School: Northern Cass Public School, Hunter ND
Educator: Brittany Breiland
AWARD: Gold Key, flash fiction
They both had paper name tags pressed to their chests– the tour guide insisted she know everyone’s names, even though they would only be on campus for one weekend– but the mother had simply written on hers (in lower case letters) “parent” to deter confusion, while the daughter’s tag was completely blank. There wasn’t anything to be done about that.
She and her mother had broken unceremoniously from the pack, leaving the Memorial Union to have a chat outside. The folders, flyers, t-shirt, and tuition pricing flopped over the girl’s folded arms like fly-attracting salmon drying in the heat of the day.
“So what do you like about NDSU?” asked the mother.
There was no use expecting any answer other than “I don’t know.” The mother knew this, and at the very least did her best not to prod or press too hard. She shared so many traits with her daughter– her curly blonde hair, her interest in romance novels, her favorite foods– that she sometimes struggled with entertaining the thought that their minds still ran on separate tracks.
In the girl’s opinion, judging by the monotonous tour and the shreddable papers in her arms, North Dakota was South Dakota was Minnesota, New York, California, Texas. Factors and stats discernible within only 5% were not enough to lure her in any direction.
As she thought about this, her eye wandered from the cracks in the sidewalk to a little boy in a bike helmet waiting at a nearby crosswalk. He clutched his tasseled handlebars while eagerly pressing the magic button that would grant him passage across the street. His parents were close behind, pushing baby strollers.
The mother and daughter soon passed the site of a humming, orange construction site, in which jovial men leaped into their Bobcats to continue their job. They passed a handsome fraternity house “that brotherhood built” surrounded by cleanly trimmed shrubs. The girl eyed a group of young guys in tanks working together to replace a section of their patio. She looked away, pretending to notice a butterfly, when one guy gave her a flash of a smile and a wave.
“Well, start that decision-making,” said her mother, not firmly.
The girl was within inches of her mother, but suddenly felt like she had been miles away. Returning to the conversation, she felt a new weight to the items in her arms. She squinted past the green boulevard into the golden fields in the distance– not straw, as she originally thought, but gold.
A brisk-walking boy in a striped t-shirt approached her. “Hello,” he said, startling the mother. “Here you go.” In his hands– and now in the daughter’s– was a crisp one-dollar bill. The girl hardly skipped a beat to say politely, “Thank you.” Without an explanation, yet bearing plenty of explanation to the girl, the boy walked away. The girl couldn’t help but halt. She considered the environment. The mother, disoriented as her daughter, stopped to check for certain if a random North Dakotan stranger had, in fact, just given away a dollar to someone on the street. Even the air, in its perfect summer warmth, lingered in its path.