37 comments

Fiction

To understand this story, it helps to understand something about my parents. And that is that my parents go big. On everything. I mean, just look at their restaurant. It’s called La Gran Torre de las Pupusas. That translates to The Great Tower of Pupusas. And the pupusas themselves….my God, they’re almost as big as an entire plate. If you don’t know pupusas, they’re generally not much bigger than the circumference of a roll of paper towels. They’re filled with cheese, beans and pork. But my parents’ pupusas aren’t just filled. Of course not. They’re STUFFED. So stuffed, in fact, that they have become famous around Washington. An order even comes from the White House every so often.

The restaurant itself isn’t so big. If my parents could afford it, they’d have turned it into a real tower. They’d love to see it looming over all the other little businesses along Route 1. They’ve actually talked about it, but for now, La Gran Torre is just a refurbished Pizza Hut. That’s the one exception to their “go big” mantra. But they’ve gone all out with the decorating. There are two ginormous plastic cacti and fake banana trees with leaves bigger than me at the entrance. Inside, each wall is painted with a life-size scene from Soyapango, their hometown in El Salvador.

Even their vehicle is big. They drive a used passenger van that can seat up to 15 people. I don’t think they’ve ever actually driven 15 all at once – the most I remember is eight children for my little brother’s birthday party - but they do love plowing through normal-sized traffic in that thing. 

So you see what I’m talking about when it comes to my parents and big things. That’s why it was no surprise to me and Diego – that’s my little brother – when our parents bought a HUGE sky dancer last month. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those inflatable things that businesses use for advertising. Tall skinny tubes with a dorky smiling face and arms outstretched that dip and bend and dive and sway when air is blown up them. My mom has always loved them. She actually gets transfixed when she sees one. It’s kind of cute. She’s a plump little woman barely hitting five feet. She stares and she giggles and claps her hands as the inflatable man goes through its dance. If she watches long enough, she starts mimicking its movements ever so slightly and then blushing when she realizes someone is watching.

So it was only a matter of time before La Gran Torre acquired its own grinning inflatable dance man. This is the thing - a 6-foot one would have been sufficient. A 10-foot one would have been perfect. But not for our parents. 

“24 feet,” my dad said the first day he set it up. He’d beamed up at the cheery red tube which we all had to sidestep each time it bent over and swept the ground at the risk of being clobbered by polyamide nylon. 

24 feet???? I’d done some research when my parents first started talking about buying one, and I hadn’t seen any over 20 feet. But that’s the thing with my parents. They are determined and they are resourceful. Of course they would find the biggest sky dancer out there.

This might be a good time to tell you here that my parents also have big dreams for my future with La Gran Torre. I’ve been working there ever since I was old enough to wipe down tables and they have, naturally enough, assumed that I will run it one day. Not only that, but they foresee a day when I will open up a chain of Torres throughout the area and become the Queen of the Oversized Pupusa. Now, I think it’s important for you to know that I’ve inherited my parents’ love of all things big. But my version of big is a little different. 

See, I’m going to go to college – a BIG university – and study econ. Then I’m going to move to New York, find a job with the best investment banking company and become a big fucking deal in the world of finance. I want to wear power suits and stiletto heels, negotiate the most important contracts and rise to the top positions. I’m going to run multinational corporations and people are going to step aside when they see me coming. And I am going to make BIG money.

I haven’t mentioned any of this to my parents. I don’t know how. It will break their hearts and, knowing my folks, wind up in a fight. A big fight.

This is what was on my mind last Monday as I sat in traffic on Route 1, heading to La Gran Torre. I’d been preparing college applications and setting up informational interviews with university reps and alums. On that particular day, I was waiting for a call from someone at Columbia and kept checking my phone to make sure I hadn’t missed it. 

That Monday was a windy one. Not just a strong breeze here or there, but 20 and 30 mile per hour gusts that came one after another. I could feel my little Honda strain against the wind and watched the traffic lights getting tossed around all the way down the road. 

I was still about a mile away from the restaurant, but I could see the sky dancer – which my parents had taken to calling “el rojo gigante” – going through its dip and dive routine. Except that on this day, the wind was playing with it. Each gust sent all 24 feet of the thing dancing perilously over Route 1. 

Traffic picked up and I was able to cruise along at 40 miles per hour. And that’s when the universe brought together el rojo gigante, the weather and my future in one spectacular moment.

My phone rang. It was set to an ear-piercing train whistle at full volume so I wouldn’t miss it. I looked down at it to see the number and answer it (yeah, I know. Not supposed to mess around with your phone while driving. But come on – you can’t tell me you haven’t).  At the exact same moment, the strongest gust of the day swept across the road, pushing my car into the left lane. I tried to grab the steering wheel and straighten out with my phone-occupied hand. But I was still fixated on the phone, fumbling to answer it while steadying the car. And that is why I never saw that rush of wind push el rojo directly across Route 1. A most awkward and unexpected move in its routine of otherwise graceful undulations.

It all happened so fast. I heard a thud and breaking glass as el rojo and I careened into each other. The air bag deployed with a massive pop that blasted out my ears and kicked me in the chest and face. I must’ve blacked out for a moment because when I sort of half-opened my eyes, I was dimly aware of voices, far-off sirens and a smell of burning rubber. Over the deflated air bag and haze from the dust, I vaguely registered a shattered windshield with the flattened face of el rojo collapsed across it and grinning maniacally at me. Darkness closed in again.

I was ok in the end. I’ll tell you that now. I was fuzzy in the ambulance and whisked through tests and exams in the ER, but the docs said I only had a mild concussion and some bruising. They were keeping me overnight for observation, and by the time I was propped up in my hospital bed, I was feeling a lot better. Even so, my dad sat by my bed gripping my hand and wrinkling up his forehead, worried. My mom bustled around the room propping up crosses and images of Jesus, reading in Spanish from the Bible. Even Diego sat quietly in a chair, swinging his feet and staring at me in awe.

“Mom, I’m going to be fine,” I said. “You heard the doctor. They’ll discharge me tomorrow, a few days of rest and I’ll be as good as new.”

“Ay, Dios mio. El rojo gigante – he is cursed! He is the devil himself, Ernesto,” she said turning to my dad. Tears were trickling down her cheeks as if she’d been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.

I may have forgotten to mention that my parents are deeply, DEEPLY religious. They belong to the evangelical Oakton Valley Community Church which is, of course, a megachurch. With almost 20,000 members, it is the biggest in Virginia – in the whole mid-Atlantic region, as a matter of fact.

My dad nodded sadly. “I’ll have Manuel and the muchachos take el rojo to the dump first thing tomorrow.”

As I saw the sorrow on my parents’ face, a plan began to penetrate my mind which was, admittedly, clouded by painkillers. 

“I think you’re wrong, Mom,” I said slowly. “El rojo isn’t cursed. He’s part of the family. It would be like saying Diego is the devil.” Diego looked up sharply, eyes wide with alarm. My mom put her hands over his ears.

“Sonia! Do not say such things,” she admonished.

“No, no, no. I mean we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe el rojo hitting my car is a sign from above. A sign from God,” I said pausing to let a moment of reverence sink in. They all looked confused. “I think,” I continued, picking my words carefully, “God is trying to tell us through el rojo that my future is not with La Gran Torre.” I glanced surreptitiously at my parents before continuing. They seemed to be listening. “Maybe it’s a sign that something terrible will befall us or the restaurant if I am in charge. Maybe,” I slid my gaze over to my brother. “Maybe it’s a sign that it’s actually Diego who should run La Torre someday.”

Diego grinned and clapped his hands. “Pupusas all day!”

My parents’ worried faces had softened. My mom began to smile.

Mi amor! You are right. I feel it.” She raised her hands to the ceiling and turned her face upwards. “Divine intervention. Una bendicion. A blessing. Gracias a Dios,” she murmured. She then turned to my father. “Ernesto, can we repair el rojo?”

My father grinned, “Claro, mi amor. We can!”

And so, you see, everything worked out. The next year, I was on my way to Columbia University and Diego was starting to wipe down tables at La Gran Torre. El rojo gigante had been patched up and was back to swaying and waving with that crazy smile and silly eyes. But this time, he was dancing a little further away from Route 1. Just in case another gusty wind one day blew in from the East. Just in case. 

November 27, 2020 19:38

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37 comments

Raquel Rodriguez
17:04 Dec 05, 2020

Kristin, this is a really good idea! I love it :) I like how you took this prompt. Sonia didn't actually tell her parents that she didn't want to continue the family business, but she told them that el rojo had given them a sign from God. I don't know what is was, but Sonia's voice was so clear, and it felt like I was right next to her the whole time. I like how you include Catholic (I think?) and Spanish in this story. Also, the Spanish is perfect in this! Did you use translation or...?

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Kristin Neubauer
17:43 Dec 05, 2020

Thanks so much, Raquel! I struggled in writing this story mostly because I was in a mental fog while on overnights at work, but I'm so glad it worked for you. I didn't really settle on a religion - kind of Catholic, but I also have her parents attending an evangelical megachurch too. If I ever do anything else with it, I'll have to make that clearer. I didn't use translation - I spent two years living in El Salvador and Nicaragua on a Fulbright and then 18 years covering Latin America for Reuters, so I better be fluent by now. Thanks ag...

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Raquel Rodriguez
17:04 Dec 06, 2020

No problem! Well, I definitely wouldn't be able to tell unless you told me, this is really good! Oh, alright! Are you planning to make this part of a story? Oh, that's nice! You're welcome! :)

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01:28 Dec 01, 2020

I really loved this one, Kristin! It's so unique and Sonia's voice is clear and compelling. I like that your interpretation of the prompt didn't have any long, drawn out arguments or falling outs. There was tension, but everyone got what they wanted in the end, and it's just really tightly written.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:21 Dec 03, 2020

Thanks so much Natalie! This is the first one that has felt like a real effort to write. Nothing felt like it flowed this time, which is why I wound up writing in in Sonia's voice. I couldn't come up with any other way to make the story unfold....I'm relieved it worked out. Thank you!

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Julie Ward
22:56 Nov 28, 2020

I love it Kristin! Really great story. Sonia is such a relatable teen, with big dreams just like her parents. The way you turned the story from "how am I going to break the news to my parents" to the restaurant literally breaking her (or at least her windshield) is pure magic and a ton of fun to read!

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Kristin Neubauer
04:04 Nov 29, 2020

Thanks so much, Julie! Your comment really buoyed me. I've been on overnights at work this past month and have had a difficult time writing. My head is fuzzy and nothing I've tried has really worked. I told myself I was going to finish this one no matter what because I didn't want to miss submitting for a third week. But, man, it took a lot of effort to wrap it up and in the end, I didn't feel too confident in it. My dad - who usually loves everything I write - was kind of "meh" on it. I appreciate his honesty, but your supportive words defi...

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Julie Ward
18:32 Nov 29, 2020

I hear ya! It's been nonstop for me too - buried with work, overwhelmed by all the moving parts that make up life these days. I have so little brain space right now, it's hard to be creative. Anyways, I'm really glad you finished this one. It's light and funny - sometimes that's just the thing you need, right? It's also nice to suspend disbelief every once in a while and let a story carry you along. That's what this did for me. I never wanted to ask why or how, I just enjoyed these characters and their gusto.

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Daniel R. Hayes
02:48 Mar 12, 2021

This was masterful writing. I didn't just read this story, I felt it. This story had a lot of passion. It practically jumped off my laptop screen and slapped me in the face. (That's a good thing.) I loved the character Sonia. You did an amazing job writing her. I read in one of your comments that you lived in El Salvador and Nicaragua. I think that's really cool. I'm not sure what you do, and I'm not trying to get personal or anything, but I think you are a very interesting person. This story reminded me of when I met my dad for the firs...

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Kristin Neubauer
14:07 Mar 14, 2021

Thank you! I struggled with this story at first....but when I actually started writing in Sonia's voice, it came much more easily. I sort of pictured her telling it to me and writing it down. I'm a journalist. I work for Reuters as a video news producer in DC. I worked for Dateline NBC right after I graduated. After a few years, I realized it wasn't the journalism I wanted to do, so I got a Fulbright and headed down to El Salvador and Nicaragua. When I came back a couple of years later, I started working on the Latin American desk at ...

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Daniel R. Hayes
17:01 Mar 14, 2021

Wow Kristin, that is so amazing. I'm also so proud of you for following your dreams. I have no doubt that you will succeed. To me, it seems like you have a powerful drive and with that kind of attitude I know you will go far. I minored in psychology in college, so I know how hard school can be. I wanted to say that I admire you for wanting to make a difference in people's lives. That is so damn cool. Its also a very rewarding experience. I have no doubt that your dreams will come true :)

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Viktoria Love
12:52 Dec 04, 2020

Sonia is SO SMART. Like, for real. Even if it was the anesthesia talking it's still such a smart plan. I really like how this whole thing feels like she's right beside me talking to me, and of course, I love the happy ending. The use of words seem right for her age to, so kudos to that. One constructive comment, however In "I was ok in the end. I’ll tell you that now. I was fuzzy in the ambulance..." you don't really need to say it like this. The fact that the story is in first person and is talking directly to the readers give ...

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Kristin Neubauer
18:03 Dec 04, 2020

Thank you, Viktoria! I'm glad Sonia's voice worked for you. I'd been trying and trying to write it in the third person but it wasn't working. The only way I could get going was to imagine she was talking to me and write it all down. And also thank you for your very constructive comment - yes, I absolutely see what you mean and you are so right. If I ever send this out in the world for any reason, I'll definitely make that change. Thank youuuu!

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K. Antonio
01:47 Dec 03, 2020

This story made me laugh, right in the beginning I was kinda chuckling. I loved the way the story was told and narrated and I liked how the character was relatable. Nice working of the prompt and I really enjoyed reading the story. Feel free to read my story, would love some opinions and critique!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:45 Dec 03, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm glad to know there were some chuckle-worthy moments in this story. I struggled so much with it that I was ready to throw my laptop out the window and couldn't see the humor in the moment. Thank you for laughing! You made me smile 😊

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Yolanda Wu
00:12 Dec 01, 2020

Wow, this was such a wholesome story! The narrator voice was really strong, and I loved Sonia from the beginning, especially when she was talking about how she was going to make it BIG in the future, I was like, "Wow, what a queen!" Also the other characters like the parents and Diego were so loveable. I really like how you used the whole 'crashing into El Rojo' to ease her parents into letting her follow her dreams, since you do present them as superstitious. I love how it all worked out in the end. I know you think this story is not your b...

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Kristin Neubauer
00:33 Dec 01, 2020

Thank you so much Yolanda! As always, your comments and insights are so uplifting and valuable. I didn’t think this was one of my best for sure, but I think it had potential if I work out some areas. I don’t know if I’ll ever do more with it, but maybe. I’m just glad I got something written finally! Thank youuuuu!!!

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Yolanda Wu
00:56 Dec 01, 2020

Of course! I'm always excited to read anything you write. :)

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Yolanda Wu
02:49 Dec 03, 2020

Hi Kristin! I have a new story out, would love to hear what you think of it. :)

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A.Dot Ram
21:34 Nov 29, 2020

I enjoyed the specific absurdities of this one. It was a pleasure to read-- made me laugh. And yum, pupusas.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:41 Nov 30, 2020

Thanks so much, Anne! Absurdity captures it perfectly and yes, pupusas! I lived in El Salvador for a year and pretty much ate nothing else. I read your bio and you sound like you are crazy busy yourself, but I'm looking forward to the next story from you whenever you are able!

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A.Dot Ram
21:50 Nov 30, 2020

There are some good pupuserias in my neighborhood. Yes, I'm pretty crazy busy, but with few exceptions I've written a story every week since I figured out I could do it, even if it means staying up till 1 or 2am a few nights. I'm so excited to be writing again that I don't want to fall out of the habit.

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Kristin Neubauer
21:59 Nov 30, 2020

That’s really important - I can identify. I discovered Reedsy in July and have had so much fun writing each week. But some weeks are just too much and I can’t. Hopefully, now that I’m done with overnights and school will be breaking, I’ll have more time. Keep it up!!!

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Bianka Nova
17:44 Nov 29, 2020

Оhhh, so far from "meh"! I loved it, and I think you put a lot of work into this one. All the little details are so well interconnected. Everything has its perfect time and place in the story; you started it with a goal and brought it seamlessly to its resolution. All the characters are very round. From the rebel daughter to the typical Latino parents, all the way to little Diego (his reaction when he's compared to the devil is priceless 😂 ) The only tini-tiny thing I think might be improved is Sonia's career choice. I was expecting i...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:24 Nov 30, 2020

Thank you, Bianka! I appreciate your really thoughtful feedback and, as with Julie's comment, it makes me feel a little better about this story. I could probably have written about Sonia's career aspirations a little better, but I was trying to think like a teenager who has sort of these grand aspirations but didn't want something like "I want to be a movie star." When I think back to my group of friends at that age, most of us just said "I want to earn a lot of money." That's where that came from, but maybe I can write it better to give...

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Bianka Nova
20:41 Nov 30, 2020

You're also right. There are always people who just seek the big money. Probably the majority even. Your choice is perfectly fine. My reasoning came a bit from the fact that after all it's just a story and complete fiction, so you might as well go wild - like have her want to go work at a travelling circus or something even crazier :)) I'm not sure when I'll be able to squeeze some new story in. I've tried to work on one of last week's prompts, but it just didn't want to go where I wanted it, so I gave up. I'm concentrated on finishin...

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Kristin Neubauer
21:17 Nov 30, 2020

Oh, that is fantastic! Will you it be on Amazon? Let me know when it’s out and I’ll buy and leave a great review. Congrats!!

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Bianka Nova
21:44 Nov 30, 2020

Thanks a lot for the support! I'm not sure yet, but probably. I'm currently looking at different options how I can offer at least one of two books for free because Amazon appears to have stopped letting you do it. In any case, I'll post info on my Bio whenever I have some news :)

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Kristin Neubauer
21:57 Nov 30, 2020

Thanks! But if it is for sale somewhere, I’ll buy it!

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A.Dot Ram
21:33 Nov 29, 2020

Nah, i like how bland her aspirations are compared to her family. It's a form of rebellion. I think she'll discover something more authentic while at Columbia, though.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:27 Nov 30, 2020

Thanks so much for that insight about rebellion....yes, that was in my head too....that although Sonia loves her parents, she also wants to be completely different from them. If this story were going to cover a bunch of years (it's not, but just playing around with a vision), maybe she could put her business acumen to helping her parents grow the business to a more corporate sort of brand. Which could introduce a whole new level of absurdity. But I think I'll just leave it where it is for now and try to come up with a story for next week!

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The Cold Ice
06:57 Dec 03, 2020

Loved it.Keep writing. Would you mind reading my story “Leaf me alone”

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Kristin Neubauer
19:51 Dec 03, 2020

Thank you so much!

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The Cold Ice
03:12 Dec 04, 2020

Welcome

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How? How do you write sooooooooooooooooo amazing stories? :DDDDDDDDD

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Kristin Neubauer
19:36 Nov 30, 2020

Awwww....thank you! You have made me smile so much with that comment!

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No prob, you do the same! Happy Mondayyyyyyy

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