Tommy Dean "Adrift"

The horse was delivered by a trailer with rusting wheel covers, the air slots dark, promising. A new smell of shit invading the air. Faith put her face in slot after slot, pictures of the horse shifting from tail swishing, leg tapping, nose twitching, eye searching for freedom. Faith glanced over at the house, the twisted siding, the cracked sidewalk, and the dull metal railing on the front porch. Her father counted the hundred dollar bills, each one a leaf from an invisible tree that would never grow back. The man taking the money hitched up his jeans, spit to his left, and said I sure do appreciate this. Faith didn't understand why the man was so grateful until he opened up the latch, and the horse, gray and arthritic, stumbled out of the trailer and shuddered, its coat rippling in the heat.

Her parents had fought about the horse for weeks, their voices a rumble of thunder and lightning, a hovering storm that left the house gloomy, and finally silent as they withdrew to their corners. Him in the barn and her sitting at her vanity. But her mother was gone, thank goodness, for the sight of the horse would have made her laugh, her voice cruel in her told you so hands on her hips, flashing her eyes at Faith, showing Faith just how badly her father often failed.

Her mother was at work, sticking her gloved hands in other people's mouths. Her mother loved the sterile, the antiseptic, the orderly mechanics of working at the dentist’s office and hated the muck, the stink, the decay of animals.

Faith disrupted her mother’s dreams, pinballing between father and mother—clothes shopping, trying on dresses and fancy shoes with slick heels, giving way to bailing hay, and delousing chickens, and driving the aging tractor. Heels or boots, Faith stomped through both worlds, neither parent quite winning. The horse was her father’s ace. The steady shipments of riding clothes, intricately designed boots, and a saddle with leather as soft as cotton. All of this bought in anticipation of getting a horse, this horse, and Faith learning how to ride.

The horse, with its drooping belly, and curved back, licked at Faith's fingers. Tail swishing, the hair matted and stiff, it was hard to imagine a ribbon, hard to imagine riding this beast anywhere. Dreams of parades, fairs, triumphs were fading as the man latched the trailer and got into his truck. He gave them a honk, and they were left with her father's purchase.

“Tell me her name's pretty. Tell me we're rescuing a famous racehorse," Faith said. "Something we can tell mom. Something that might save you."

"They call her Honey. And she's had a lot of miles. A tough but honorable life, and I think you're going to love her."

But Faith was tired of saving things, tired of taking care of the wingless, the trampled, the sick, and the dying. She longed for the quiet whisper of soft clothes, of hair, curled and teased, of looking her best, and loving her smile in the mirror, of smelling of exotic fruit, and stolen kisses in the corner of high school dances, of boys, those confused animals, she wanted to learn how to tame, to lean into the beauty of people.

But her father held the saddle, the crop, and the riding helmet. For you, he gestured, and she took the soft hat and tied it around her chin. How could something so light feel so heavy? The horse didn’t move, didn't buck or snort, or do anything beyond dropping its head, slowly chewing on a clump of grass, adrift. The wild drained from Honey. The horse was another anchor, Faith's feet attached to the stirrups, waiting for that unmatched heat inside of her to settle.

Bio: Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). Hollows, a collection of flash fiction is forthcoming from Alternating Current Press. He lives in Indiana where he currently is 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 2020Best Small Fiction 2019Monkeybicycle, and the Atticus Review. He has taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, and The Writers Workshop. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on Twitter @TommyDeanWriter.