“Out West” by Andrew Bertaina, published in Bodega

Another Friday, another awesome piece of flash!

The western part of the country has always carried a certain allure to it, a mystery. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time out there can attest to this, and it shines brilliantly in Andrew Bertaina’s latest piece of flash “Out West” from Bodega Mag. The first line of the story—“I was living out west the first time I fell in love…” is one of those openings that enthralls perfectly. Bertaina captures the enigmatic beauty of the west with such knockout descriptors as “the sun was a pencil of light” and “the fish gathered beneath knuckles of roots.” 

The speaker isn’t just describing the pretty landscape, however. He’s on the move, trying his best at being a ranch hand (and failing). It will never be his life, even if it’s what he imagined. There are little hints that the speaker is bound for somewhere else, some other experiences, evident when he explains how the flank of colt resemble shapes “I’d later see in modernist paintings in New York.” 

What is just a snapshot of the protagonist’s life—a few weeks out west tending horses and doing other chores —becomes so much more than that, for the speaker is always running forward, moving towards the unknown. The detail of the protagonist “running like a bullet” from his father shows the need for escape. And the beautifully written details throughout show the yearning for adventure, for new experiences, for wild terrain. 

Perhaps that’s how he found himself out west in the first place. “Where was I going? I’m not sure I’d ever know how to answer properly” is a line that caused me to shout YES. Who hasn’t thought this way? Who among us doesn’t think this way in every situation and in each and every day on earth? 

The protagonist often goes to a small creek on the property to unwind, to hide from the disapproving eyes of the ranch owner. It’s there that he ponders his current plan, his next steps, and after he’s let go, he hops on a train. The landscape of the west gives way to the great plains, and he’s still searching for answers, still searching for the sign, when he meets a young woman going to New York. He then does what so many “young and reckless” people do. He follows her. 

Happily ever after? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: he’s not working on that ranch anymore. 

Read the story here.

Andrew Bertaina’s short story collection One Person Away From You (2021) won the Moon City Press Fiction Award (2020). His work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Witness Magazine, The Normal School, Orion, and The Best American Poetry. He has an MFA from American University.

Christian Gilman Whitney is a writer from Western Massachusetts, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College. Find him on Twitter @c_g_whitney.

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