In Issue 34 of Passages North, Karin C. Davidson introduces us to Tulsa, in her story “We Are Here Because of a Horse,” by writing that “Tulsa by night shines like a shattered gold watch.” I’ve arrived in Tulsa much the way her narrator and his wife approach the city here—late at night after traveling all day—and my first impression wasn’t as considered or fair. (Both times I was there I was overwhelmed by the strange combination of exhaustion and excess energy that comes after sitting in a car for ten hours.)
In fiction, the temptation exists to describe place and location as readers might imagine sight unseen. Many American readers (especially those of us hanging out on the east coast) think of mid-sized, fly-over cities as lacking aesthetic charm, grace, and ingenuity. It’s easy to rely on existing assumptions, and a lesser writer might be tempted to write this city, unfamiliar to the narrator, as a plain place, a means to an end, especially since Sam and his wife are here for one purpose—to pick up a horse.
But by describing the city in detail, Davidson introduces us to a narrator who is kind, patient, thoughtful, and insightful. We get to know more about him later, but his first impression of Tulsa lets us know that he isn’t someone who comes to hasty conclusions. He isn’t obsessed with the bottom line, but instead takes a more measured and even view of the world. Considering that much of the early story is stripped of background information about him and his wife, the introduction of the city serves to reveal the narrator and ground us in a physical place.
“We Are Here Because of a Horse” is about Sam and his wife Meli, a young couple who have come to Tulsa to pick up a horse that Meli bought by answering an ad in an equine news magazine, a horse that reminds her of a figment from a dream. Yet when they arrive, the horse is nowhere; they’ve been scammed. Davidson uses this incident, and the remainder of their visit to Tulsa, to tell the story of Meli’s abusive family and how she came to live with Sam.
Davidson’s story glosses over the logistics of moving through space. We move from place to place in the story’s twelve sections, sometimes a bit abruptly. (Entering Tulsa and the lobby of their hotel are two scenes that are given room and description, yet their interaction with the horse trainer is only a few sentences.) The transition between scenes creates a dream-like quality that captures the shifting, romanticized, transient, untethered existence of early adulthood. The narrator seems stunned that he’s permitted to live this life, with a woman who lives in the world the way Meli does: unapologetically and according to rules and whims he can’t always discern.
Everything in the story behaves strangely—the missing horse, the horse from Meli’s dream, the sleeping crows in the Council Tree, the chipper hotel clerk, the unsealed down comforter. At every turn, things are off just slightly. Reality doesn’t match expectations and the effect unbalances the reader. We read on in the hopes that the world of the story will settle, will deliver a sense of normalcy that will calm the characters. Instead, the lack of balance heightens the tension between Meli and Sam, and ultimately, Meli and her own upbringing.
Head over to Passages North and check out Issue 34. “We Are Here Because of a Horse” was the Waasmode Fiction Contest Winner—and for good reason. The story’s prose is gorgeous and rich, and Davidson is a talented writer. I loved reading her description of Tulsa and the late October air, and her story made me homesick for the years I lived in the west.
“The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week” is a series focused on—you guessed it—great pieces of fiction in recent issues of literary journals. Have a journal you think I should check out? Tell me about it in the comments or shoot me an email at lymreese at gmail dot com.subscribe to Ploughshares?