SHE holds the jagged, pulpy tooth in her palm; the splash of blood and spit contaminating the bathroom sink. She should rush to clean it up, but she’s often frightened by the violent transition of inside things brought to the outside of her body. As her tongue works the groove left in the tooth’s absence, she can already imagine her mother screaming. The taste of blood like sucking on pennies, each flick toward the hole a dare. She swallows and her stomach squirms as the thick glob of blood-infested spit slides down her throat. A second of breathlessness, and she almost forgets not to cry.

Below, her mother is throwing glasses at the wall. The sharp static of breaking glass followed by her father's calm voice hovers outside her closed bedroom door. Noise, like the wind or rain or the chill in the air, hunts her, threatens to devour every last particle until even the memories of her are scattered like the best of her parent’s intentions. She’s old enough to know when to avoid her parents, but young enough that she doesn’t understand the source of her mother's rage. At school, screams erupt from her mouth before she has time to think, and she wonders if maybe it’s a disease, something passed down from her mother, a jolt of particle passed on at birth.

This is her third dislodged tooth, so she’s not as scared, knows now that she won’t be dying today. Not yet, is a swell of hope, a bird with yawning wings stretching in her chest. Adulthood, she reasons, equals escape, and already she’s more grown than she was the day before. Her tongue, too, finds the spiky evidence of budding teeth. At night, shadowed by the blue glow of her iPad, she often looks at mountains, revolving their three-dimensional shapes until she falls asleep—body braced for the first shatter of glass, the second sharp words slashing through her inky dreams.

She has special permission to stay in at recess and use the clunky microscope. Her teacher grades papers silently, the swish of photocopies, marking the efficiency of her pen. The girl loves her teacher, loves her silences, the way she sighs at the lower than expected scores, the way she never fusses over the girl, never prods or jokes. They share a symbiosis, a desire for predictable solitude. The girl squints—the light flooding one eye, while the other is closed to the world—the edges blackening like paper burnt by fire, but she knows that there are answers here.

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. He recently won the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter. 

© 2020 Tommy Dean. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, May 2020.

Editors: Troy Palmer, Beth Gilstrap & Alvin Park. Images from The Noun Project (credit: glyph.faisalovers).

The 2020 Flash Issue:



by Tommy Dean
The Desire for 
Predictable Solitude