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.…
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.