The Running of Blood
“The Running of Blood” was one of those stories where the images came first, the idea of a boy in a car with a girl, but the pressure of the storm and his father, and the invisible voices of the community keep him from his desires. The idea of his desires felt like a livewire in my mind as I was writing, but not all of them made it clearly onto the page, so I’m thrilled that I had the chance to work with Maria Picone on edits to make the story better, clearer in regard to the characterization and desires of the main character! We can’t always know or see what needs to happen on the page, so I always appreciate editors who are willing to get into the trenches with their writers!
In this town, everything hinges on your reputation. Football on Fridays and church on Sundays. And purity in-between. It’s not a choice: there’s nature and there’s religion, and somehow, we’re all expected to be on the right side of these invisible laws, Sunday school lessons running interference.
So when Mandy touches my lips with her finger, pulls at my ear, asks me if she’s all I’ve ever wanted, I tell her I love her for the first time. At seventeen, I’m a body pulsing with song lyrics, balancing that good boy fear of sex and the first tastes of not giving a fuck. And I love you is all Mandy needed to hear.
Mandy insists that she doesn’t mind the car, doesn’t mind the chances of getting caught with underwear around our ankles.
Our first time will be special enough, she says, making sure I know how to lie to my parents, how to make it look like I care for once about the football game, how I plan on cheering for the home team.
Friday night, my father finds us at the bottom bleacher of the student section. A wave or a salute, a wink, and he’s gone, grease stains dotting the back of his coat as he checks trash cans and picks up litter. Students boo and laugh, cheering around us, while Mandy squeezes my hand. I’m having hard time not imagining that each sound’s directed at me, my father. Boys on either side of us pushing us closer together, each jostle a reminder that we aren’t alone. We try to talk around them. Classes and homework, plans for the weekend. Nothing that would give our secrets away.
After the game, sitting in my car in the high school parking lot, the football field lights strobe across the sky—permanent stars. The lightning flashes and we press our lips together until the thunder booms. But I can’t block out the lights. I know that someone from the neighborhood behind the stands will call the police, who will rouse the principal, who always yells breathfully into my father’s phone. It’s the third time he’s forgotten to turn them off this season. My dad will be here any minute.
The thunder gets closer. Mandy tells me that’s impossible; that sound is neither far or near as she moves my hands from her neck to the space between her thighs.
Lightning again, a slice across the breath-caught windows. I pull away from her, and her tongue hangs between her lips, glides across her teeth, and all I can think about is my dad lumbering out of bed, farting on the bench seat of his old truck, window cracked, the rain spitting on him, keeping him awake as he keeps an eye out for deer.
“I have to get those lights.”
I open the car door, rain tapping on the door handle. She grabs my hand. “They’ll find out, Mandy.”
“No one cares, Shawn. No baby and no one cares.”
I want to explain about the deer. The one we hit when I was six, the way its head cracked against the windshield, how I still see its eye, searching, before it tumbled off the hood of the car. My father mumbling prayers in the driver’s seat, marshalling his fear, while my heart punched at my chest, trying to escape. We’re all just one accident away. That’s what this town preaches.
Her shirt is scrunched like a teeter-totter, one shoulder bare, the other side blanketed. I have an urge to bite the bulb of her skin, to take some of it away on the ridges of my teeth. The rain starts to puddle, mixing with the discarded gum wrappers. The smell of mold and bubble gum, and something I can’t name. I stumble out of the car, clutching at my un-buttoned jeans. The rain swarms around the lights. Lightning exposing me as I run past the ticket booth toward the football field light box.
I want to shout back to Mandy, make her understand that you can want multiple things at once, but something eventually wins out, that the deer are always there, cowering, streaking through the dark, instincts rooted deep in their blood, ready to run.
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 (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). He is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine He has been previously published in the Bending Genres, Atticus Review, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020 and the Best Small Fiction 2019. He won the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. Find him @TommyDeanWriter.