Rotting crab apples stuck sickly to her feet as she danced under the umbrella of the clustering leaves. Her parents’ voices crashed like waves on the beach followed by the low sizzle of water raking across the sand. She went to the ocean once. Santa Monica Pier, where they stood on the edge of a crowd, trapeze performers twisting into tight body rolls, her own tongue corkscrewing to keep herself from gasping as they appeared to fall only to be caught by a strong arm.

From this spot on the farm, the chickens clucking over the spilled feed along the gravel drive, the ocean, the sun, the waves were as lost as her mother’s ring. The diamond smaller than a corn kernel, bobbed on the girl’s thumb, sunlight stratifying across the upturned leaves. She quite enjoyed being the cause of their mystery, their shouted responses. At least they were talking. So many dinners her father ate over the sink; her mother waiting for a mumbled thanks as she made another endless grocery list.

The smell of sun, a mixture of water-soaked wood and excitement. The thrill of crowding voices rushed away by the wind scooping through the valley of unplanted fields carrying along the uninvited smell of manure. She promised herself she would return the ring soon, but she hated to confess. She didn’t know the word ransom, but she thought maybe she could get them to agree to a trade.

Anything to stand in the gap between sky and sea again.

She braced her feet against the base of the petite tree, her hands clutching the rough branch. She arched her neck, oak brown hair fanning down like foliage.

She’ll hold on until her father comes, his shadow a promise, daring him to catch her.


Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of the forthcoming flash fiction chapbook entitled Covenants from ELJ Editions. 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 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.