Winner! We are so thrilled to be sharing the first place story from our 2018 Summer Flash Fiction Contest. Today, we publish Jacqui Reiko Teruya’s magnificent “How to Spot a Whale.” This story, told in second person, explores the delicate balance between who our family is and who we wish they were; and all the small, quiet moments noticed only by children.
Watch your mother bend to pick up smoothed rocks and broken parts of a shell. Ignore how drab she looks against the gray of the sky; do not wonder if your father notices that too. When the wind blows your mother’s straw hat into the water and she wades in—without grace—to retrieve it, love her more.
Do not look impressed when Roberta tells you about narwhals—the Monodontidae, the white whales. Do not bat an eye when she talks about their elongated canines, how they twist like candy out of the artic sea. When she says she’s heard so much about you, look at your mother. Let her know you see her. When she reaches for a green olive, take one too. Roll the pit over your tongue, clean it on every side like your mother taught you. When Roberta talks about her work and your father’s—the reason she’s come all this way—clench the pit in your teeth and smile wide.
Do not pay attention to Roberta’s red skirt flapping in the breeze or the cluster of orange freckles that dot her white-lady shoulders. Try not to notice the small flip of her nose, her full lips, or the crease of her eyelid. Do not admit you have dreamed of having that crease too. Do not compare your mother’s face to her face. If you see the ivory pendant dangling at the line of Roberta’s cleavage, look away. Fast. Do not think about the hollow of your mother’s chest or the way she tries to hide it under baggy shirts and blouses. Make sure to ask Roberta questions. Questions that take time to answer, that fill space while your father orders lobsters from a silver airstream.