the museum of americana

a literary review

A Man with Horses—Flash Fiction by Peg Alford Pursell

The day began with beauty, with happiness. After years of saving, I’d brought my daughter to the bungalow by the sea where we’d always wanted to spend a summer. She’d graduated from high school two weeks before, so I’d just made it—our last true time together before she went to college. I laced up my running shoes, left her sleeping in the pleasing cottage, and set off for a quick run. I crunched down the shell driveway, salmon-colored in the dawn, onto the oleander-lined path toward town. The humid air pressed my skin but a breeze blew in from the ocean. I was contented, even triumphant. The arched sky was so blue it was hard not to believe in something grand behind it, behind everything.

I passed through the small town center, where laundry fluttered from the balconies like pastel ghosts. I was someone who had to work harder than others at love, I knew that, even with my daughter, who had always seemed, from the start, too clever to choose comfort. When she was an infant, the knowledge that I alone was the only solution to her troubles was excruciating. But somehow, we’d made it through, and she was on the verge of making her own way in the world. I imagined talking deeply in the days to come, learning what made her feel empty, what made her full.

I turned the bend in the road for home, the sun lighting the red tin roof and sparkling the distant caplets of the sea. As I neared the house, I saw a black car I didn’t recognize in the driveway and began to feel afraid. I didn’t know why.

On the porch a large man with a tanned face, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, stood beside my daughter with her pale face, so close to her that he must have smelled her golden hair, the lingering sweet verbena scent of her shampoo. Near my daughter’s feet sat her new suitcase. Her eyes watched me carefully.

The man took her elbow in his enormous furred hand, and she told me that they had been secretly married the previous weekend, that they were moving to Chile where he raised horses. While there was no knowing what was true, I knew there was no stopping my girl from doing whatever hard thing she was determined to do.

Certain men are glad to find certain girls. The more unbreakable the girl, the better. This girl, no, had never wanted contentment. I placed my hand on her cool cheek, so soft. She closed her eyes against the feeling.

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Peg Alford Pursell is the author of A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, (Dzanc Books, July 2019), and the SHOW HER A FLOWER, A BIRD, A SHADOWthe 2017 Indies Book of the Year for Literary Fiction. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, including Permafrost, Joyland, and the Los Angeles Review. Most recently, her microfiction, flash fiction, and hybrid prose have been nominated for Best Small Microfictions and Pushcart Prizes. She is the founder and director of WTAW Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary books, and of Why There Are Words, a national literary reading series she founded in Sausalito in 2010. She is a member of the SF Writers Grotto.