousy and guilt, and delivers them to us with a humour tinged in regret. Beautiful writing.