by Tommy Dean
The Dulling of Sharp Edges
There were days when Faith wasn’t allowed outside, the constant stab of sirens forcing her to cover her ears, each one a shock, her breath caught in a bubble that lodged in her throat like a fat glob of bread that she couldn’t swallow. She picked up rocks and inspected them for size, for smoothness, for the dulling of sharp edges, going so far as to put them in her mouth, the dirt against her teeth making her feel better, centered, but as much as she’d like to be a bird, she was too afraid to swallow them. Birds, her mother reminded her, on occasion, always find a way to escape. Faith ran in circles around the backyard, the fence fuzzy with moss, leaning in to steal her secrets, the ones she used to entertain the bees as they swooped and hovered, hoping to find her pollen. The neighbors gossiped between the fences, gathering in choirs of glasses and naked toes depending on their ages, faces turned toward the sun. It all looks the same, they said as they waited for the invisible to become visible. Faith crowed and whistled, her throat blooming.
Made from the Same Stuff
Faith’s mother holds her like a broken piece of glass. Ready to be rid of her, but careful not to cut herself on the release. At twelve, she is hard edges and doughy skin, a length not easily curled into a ball. But the boys, their bike chains rattling, have chased her home from the park again. Their hands grabbed at her hair, her elbow, the inside of her thigh as they rode with her in the middle, boxing her in. If she stopped, pivoted toward a new direction, the handlebars dipped into her ribs, while their mouths swooped toward her ears. Half a mile she ran, but the heat kept everyone in their homes.
A sudden kick of her foot into the back tire spokes of Matty Philips’ Huffy sent him sprawling onto the sun-baked road. She ducked through the gravel alley, around a car backing into a driveway, and onto main street with its chugging semis and dump trucks hand grinding through the small town that her mother had moved to after the divorce. People, those boys especially, wilder than the animals on her father’s farm. But somehow this was safer. Civilized, her mother pronounced it, even though the stove had rusted and the floors were cracked, the hundred-year-old cement rough on her bare feet.
“How is this better?” Faith asks. Her arm is numb, but she doesn’t want to leave her mother’s lap.
“I never said it was better. There is no better. Just survival.”
“And we will?”
“We’ll give them a bit of blood. A few tears. If we must. But you and me were built to last.”
“But I bruise,” Faith says, dipping her head, hair scaling across her eyes.
“Reminders of what happens when we’re caught. They come from love, too.”
Faith thinks of the sheep and the way they complain. Their constant bleating often ignored.
“One of those boys, those assholes, they fell. Blood in their teeth.”
“It’s good to remember that they bleed too. Boys, men, we’re all made from the same stuff.”
That night Faith is allowed to sleep in her mother’s bed, her side aching, The heat of her mother a comfort she had started to forget while she planned all the ways to harden her body.
Faith wants to know about astronauts, so she studies the ground. Her mom always says you have to know the power of down before you can rise up. Something twinkly flows from her fingers to her shoulders, but she can’t grasp the meaning. She’d rather look at the stars, the way they wink and persuade, but there’s something about the way an ant runs across her toes, its miniscule head twitching, that keeps her rooted at the edge of the lilac tree, bees looping through her wind-tousled hair. She’s practicing patience. Giving away her life force, rumoring carbon dioxide, treating each petal like a newborn baby. Her mother cries in the bathroom with the lights off holding a white plastic stick. The word please has become their prayer. Her mother never explains. Just folds her hands over Faith’s, and just repeats that word while Faith imagines the stars hovering over their roof, spelling out a message she’s too near-sighted to see.
Tommy Dean is the author of Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). Hollows, a collection of flash fiction, was published by Alternating Current Press in March 2022. He lives in Indiana where he is currently the editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020, Best Small Fiction 2019, Monkeybicycle, and numerous other lit mags. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.