What's Normal? Exasperation


Part 1
by Hannah Westman

This is Part 1 of the third story in our What’s Normal? short story series exploring life and emotions as lockdown eases. Parts 2 and 3 will be available on Sunday 2nd and 9th August respectively. You can catch up with stories 1 and 2 here and we have another series of Solo Lockdown Short Stories (written by Hannah) during the lockdown.

In all honesty, Lin didn’t hate lockdown quite so much now. At first, it had been hell, a constant battle between wanting to get back to normal and knowing it wasn’t safe; but after three months of it, she had become complacent. Perhaps that was half of the problem. Perhaps she was too accepting of her situation.

The one thing she still hated though, was her daughter’s constant need to break the rules. They were in place for a reason, after all, and everyone was going stir crazy. Call her an unfair mother, but Tai wasn’t special just because she was getting bored of being stuck inside.

Lin tapped her pen against the table as she looked over the notes from her last tutorial. Without work she had to find new ways to stay busy – and that included learning new skills. The notes, however, made about as much sense as the video had. Which was to say, none at all. Staring at them wouldn’t do any good – maybe Lin was just too old to learn about technology. With a scowl, she dropped her pen and pushed her notebook aside.

Upstairs, the rustle of movement caught her attention. Seconds later her daughter, Tai, sprinted downstairs in a flurry of movement – nearly tripping over her own feet in the process.

“Careful!” Lin called, wincing as Tai’s hip bumped the bannister. “Where are you off to in such a hurry anyway.”

“Going out with a few friends,” she replied. She was wearing a bright pink skirt and a crop top far too short – but most notably, there was no face mask in sight.

They’d had this conversation a hundred times, and Lin lost every one of them. Current task forgotten, Lin folded her arms across her chest and hoisted herself from her chair. “Tai,” she warned, “we’ve been over this. Just because a few places are reopening doesn’t mean you can’t be going out like normal. At least take the proper safety measures, or you won’t be going anywhere.

“I used the last disposable mask on Friday,” Tai replied. Already she was tugging on her shoes, barely sparing a moment to look at Lin as she spoke. “Besides, we’re only going to the park. I won’t need one-“

“You’ll go to the park, then decide you want ice-cream, or end up traipsing around the shops. Take a mask.”

“I already told you I don’t have one-“

“Then you’re not going out until we buy more.”

Her big, dark eyes glared up at Lin like she was some evil dictator. Arms folded, lips pouting, she looked more like a stroppy child than a teenager about to turn fourteen. “You can’t keep me inside. It’s gotta be like, child cruelty or something.” Climbing to her feet, she was already grabbing her handbag from where it lay tossed over the sofa. “I’m going insane stuck inside, and we haven’t even had a holiday this year! I’m sick of this damn house.”

Tai, it’s for your own health. Not just yours but everyone else’s too. You could pass it on to someone else.”

She was truly scowling now, lips pursed in the way Lin knew meant she was trying not to snap back. She had makeup on too, thick eyeliner that made her glare even more savage. She was turning this into a stare-off.

And, like she always did, Lin gave in. “Fine. You can go – but if you don’t have a mask take a scarf or bandanna or something.” 

Rolling her eyes, Tai hiked her handbag higher over her shoulder. “A scarf in this weather? All right, I think I have a bandanna hiding somewhere…” with that she meandered back upstairs, none too happy at being held back from her day out. Lin thought it was a perfectly acceptable middle ground – Tai, apparently, did not.

Ten minutes later she came storming back downstairs, scowling like the world was ending. “I can’t find it!” she snapped, “but I told Eve I’d be there by three, so I’m going.”

“No one will let you on a bus without a face covering,” Lin chided, “staying home won’t kill you.”

Tai shot her a scowl, but by now Lin was used to their arguments. The only person she hurt was herself, but if she knew, Tai didn’t care. “Mum, c’mon-“

“You can see Eve and everyone else another day.”

“Great! No holidays, no restaurants, and now I can’t even see my friends. You might as well put me on house arrest-“

“That’s enough.

Tai made a huffing sound deep in her throat – but she must have lost her will to fight because she simply rolled her eyes and disappeared into the kitchen.

Exhaling in relief, Lin ran a hand through her short, dark hair. It was getting kind of long actually, thanks to lockdown, but a haircut was the least of her problems right now. Tai wasn’t the only one who hated being cooped up – without work, and with half of her family in an entirely different country, the days all began to roll into one. They couldn’t take a trip to Japan to visit her family, or go somewhere to relax like in Hawaii last year… but it was amazing what a simple change of scenery could do.

An idea began to form in the back of her mind, one that had already made her day feel a little brighter. Few places were open right now – big hotels, for instance, weren’t due to start opening for a few weeks yet. But privately owned holiday homes? Well, surely they could find something.

Before she had the chance to investigate her idea, however, there was a tremendous clattering from the kitchen – followed by Tai’s soft swearing. 

Darting into the kitchen, Lin hoped she hadn’t somehow hurt herself – but no, she was fine. The dishes, however, which had been drying beside the sink, lay scattered across the floor. At least none were broken.

“What are you doing?”

Guiltily, Tai shifted from foot to foot. “You put the keys out of my reach! I only wanted to grab them from the hook.”

Oh. Well, damn. They were out of her reach for a reason, but Lin didn’t want another fight. Palms pressed against her temples, she forced her voice to come out unusually calm. “Honey, did you try to sneak out?”

“No. Maybe?”

Plucking the keys from her daughter’s hand, Lin shoved them in the pocket of her cardigan. “I know that you want to go out – you’re not the only one. But you have to take the proper safety precautions, love.”

Sometimes Tai was so stubborn that it drove Lin crazy – they drove each other crazy. It was strange, because Lin had been divorced for five years now and they had always done fine, just the two of them, but there was something about forced lockdown that brought out the worst in both of them.

Tai was scrutinising her, eyes narrowed and arms folded. Lin must have been lost in thought because Tai snapped, “what is it?”

“Nothing,” she replied simply, “now go upstairs and find your homework. I’m sure you haven’t done it all.”

“I hate that you give me work,” she huffed, “there’s no school, and it would’ve been the summer holidays anyway.”

“You’re not getting out of it just because you grump.”

Rolling her eyes, Tai pushed past to wander upstairs. She was muttering under her breath the entire time, but Lin let her cool down in her own way. Extra work – if she actually decided to do it – would hopefully keep her busy long enough to forget about her cancelled plans.

Besides, Lin had plans of her own. It was still a half-formed idea hovering in the back of her mind, but she returned to her laptop anyway. The notes from earlier still lay strewn across the coffee table, and she set them aside for now. For once, Lin agreed that she needed less work, not more. The same could have been said for Tai, honestly, but she wasn’t going to admit that to a stroppy teenager.

Anyway, she didn’t want to tell Tai her plans until she knew if it was possible. Once, years ago when she was still married, Lin had taken Tai to a little cottage near Loch Lomond. Maybe, if she was lucky, whoever owned it still advertised it for rent.

Yet as Lin scrolled through numerous holiday home websites, B&Bs and just about everything else under the sun, it became increasingly obvious that hardly anywhere was open. It seemed that even though places were allowed to open for visitors, none of the nice looking places were available.

Everywhere, it seemed, was either still closed or already snatched up by someone else. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who wanted to get away.

Upstairs, a dull groan alerted her to Tai’s presence. Moments later she hollered, “where’s my tablet?”

“I don’t know,” Lin called back, resisting the urge to roll her eyes, “where did you leave it?”

“If I knew,” Tai snapped, “I wouldn’t have to ask.” She came trundling downstairs once more, a ferocious scowl on her usually delicate features. She did a cursory sweep of the living room, but she clearly wasn’t even trying. Waiting for Lin to help no doubt. When it didn’t magically appear, Tai flopped onto the sofa with a dramatic sigh. 

Brow raised, she said, “you didn’t try too hard.”

“It’s lost forever,” Tai concluded, already losing interest. If there was one thing about Tai she was thankful for, it was the teen’s ability to forget her grudges within seconds. It was as if they’d never even argued. Leaning over Lin’s shoulder, Tai poked the laptop screen – something Lin hated. “What are you doing?”

Well, the secret was out. Kind of. It wasn’t like she had tried all too hard to hide it; she just assumed Tai would be too mad to notice. “Trying to find us a weekend getaway,” she half-joked, “remember that cottage near Loch Lomond?”

“With the balcony overlooking the water? Yeah, that place was so cool.

“Well I had this idea that we could go away for a few days, that a change of scenery might do us some good.”

Tai huffed. “Why do I feel like there’s a but coming?”

“Seems like that cottage – as well as almost every other place – isn’t accepting guests right now.”

Tai’s expression clouded. She always looked like a kid when she did that; her lips forming a pout and her thick eyebrows almost completely obscuring her eyes. It was an expression Lin recognised in herself too. 

“Yeah, I know. It was a nice thought, but…”

In a flash Tai grabbed the laptop, hauling it onto her lap to start typing furiously. “You give up too easily,” she stated before Lin could protest, “and I for one would love to go to Loch Lomond. Anywhere’s better than staying cooped up in these four walls.”

Lin was hardly a caveman, and she considered herself fairly good with technology – but it never stopped amazing her how kids could just find everything without even having to look. Within moments she brought up a website Lin had never seen before, revealing a slideshow with various – but all equally gorgeous – cottages and lodges.

“What about this one?” Tai tapped the screen again. It was a huge lodge, advertising itself as modern but with historical influences, situated only fifteen minutes from Loch Lomond itself. It was beautiful, with bare stone walls that contrasted with the oddly – as it said – modern furniture.

Then she saw the price, frowned, and clicked the next one.

“Aw, mum!”

Three hundred a night love. No way.”

Tai pouted, clicking back to the gorgeous house. “Don’t we deserve something nice?”

“Not that nice.”

“Fine.” Tai hummed quietly as she scrolled through numerous options – most of which were still greyed out to indicate they weren’t available. It started to seem like that one expensive home was the only one taking bookings, as Tai scrolled through pages and pages of lovely houses all still closed.

Then they landed on one that was absolutely perfect. An attractive, rustic cottage offering a real wood-burning fireplace, a gorgeous view of perfect green fields, and it was close to the Loch too.

“Oh yeah,” Tai nodded in appreciation, “this is the place.”

“Hold up, let’s check the price first.”

Two-thirty a night. On the pricey side for sure, but it just looked so wonderful Lin couldn’t bring herself to say no. The various photographs showed a massive master bedroom, a quaint kitchen that looked lifted straight from a novel, and a beautiful view from almost every room.

From the glimmer in Tai’s eyes, she had her heart set. It was cute to see the childish excitement in her gaze, her earlier frustrations now completely vanished. Her grin only widened as she brought up the bookings, practically vibrating in joy. “Look, it’s open for new bookings in two weeks!”

“Tai, we’ll never get a spot on such short notice-“

“See, we can book it now!”

Oh. Well, how could she say no to that? It was nothing short of a miracle. Besides, Lin really did want to get out of this house, forget about everything just for a week or so…

“Let me grab my purse, and I’ll see what we can do.”

Tai’s cheer followed her all the way upstairs, lingering even as she entered the bedroom. Handbag slung over one arm, Lin returned, ready to book what she hoped would be a perfect, relaxing week away from home.

She would just have to make sure Tai followed safety procedures, and she’d need to buy more masks and sanitiser and probably a bunch of other stuff too, and-

No. No. As Lin settled down next to her daughter, she made the decision not to worry about that now. This was supposed to be a break from the worry and the paranoia. So, from this moment on, she’d take challenges as they came and not worry needlessly.

She was going to enjoy this holiday, and nothing would stop that.

Hannah Westman

As a young Scottish writer residing in Glasgow, I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been old enough to hold a pen. I started out writing short stories, and over the years I have branched out into many styles of writing. Someday, I hope to publish a novel series - but freelancing as I am now will always be part of my life. It has given me great opportunities to develop my writing skills, delve into many genres, and work with wonderful people.
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