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Estancia Aldea Norteña 21: Primera Pista

March 20, 2023 10:30AM
"First clue," a piece of information that, if interpreted correctly, cracks the case (The Write Practice).

Dinner proved to be even more formal than Catalina remembered on that awkward day at the Tilve beach house. The dining room was very spacious, and here at last there was the look of a ranch house: grand mahogany chairs, a silver chandelier, electric candles pulsing to give the illusion of flame. But she couldn't enjoy it as much when they sat several chairs apart from each other at the large table. At least Elena wasn’t banished to the very end, but neither was she nearby. It seemed to take forever to pass the food back and forth, and no one spoke very much, only murmured a word here or there as needed.

Señor Tilve was so formally dressed Catalina at first wondered if she should have tried harder to look her best. But Enrique was still in the clothes they'd driven in, even if he'd put his hat away and rebuttoned the top of his shirt. When his father asked him to compliment her, Catalina thought she would go through the floor.

"That pin looks classically set," Enrique had said without hesitation, no grand praises or teasing. "Didn't I remember Señora Aguirre wearing something like it?"

She was very relieved to talk about Tía Lola instead of herself, and fortunately, it seemed that Señor Tilve also liked to talk about the Aguirres: he asked many questions about them, not all of which she could answer. The younger Tilves were not as curious, keeping to their food, and Catalina wished the conversation would change to something more lively.

"I suppose you're quite used to this everyday sort of meal," Señor Tilve said as yet another course was served. "I admit it's not exactly fine dining, but perhaps Señor Aguirre isn't always formal himself."

"Oh, no, we never eat like this at home," she said at once, hoping perhaps that would bring a close to the endless food going around, already stuffed beyond measure. "Except at Easter and Christmas, and on a birthday maybe. But Tío Ruy mostly eats salads since all the trouble with his health."

"Ah, of course, and very sensible of him." Señor Tilve nodded sagely, while still tucking into his full plate. "Enrique is always going on about proper eating, I'm sure you and he would find yourself in complete agreement, yes, no trouble there."

It was so odd a statement, Catalina didn't respond, only looked down at her own plate and wished half the contents would disappear. She had tried to put as little on it as possible, but Señor Tilve would insist on her trying a little of everything. Her new dress was tighter than she normally wore anyway; if she tried to eat another bite she might pop out completely.

"Here, would you like some more?" Enrique asked, leaning down from his seat to take her plate.

She had no time to refuse as Señor Tilve asked another question about how the Aguirres laid out their dining room. When at last her plate was returned, she was surprised to see it so bare. Enrique moved his fork around on his own plate aimlessly, mashing up bits of things into smaller and smaller pieces, some of which looked suspiciously like the food she hadn't eaten. Elena caught her eye from across the table, a half smile toying at her lips, and while her father was occupied with his glass she held up a finger to indicate silence. Catalina smiled back, nodding, and gratefully sipped at her own drink without fear of being forced to eat any more.

She suffered through desert and the abrasive sounds Señor Tilve made when Enrique excused himself after taking one bite of cake. "I should check on some messages," he said, bowing formally to the ladies. "Enjoy the rest of your meal, señoritas, but try not to eat too many sweets. They are not good for you." He winked at her as he left the room, and Catalina couldn't help grinning when Elena immediately announced she was full. It seemed the Tilve siblings were adept at managing these meals and would help her to do so as well.

She and Elena sat with her father in the grand living room, a giant television showing a polo match that neither girl cared about, although Elena never asked for the channel to change. Catalina wished they might talk or get out some of the other girl's art books, anything but sitting quietly while Señor Tilve continued to talk about the Aguirres. She had not realized he considered himself such a good friend. Only why Señor Tilve thought she knew anything about Tío Ruy's stock portfolio was a mystery.

"He's been very generous to Javier," she answered at last when asked about her brother, much more confident on this subject. "And to me, of course, too."

"Yes, very generous, like family." Señor Tilve sipped his glass, an after dinner cocktail she'd been amazed he still had room for. "So sad, their having no children of their own."

"Yes sir, especially since neither of them have any brothers or sisters either." Catalina remembered well how wistfully Tía Lola watched them play, and the way Tío Ruy would pat her hand comfortingly. Mamá was not at all the person Tía Lola probably would have chosen to be her special friend, she realized, but the two were so close, and her mother never showed anything less than respect despite a usual disdain for finery. It was hard to think of the Aguirres as truly lonely, when they had so much, but Catalina supposed it must be the case. No wonder her parents insisted they always do everything they could for their neighbors.

"Ah, very sad, I know all about that, being an only child myself," Señor Tilve said, then set his glass down and roared at the television when someone scored.

Elena yawned loudly. "Papá, please, it's getting late, and I'm sure Catalina is tired."

"Yes, yes, of course, you should go to bed at once," he said, barely looking away from the game as he kissed his daughter on the cheek.

They escaped down the hall, and Elena said not a word until they were safely near her room. "Sorry, sometimes Papá gets obsessed over things, I know he can be overwhelming."

"No, it's good. I'm sorry to hear you have no relatives, that must be hard," Catalina said, standing in the girl's doorway as Elena wheeled over to her easel, not looking tired at all.

"Actually, I do, on my mother's side. But we never talk to them, not since...." She trailed off, and looked up at a framed drawing of her own. "Well, it doesn't matter, we might as well not have any. But you have a bunch, right?" Eagerly she turned and backed up, gesturing to her bed. "Would you tell me about them?"

So Catalina sat on Elena's bed after kicking her sandals off, and Elena pulled herself up onto the bed too, and they talked and talked, as if all the words they had bottled up needed to pour out. She spoke about her many cousins and myriad relatives. "Actually, the grocer is Papá's third cousin, I think, and the principal at the school is related to Mamá's by a second marriage. But they didn't have any children, so now that he's a widower he lives with her daughter, who married cousin Julio, and their son Gordito is in the army, just like your brother."

Elena theatrically fell back on a large pillow. "It sounds like you're related to the entire town!"

"Not really," Catalina said, "but it can seem like it sometimes. You can never get away from anyone."

"That doesn't sound so bad," Elena answered, smiling with a far-off look in her eyes. "I'd love to have so many relatives, even half of them."

"You would have room here, certainly. Back home we're all piled on top of each other. But it can be nice, too, since I never have to worry about who to talk to."

"Do you miss it?" Elena asked, her expression growing pensive.

"Yes, I miss my family, especially Mamá and Papá. And little Raquel will be nine by the time I get back! I'll have to remember to call on her birthday."

"That's your youngest sister, right?"

"Yes, she's so precious. I'll have to get Javier to send me some of the pictures he has on his computer. But wait a minute, I can show you!" She ran to her room, just a few doors away, and came back with the little picture frame she always kept near her bed. "This was the photo we took at Christmas two years ago: see, it has everyone in it."

Raquel was so tiny, just starting school, and even Javier looked much younger. Elena examined it for a long time. "So big a family!" she murmured, touching the glass gingerly. "I wish I had just one sister, even if I didn't get to see her all the time." Elena looked up then, and smiled shyly as she handed the picture back. "By the way, how did you like the drive with Enrique?"

It was so casually asked, Catalina couldn't tell if she meant anything more than idle curiosity. "It was very nice. He showed me some of the town when we drove in, including the clinic." Thinking back on the trip made her remember the story he'd told her, and she couldn't help laughing again. "He's so funny sometimes."

"Yes, he likes to kid around. What did he say?"

Catalina shared what she could remember, thinking Elena would find it just as entertaining, but instead the other girl looked almost disappointed. "That's it? Nothing else?"

"He told me about the clinic," Catalina said after a beat, not sure what else they should have been discussing.

"Oh, work, of course, trust Enrique to remember that!" Elena shrugged and folded her arms over her chest. But then she giggled. "Sorry, I'm being silly, don't mind me. I'm just not used to having company I guess. It does sound like something off of TV."

They talked some more about different telenovelas until a clap of thunder interrupted them. The rain that had intermittently tapped against the windows now fell in buckets, and the wind beat against the walls.

It was eerily like what Enrique had described, a storm out of nowhere, and Catalina was very grateful she was safely inside. It was hard to talk after that, with all the noise, and after a few more minutes Catalina said good night, padding back to her room. The light switch banished the gloom of the storm outside. Still, Catalina felt strange in such a big room all by herself. She quickly switched off the bright overhead light and relied instead on the small lamp by the bedside.

After brushing her teeth and changing, she laid the pin down on the dresser, carefully laying it in an elaborate tray fitted with lots of different notches. It felt like magic, how everything was provided before she asked, and turning back to the bed, Catalina was struck again by the pencil drawing she'd noticed earlier. The lamp's light fell in a wavy pattern, bringing the lines into stark relief against the paper. Catalina was unable to resist fingering the frame and feeling the mysterious back again.

She had just decided to lift it up and look behind when another thunderclap caused her to leap back. The frame tilted wildly to the side, almost off the wall, and when Catalina reached her hand out to steady it she accidentally hit the lamp instead. It fell over, plunging the room into darkness, and she was too rattled to plug it back in, certain something had broken. Instead she dove under the covers at once. It was a long time to wait until morning.

Today's bonus blog content is about Argentine ranches, both the real and fictional varieties.

Estancia Aldea Norteña 21: Primera Pista

MichelleRWMarch 20, 2023 10:30AM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 21: Primera Pista

AlidaMarch 20, 2023 11:06PM

Re: Estancia Aldea Norteña 21: Primera Pista

MichelleRWMarch 21, 2023 01:39AM



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