Hello! The following is my entry to @raj808's fiction contest in The Ink Well community. You can see the prompt here, which is about turning a bad habit on its head. I'm excited to participate in this community and look forward to seeing it thrive!
All images in this story are from Unsplash (the first one) and Pixabay (all the rest).
Katrina clucked. That was the best way anyone could describe a certain sound she made, as if to pass judgment or express displeasure. It was perhaps unintentional, but no one really knew. Her mother, Isabelle, had tried to broach the subject. She felt a certain sense of responsibility as the young lady’s guardian and moral guide. Especially when she saw the startled and hurt looks on people’s faces after receiving a Katrina “cluck.”
“Katrina? Honey? You cluck at people. Did you know that?”
“You cluck, dearie, kind of like a disapproving chicken.”
They were standing at the makeup counter in Macy’s and Katrina was dressing her lips in a brilliant purple grape color using a Q-tip. She stopped, only the bottom lip covered.
“Mother, really. What are you blathering on about now? You have to stop correcting me all the time or I’ll get a complex. Maybe I’ll become bulimic like Sarah Mackey. Or bite my nails down to the nubs like Bitsy Harland.”
“I’m not trying to give you a complex. I’m really not. It’s just…”
“Good.” Katrina clucked, set down the lipstick − still not covering her top lip to match − and stalked off to the Estée Lauder counter.
Isabelle let out a deep breath. She had not looked forward to that confrontation, and it certainly hadn’t gone well. Was it true that this was how teenagers developed complexes − because their mothers tried to help them become better people? She was at a loss. How was a mother supposed to keep her child from becoming a social pariah? She briefly imagined Katrina as a friendless spinster who lived indefinitely at home, and experienced an involuntary shudder.
She pretended to take an interest in a new fragrance and kept an eye on Katrina across the store. Her biggest fear at the moment was that it was far worse than it seemed, and that perhaps the alienation had already begun. What if Katrina was sitting alone at lunch, getting shunned from teams and activities and − worst of all − being her aloof self, completely unaware it was happening?
She watched her daughter, pointing at various desired lip and eye shadow colors, and witnessed the somewhat pained expression on the counter clerk’s face. And there it was. Isabelle, could not hear the cluck, but she saw its effect. The clerk blinked and stood back. Then she seemed to collect herself, trying again to please with a tight, controlled smile.
Late that night, Isabelle came up with a plan as she lay in bed next to her snoring husband. He would approve of it, she was certain. He was a busy CEO of a high tech company and he seemed to have little need for entanglement in the plans of his wife and daughter. “Your wish is my command,” he often said, as he wrote a check, or offered his credit card number for anything they might desire. “As long as my girls are happy.” They were careful not to abuse the privilege. But certainly they had planned spa trips, gone to Paris just for a weekend of shopping, and used his money and influence, when needed, to get the best seats to broadway shows.
In the morning, she put a cup of coffee in front of her daughter, and launched her plan, having received a quick, no-strings-attached approval from Katrina’s father before he left for the office at 7. “Let’s take a European trip, honey. We’ll do a whirlwind tour of Spain and Portugal. What do you say?”
“Okay, but we will be bored with each other in a hot second.”
“We won’t go alone. You can invite a friend. Who do you like from school?”
Katrina drained her coffee. “Mom, you know I don’t hang out with those bitches.”
This was where Isabelle’s back-up plan came in. She never liked to flaunt the fact that they had money, because Lord knows it just made more people come forward with their hand out, but at times it came in handy. One could buy friends, if a situation called for it.
She turned away to fuss with some dishes in the sink so Katrina couldn’t see the wily look on her face. “Just pick someone you would like to hang out with for a week. Let them know it’s all expenses paid. Oh, and be sure to mention that we’ll be living it up in four-star hotels.”
It worked like a charm. In two weeks, they were on a plane to Bilbao, Spain with Angela Galvez from school. Angela seemed quiet and a bit on the prim side, but Isabelle made polite conversation with her on the plane to make sure she felt at ease. “So, where does your family like to travel, Angela?”
Angela answered while staring out the window. “My father is from Mexico. We often travel there to see his family.”
It was quickly revealed that Angela was fluent in Spanish, which likely accounted for her interest in coming on the trip. It would certainly help them communicate on the ground. But disconcertingly enough, the girls seemed to have no affinity for one another, whatsoever.
In Bilbao, they had a beautiful hotel overlooking the architecturally stunning Guggenheim museum. Isabelle claimed one of the two beds and suggested to Katrina that she offer to take the sofa so their guest could have the other bed. But Katrina clucked, so Isabelle took the sofa bed.
Angela looked out the window at the surrounding green hills and the museum just below their window. “Can we go see the Guggenheim?”
Katrina clucked. “Mm, no. I’m not one for museums.”
“Let’s try to have an open mind,” Isabelle said. Then she decided to try diversion. She held up a pamphlet. “Oh look! They have a charming tram that takes you up a steep hillside to a hill top where you can see the whole city!”
Soon, the three of them were on their way through the streets of Bilbao with sunscreen, hats and maps. It was a warm spring afternoon. Unfortunately, the pleasant day meant the tram line was a long one. And then it turned out there was mechanical trouble. The line lengthened while this was fixed. Katrina clucked repeatedly.
Angela looked at her. “What is that sound you make?”
Katrina looked at Angela sharply. “What sound?”
“It’s like a loud TOCK! Or maybe a cluck.”
“Yes, she clucks,” Isabelle offered. At last, they could address this head-on. She glanced at Katrina, then smiled at Angela. “I don’t think she’s aware that she does it. It’s kind of like when public speakers say ‘um’ during a speech.”
Katrina clucked. “That’s just what I need - the two people I’m traveling with, ganging up against me!”
Just then there was an announcement that the tram would be closed until further notice. Katrina clucked again. “Now what?”
“We can come back tomorrow,” Isabelle said. “There’s plenty to do here in town. Come on, let’s walk over to the square. They have street entertainers and little shops to explore.”
The next time Katrina clucked, as they were walking toward the town square, Angela said, “That is getting very annoying.”
Katrina ignored her and walked on.
The crowd seemed to close around them. All the people who had been diverted from the tram and didn’t feel like hiking up the hill were walking along with them, apparently with a singular goal.
Isabelle was jostled, and somehow got separated from the girls, who walked ahead, side by side, but clearly in their own worlds. For a moment she was relieved, and she felt the tension of trying to orchestrate her daughter’s social life slide away. She loved the Basque Country, and the sight of the verdant green hills all around. She imagined the three of them sitting in a pleasant sidewalk cafe later that day, enjoying some tapas and glasses of Rioja wine.
Then something disturbing caught her attention. The crowd was headed for the street crossing, led by Katrina and Angela, who were looking two different directions. Katrina was looking left, at an oncoming Euskotren gliding silently toward them on its rails. Angela, however, was looking right - down the tracks toward their destination - the charming red brick buildings of town.
A disaster was unfolding before Isabelle's eyes. Katrina was watching the train and would stop. But Angela didn’t. She could easily go one step too far into the path of the train, whose tracks were embedded directly in the city streets. Isabelle began to shout their names. “Angela! Katrina! Stop!” But the dense crowd and warm breeze absorbed the sound of her voice. Could she get to them in time? She began shoving people out of her way, shouting “Por favor! Por favor!”
People were startled, but seemed to have no idea that her request was for them to move aside. It was like trying to move through a thick jungle.
Then the most amazing thing happened. Angela must have said something, and Katrina must have clucked. Isabelle could not hear them and would never know. But all of a sudden Angela stopped, just before the intersection and the oncoming train. She turned toward Katrina and had something very pointed and indignant to say, because Isabelle could see her mouth moving, and there was a tinge of pink rising up Angela’s cheeks.
It was sheer rage. And it was beautiful. The train glided past them, ruffling their hair with a whoosh of spring air.
When she caught up to them, they had crossed the street safely. Katrina was crying and Angela was staring at her toes.
“I’m sorry,” Angela said. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful. You’ve been kind to bring me here.”
Katrina sniffled. “No, I’m sorry. I guess I must be doing that thing everyone says I do. I’m going to try to be aware of it. I’m really going to try to stop. I don’t want everyone annoyed at me.”
Isabelle put her hands on the girls’ shoulders. “Alright. Very good.” Perhaps this was not the exact outcome she had anticipated, but it would do. She ushered them down a small alley to a courtyard surrounded with cafe tables. Soon tapas were ordered and wine was flowing. The girls were laughing at the mimes and people who posed in silver and gold paint, like statues. And Isabelle marveled at how a little thing like mother’s intuition could win the day.
Thank you very much for reading my story! The near-disaster in this story is something almost happened to me on a visit to Bilbao, Spain. I will never forget how I was simply looking the wrong direction when a train came silently along and nearly stepped in front of it. Then it whooshed by, and I was very glad I had not taken that one little step.
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