OUR FATHER • by Deborah Winter-Blood

We ran. We fled as if we were both insane, as if chased or possessed by demons. And maybe we were — possessed, that is.

Kathy unfolded the map too much. It spread across the dash and fluttered against the steering wheel. “I wish we had GPS,” she said.

I flung my cigarette butt out of the window. “Well, we don’t.”

“I only said I wish we did. I have no clue where we are.”

“We can’t be that far.”

“Fucking cornfields.”

I ignored her. We’d already argued our way east on the 40 to Albuquerque in that “I love you but you’re such an idiot” sister kind of way. I wanted to stay on the interstate until Oklahoma City before cutting north, but she was the oldest. When she told me to take the 85 north from Albuquerque, that’s what I did.

There was a sign ahead. “This is Malvern,” I announced. “We’re here.”

We couldn’t find the high school where our father had been a Big Man on Campus. We couldn’t find the two-story brick building that we’d memorized from the image in the center of our dad’s diploma. Instead we found the new high school on the edge of town and parked in front of it.

Kathy reached behind me and pulled a bottle of wine out of the seat pocket. She took a drink before handing it to me.

“This is so messed up,” she said.

We got out and walked to the back of the car. I opened the hatch.

My sister asked, “Do you have a cup or something?”

“Why would I carry around a cup? Let’s just take the whole damned thing and dump him.”

“I promised.”

“I didn’t promise jack shit.”

Kathy insisted. “Well, I did. Some here, some in Montana.”

I opened the urn and we each reached into it for a handful. I’m sure we spilled most of him on our way up to the football field. We stood on the fifty-yard line, each with a tiny remnant of our father clutched between our fingers.

“Do it,” I said.

“You do it,” she countered.

I suggested a compromise. “Let’s do it together.”

We both opened our fists and let go of the silky remains. It was anticlimactic, watching the fine gray dust catch the wind and scatter.

“Ew,” I cried. “He got on me.”

“This is so messed up,” Kathy repeated.

We took Highway 29 out of Malvern and stopped in Sioux Falls for the night. The wine was gone, so we found a liquor store and then a motel.

Sitting on one of the double beds, we drank vodka and Kathy cried. She wasn’t supposed to cry; she was the oldest.

As the sun started to rise, Kathy moaned in her sleep. She felt small with her back burrowed against me. I held her and whispered that I understood, that I knew why she always slept with a pillow pressed against her mouth. It was to prevent the wrongness, or maybe to prevent her own protests against the wrongness. I’m sure we both dreamed about Daddy that night.

She checked her voice mails somewhere around Belle Fouche the next day and turned to me, blanched of color. “Jim says he’s going to take the kids. He says he’ll take them if I don’t come home right now.”

I adjusted my window so the wind stopped grabbing my hair. “Dave said the same thing to me two days ago.”

We exchanged a glance and kept driving.

The ranch where our father spent his summers was gone, so we drove until the sun met the earth above an open field. There was no discussion. We took Daddy out of the back and walked out into the grass.

I opened the urn and held it almost perpendicular to the earth, and looked at Kathy.

She nodded. “Do it.”

He was gone so quickly, a spray of fine dust, some in the wind, some in the grass.

There were wet trails down my sister’s face. I was frozen, unable to react to the last bit of our father that stuck to her tears. Get off of her, I wanted to shout.

“He’s gone.” She sounded very, very small.

“Good,” I whispered. “Fucking bastard.”

We both turned and started back across the field to the car, but somehow along the way I ended up on my knees. I wept and Kathy held me.

When the sun finally set, when there was no light left to expose our misdeeds or the misdeeds of our father, she helped me to my feet.

I handed her the map once we were back in the car. “Where to now?”

Kathy tossed the map aside. “Just drive.”

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Very well written, well drawn characters, but somewhat overused themes – both the urn road trip and the ‘closure’ at finally seeing off a sexually abusive father.

  • Odile

    Very polished. The story though, apart from being along lines that have been done to death, was unconvincing. Why would they undertake a long journey, put both their marriages and families at risk to respect the wishes of an abusive father they both seemed to hate? Possible, but unlikely, it seemed to me.

  • Rose Gardener

    Well paced, with believable story-line and characters. Good job,

  • ocean

    “Why would they undertake a long journey, put both their marriages and families at risk to respect the wishes of an abusive father they both seemed to hate?”

    I thought they might be falling into the pattern of child abuse themselves, abuse by neglect.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Well written Debbie

  • fishlovesca

    Brill. Thanks, Deb.

    Five stars.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    I find some of the writing very awkward in this piece, ie

    ‘We’d already argued our way east on the 40 to Albuquerque in that “I love you but you’re such an idiot” sister kind of way.’

    and some bits overly sensational:

    ‘I’m sure we spilled most of him on our way up to the football field. We stood on the fifty-yard line, each with a tiny remnant of our father clutched between our fingers.’

    I couldn’t really see much point to the story, I’m afraid, and the twist was a long time coming.

  • Tamim

    @Odile – my thoughts precisely. Something is missing here cause the ends don’t tie up.

  • ajcap

    How can child abuse be over done? Zombies and vampires, I can see that done to boredom but child or spouse abuse is a never ending horror.

    I thought this very well written, tight and interesting. The parts #7, Sheila, didn’t like were my favourites.

    I also agree with #2, Odie, but not understanding the reasons why the sisters felt they had to do this roadtrip did not detract from the story. I would think Ocean probably hit the nail.

  • J Howard

    I thought this story was exceptionally well-written. I loved the wry humor (“I’m sure we spilled most of him on the way up…”); the way the story slowly unfolded for me; the subtle pathos that oozed from these characters and their “situation”; even the ending made sense to me. I got quickly caught up in this tale, and never stopped reading until I reached the last word. Then I read it again.

    That “Get off of her” line, BTW, made the hairs on my arms stand at attention. Sad and so powerful at the same time.

    Those who found realism lacking in this story? Victims of horrific trauma often behave in irrational ways, even as adults. Fulfilling their despised father’s last wish, jeopadizing their marriages in the bargain, the metaphorical aimlessness at the very end… Not at all surprising, in my opinion.

    Very well done, and for me, definitely five-star material. Good job, Deborah!

  • Richard Ferri

    Great piece. Very interesting love/hate relationship between the girls and their father — despite the ‘wrongness’ they felt obligated to carry out his last wishes. I like that you just allude to the wrongness and leave it to the reader to intuit the rest. Terse, authentic-sounding dialogue. I like how you add ‘waits’ in the dialogue, letting the tension build between responses. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

  • We all have our family of origin stories, some more dysfunctional than others. I like the way Debi unfolded this journey, not necessarily by showing us that dysfunction, but by letting us in the emotions forged by it. In my experience, we either repeat the same dysfunction or create new ones to pass on.

    This story was brilliant in its simplicity and character exposition. The written word is meticulously weaved into the things unsaid, such that more is revealed than the boundaries of flash fiction word-count generally allow.


  • John Im

    Written with a great depth of understanding the
    conflict between what “our father” was supposed
    to be and the abusive person playing that role.
    That is why they carry out his last wishes, not
    simply to get rid of the past (no one does) but
    because of that part of oneself which still
    feels some duty toward the ideal parent who
    never existed. Very powerful. These sisters
    who tried to protect each other may still
    be trying to escape controlling men. I don’t
    think they are running away, but toward something.

  • I think this piece is right on the money. Yes, the storyline is familiar but it’s the voice that counts here. I was caught by the voice and held on. For me the “awkwardness” wasn’t really awkward but rather mimicked the states of mind of the two women and as for undertaking such a journey, this makes perfect sense to me. People deal with different tragedies done to themselves in different ways. These two women take this journey in order to be able to go back to their regular lives. It’s not homage so much as forgiveness. One has to face what’s happened in the past in order to let go of it and that’s what they are doing. This is a 5 from me.

  • This story pulls you in and doesn’t let go. The characters feel real and the situation (albeit done many times before) is handled so well that you don’t mind seeing it in this story again.

    The only nitpick I have is with the reaction of the sister’s husbands. Surely, they told their mates what they were going to do, and for the husbands not to understand seems a little unreal to me. I’d understand, and I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one.

    Well written piece. Four stars in a jar leaning toward five.

  • ajcap

    I would like to comment on the comments. Wonderful stuff.

    If it wasn’t for #13, John Im, I would have missed the whole idea of their husbands as controlling. Blackmailing types instead of understanding types. Maybe the sisters picked these husbands as subsitutes for their father? I’ve read where abused women will marry men that remind them of their father, marry what they know and continue the cycle.

    Subtle foreshadowing on the author’s part, very impressive, if I may gush for a moment. Not running away, but heading for something, hopefully, better.

    More I read it, more I like it. And with the help of the comments, the more I appreciate the quality of the writing.

  • I think I want to enjoy this from the point of writing style and communication of feeling. Rationale for the women is a distant second. 4 stars.

    But…there’s dynamite in the set-up of spreading one’s ashes. It’s a really loaded topic. My wife and I were talking about it over the cornflakes this morning. I said she could scatter me over our rose garden if she wanted, but only after I’m dead.

  • Thank you all very much for the helpful and insightful comments! I appreciate the time and consideration put into your responses; it all helps me become a better writer. If I’ve gone wrong, I’ll avoid repeating those mistakes in the future. If I’ve done something right, I’ll try to do it again. 🙂

    (LOL Walt!)

  • Jen

    I loved the ending to this. I didn’t expect it at all.

  • Douglas Campbell

    Good characters in this story, and I love the way they played off each other. This felt real to me. Nice work!

  • vondrakker

    Another great piece Debi
    The innuendo and unanswered questions…
    remarkable……..must re-apply myself
    to my writing, you are an inspiration!!!

    Clearly 5 *****

  • lindsay

    I agree with Seattle Jim (#15). I thought the story was great, but I didn’t understand the reactions of the husbands. I could see them not approving, especially if they were aware of the abuse, but taking the kids seems extreme.

  • Loved it.. Loved it! You might tweak a thing here or there when you revisit it, but it basically works for me as is. I ladmire the way you addressed deep issues through this trip rather than recounting scenes of abuse. It’s powerful. Probably the only spot where I popped out of the story a little bit was when you revealed that both husbands threatened to take the kids. I can imagine both husbands reacting negatively to this trip, but in different ways.

  • AJ Smith

    Super writing. Good job. I also feel like each husband would have a different reaction. It doescn’t have to be completely different just a little.

  • Absolutely brilliant! ITA with comments 10, 12 and 14.

    I read it twice so that I could absorb each word and image. Bravo!

  • Simone

    Your writing ability never ceases to amaze me. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

  • Once again, thank you all very much for stopping by with your comments! Feedback from writers I admire is invaluable to me.

    (Simone, hahahahaha! Thanks for the giggle AND the great comment.)

  • Angie

    I loved this and felt I was along for the ride. Most excellent.

  • Sarah

    I very much liked this piece.

    I do wish, though, that people actually realized that “ashes” are not a uniformly fine powder. Cremated remains are actually largely composed of bone fragments. Although I suppose it is possible it depends on the facility.

  • wildirishrose

    My thoughts on Seattle Jim’s remark: “The only nitpick I have is with the reaction of the sister’s husbands. Surely, they told their mates what they were going to do, and for the husbands not to understand seems a little unreal to me.” is to point out a great percentage of those who have survived this sort of abuse NEVER reveal it, even to their spouses. (or especially to)

    I found the story evocative, and well written. It is difficult to bring nuances of personality out in such a brief tale, and I think Debi did it brilliantly. Bravo.
    xo & @->->-