by Tommy Dean
1st Place Winner – Flash 405, August 2023: “Secret”
We knew a boy who carried around a microscope, a boy who would stop in the middle of the sidewalk, who would drag us into the woods or behind the city pool, his hand sweaty, and clutching dragging us toward these micro versions of nature, things we’d rather step on than watch with their wiggling bodies, and gyrating wings or antennas, each bug giving us the willies, when all we wanted was the soft touch of a palm on our back, the dig of fingers underneath the waists of our jean shorts, the hush of breath on our necks after a long minute of kissing. But Benji would heft his microscope, the slides falling from his shirt pocket, dotting the grass and trampled areas, the film as clear as any mirror, and we’d ask him if he sees us in those squares, and he says we’re too big, that we take up too much space, that our feet are terrorists and our hands are too rough and insensitive, and here’s a dash of a fly’s wings or a minute segment of an ant’s leg, and aren’t the patterns of skin a wonder, and we squat before him our thighs butterflied outward, a V of invitation that he never sees, and we ask him to look at us, to wonder about our cells, our blood and our voices, and our desires blooming larger.
I love how this piece tackles a boy concerned only with the microcosm of life around him, completely ignoring the girls who want to be seen in someone’s eyes other than their own. Each image builds on the next, creating a cohesion of meaning as large as life itself. I was enthralled from the very first line, and I rode the wave as this story catapulted me into the stratosphere of humanity’s one wish: to be seen, truly and fully seen, by another. I kept coming back to this piece again and again, and each time a new layer opened up to me. This piece brilliantly displays what can be achieved in such a small space.
Tommy Dean is the author of two flash-fiction chapbooks and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press, 2022). He lives in Indiana where he currently is the editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. He is a recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, and his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, and 2023; Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022; Laurel Review; and elsewhere. Find him at tommydeanwriter.com and on X (formerly Twitter) at @TommyDeanWriter.
Photo by Nong