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My Father Takes Me to the Rodeo by Francine Witte


In Francine Witte’s microfiction piece, “My Father Takes Me to the Rodeo,” one appreciates the immediacy created by utilizing the story’s title as part of the opening line. The reader is fully immersed into this young narrator’s world where fathers frequently lie and exasperated mothers flee. There’s a sudden intimacy between the narrator and reader that continues to build resonance as she tries to grapple with her mother’s abandonment and better understand what has led her parents to separate from one another.

The dynamics in this piece are complex and dimensional despite the story’s obvious brevity and efficiency. In her accompanying author’s note, Witte explains it is most often the element of the unspoken that generates the tension found in these familial relationships—“I’ve always found this idea, that of taking the unspoken into the spoken, to be a very helpful tool in structuring a story, and because that happens so often in families, it seems to fit well.”

We hope you enjoy “My Father Takes Me to the Rodeo,” and also consider reading all the wonderful flash pieces we’ve had the opportunity to share during CRAFT’s annual All-Flash November.  –CRAFT


 

And that’s when I know what I want to be. Not the cowboy, flailing all spaghetti in the afternoon sun. But the horse bucking and shaking that small man off his back.

My father was out of work again. Third time this year. He explained it to me this way—Everyone’s a liar.

When I asked my mother what he meant by that, she was on her last few weeks of him. Would leave him, leave us by the end of the month. “Ask him,” was all she said.

My mother hated it here in West Gully. She was from New York. Loved the knots of people, the sky you could only see in pieces.

Here, there was nothing but sky. My father moved us here and said the empty blue would give him a canvas to write on.

My father lost the first job because he stole money from the cash register. My mother and I knew he did it because he went out and bought himself a cowboy outfit, which he said was to fit in. And don’t forget the boots with mother-of-pearl, a belt with a near-gold buckle. Course, he lost it all in a poker game. He lied about that, too.

So now, it’s just me and my father, and he takes me to the rodeo even though he usually comes alone. He says the rodeo makes the kind of sense the rest of the world does not. “It’s man against horse,” he says. “Now, forget the man. The man is just a stupid fool, thinking he could tame something wild like that. But a horse. A horse will never call you a liar. He will just shake you the hell off his back. You show me a man who can do that.”

It was something to see the truth coming out of my father’s mouth, first time since forever. “I gotta be father and mother to you now,” he said, the sun squinching up his eyes. “And I don’t know how I’m gonna do.”

We sat there the rest of the time really quiet. Sitting still in our seats while nearly everyone else jumped up and hollered. My father reached his hand over to mine, squeezed it gently. Every now and again the crowd around us cheered a cowboy being thrown to the ground.

 


FRANCINE WITTE’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press), The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction), and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books). She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September 2021. She lives in NYC.

 

Featured image by Alexandre de Freitas Freitascv courtesy of Pixabay

 

Author’s Note

In writing “My Father Takes Me to the Rodeo,” I started with one of my favorite themes—the family. There are endless variations—a family can be two beings or twenty. The father might leave, the mother might leave. But what is almost always true is the element of the unspoken.

Families may not say things directly to one another, even if secrets and personality patterns are painfully obvious.

Most of my stories are told through the child’s POV (sometimes a teenager, sometimes a grown child) and based on their observations. This creates a wealth of opportunity for subtext. Children are so, so smart, and they really miss very little, no matter what the parents think.

In Rodeo, in fact, we only meet the mother in a tiny bit of exposition as to why she left. I always try to use exposition and adjectives like garlic, thinking too much of either will stink up the joint.

The action of this story is a trip to the rodeo. Here, the daughter has observed her father as a liar and a broken man who could not conform to the world of work. She has seen him lose jobs, spend money frivolously, and has even uprooted the entire family which forces the mother to flee.

The left-behind daughter still thinks of the father as a ne’er do well (or a bum as my own mother would say). But it’s not until they are at the rodeo, where the world is suddenly reduced to sky and horse and man, that she hears her father express his truth, and in doing so, he connects with his daughter and the story can end.

I’ve always found this idea, that of taking the unspoken into the spoken, to be a very helpful tool in structuring a story, and because that happens so often in families, it seems to fit well.

 


FRANCINE WITTE’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press), The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction), and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books). She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) was published by ELJ Editions in September 2021. She lives in NYC.