Dan Crawley ~ What Others Do About It

Theo sat in the tiny din­ing room next to the kitchen, try­ing to con­cen­trate on a book he want­ed to read for a long time now. In lieu of a din­ing set, there was a bur­gundy reclin­er and a small round table that once sat in the break­fast nook. His twen­ty-six year old daugh­ter, Magda, had dragged the large din­ing room table into the kitchen because of the great light from the bay win­dows. He heard her typ­ing on his old PC that took up half of the table. Occasionally, the print­er sound­ed off like some hos­pi­tal alarm.

Mag, you okay?” Theo wor­ried; his daugh­ter struck the keys so hard. He thought about a neck­lace that came apart the oth­er day when he was going through some of his wife’s things, how the tiny beads clat­tered all over the wood floor in the bed­room.

There came no answer. Just the clat­ter­ing of fin­ger­nails again­st keys.

How’s it going?” Theo said as he came into the kitchen, open­ing the fridge.

I’m almost done with this chap­ter,” said his daugh­ter. She hadn’t show­ered yet and had been at it since ear­ly that morn­ing. Cowlicks of thick hair stuck up all over her head like minia­ture det­o­na­tions. “This one’s called ‘How We Hurt, and What Others Do About It’, and it’s deal­ing with exact­ly what you’d think.”

You’re get­ting it done,” Theo said.

In pre­vi­ous years, Magda sold hous­es, and also sold fur­ni­ture with a col­lege room­mate. Then came a falling out between the two young wom­en. Magda came to stay with her father sev­en months ago when her luck at sell­ing hous­es again didn’t pan out.

I’ve got some­thing here that peo­ple will want,” Magda said to the com­put­er screen.

The phone rang. Theo went into his bed­room. His old­est son, Larry, had called in a sick day. Theo was over­joyed to hear from him; it had been too long since his son checked in. Larry lived in a stu­dio apart­ment in Dallas, and Theo wor­ried his son would grow old alone, nev­er find­ing love and mov­ing into a big­ger, nicer place with kids. Theo’s wife died almost a year ago when she filled up with more flu­id than her weak heart could get rid of, and he was glad for the time with her. Larry dis­missed the whole idea of hav­ing a fam­i­ly, like usu­al. And like usu­al, Larry carped about his job, how it made him ill just show­ing up to the place, the unrea­son­able comp­trol­ler, and how the peo­ple she super­vised whined and stabbed each oth­er in the back day in and day out. Larry brought up his sis­ter.

Has she found any­thing yet?”

No, she’s still writ­ing on that book. Mag said she’s start­ed a new chap­ter today.”

Self-help books are today’s snake oil. She’s not even an author­i­ty on any­thing.”

Mag says she’s read a lot of books and stud­ied—”

It’s a dis­trac­tion, Dad. Follow the flash­ing strobe lights. Run after the fur­ry rodent down the hole. Mag’s adrift. She thinks her pad­dle is work­ing, but it’s full of holes, the water pass­ing straight through.”

She says she’ll help oth­ers and make a lot of mon­ey once the—”

No, she’ll use up all of your retire­ment mon­ey, Dad.”

She’s okay here. We’re okay. I like the com—”

No, you’re not.” Larry let out an abrupt noisy pant like he’s done since child­hood. “I wasn’t ever going to say this to you, but you need to hear this because Mag is lead­ing you toward a down­fall. You said the same thing about Mom, when she couldn’t stop cough­ing. ‘Mom’s okay. It’s just a cold,’ you said.”

I took your moth­er to the ER,” Theo said quick­ly. He stood by the bed, vague­ly sway­ing, hold­ing the phone again­st his warm ear.

That’s right. You did final­ly see what was what.”

Your Mom insist­ed it was just a bad cold.” Theo wasn’t wor­ried about her cough. Before she was sick, he didn’t wor­ry much, about any­thing.

But you final­ly snap to, Dad. That’s all I’m say­ing about Mag.”

Larry returned to com­plain­ing more about his job and final­ly signed off. Theo came back to the kitchen. Magda stared intent­ly at the wide com­put­er screen.

Mag, I’m wor­ried about you,” Theo said. “Have you found oth­er sell­ing posi­tions late­ly?”

I’m fin­ish­ing this chap­ter today.”

You need to get some mon­ey gen­er­at­ed soon­er than lat­er, is all I’m say­ing.” Magda looked over at her father for the first time that morn­ing. “I’m anx­ious for you,” Theo con­tin­ued on, “and I know this’ll make you sore, but this dis­trac­tion isn’t doing—”

Distraction, Dad?” Magda said. “Seriously?”

I knew you’d get this way. I’m right, though, like I was with your Mom, final­ly—”

Right about Mom?”

And…and you can’t just drift along with a defec­tive pad­dle. Though, I’m sure, you may think this project is a work­ing pad­dle.”

Where is this com­ing from?”

Let me fin­ish,” Theo said, feel­ing out of breath. “But it’s just steer­ing you, and me, down a rab­bit hole. And…and…how can any­one read around here with all the clat­ter­ing rack­et going on day in and day out?”

Magda pushed a stack of paper across the table at her father. “I’ll stop and you can read this,” she said, star­ing him down.

Theo sat back down in his reclin­er, hold­ing the pages. Now he wor­ried about how qui­et it was in the kitchen and the rest of the small house.

~

Dan Crawley lives in Phoenix and has taught fic­tion work­shops at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and oth­er col­leges. His sto­ries have appeared or are forth­com­ing in a num­ber of jour­nals, includ­ing Wigleaf, apt, The Airgonaut, North American Review, Jellyfish Review, and match­book. He is a fic­tion read­er for Little Patuxent Review.