Kasey Thornton, “Out of Our Suffering” (Masters Review Anthology, Vol. VI)
This is a powerful story, one of the highlights of the Masters Review Anthology, Volume VI (2017).
The voice is that of a young girl, Emma, probably around eleven years old, who lives in a very chaotic home. Our first impression is that Emma’s father, Jackson, is a domineering character who rules over his wife and his two daughters. He hates and berates his wife just as much as he loves and pampers his dog. Emma doesn’t seem to hate her father, but early on he takes her father’s prized dog, Loretta, and ties her to a tree in the woods, with the intention of letting her starve to death. Since Jackson loves the dog so much, Emma clearly wants to hurt him through the dog.
Life carries on in its usual messiness, but then Emma has her first period. Her sister, Abigail, who always sleeps with her father in the bed while their mother is cast out elsewhere, gives Emma a tampon and tries to cover for her. Shortly after that, we realize that Abigail’s murky relationship with her father is even murkier: they have sex. Abigail tries to help Emma run away but they are caught by their father. Emma is taken to the bedroom, where Jackson gropes her.
Emma’s mother soon disappears from the house. The version they are supposed to tell everyone is that she was in a bad accident, but the story is hard to believe and we never know exactly what happened. Abigail runs away and sends a letter to the police. The story ends with the police officer visiting the house. Abigail runs off to shoot Loretta to put her out of her suffering (one of the meanings of the title of the story), but upon undoing her collar Loretta runs away.
Abigail comes back and sees hope and beauty in a blue bird that is scared off by her father calling Emma’s name. Last sentence: “I lift my Daddy’s Beretta and take aim but I don’t bother hitting my stance because I know I will not miss” (p. 93). The ending is rich with symbolism, from the phallic gun to the multiple meanings of “miss.” We’re not told exactly what she’s aiming at (her father? herself?), but she’s certainly taking a stand.
The voice is very well handled, playful and childish even in the midst of harsh situations. This paragraph gives a good sense of the voice: “Once I am in the woods I pull the clip out of the gun and rack the slide. I don’t want to have to shoot Loretta but putting her out of her suffering is the kind thing to do. I got a certificate for kindness from Ms. Atkins because London Cantrell who is named after a city got her hair caught in a fire extinguisher on the wall and I helped pull it out so that is how I know I am a kind person” (p. 92).
The story is well worth your time.