09/25/2021

Dan Crawley ~ Stray

The bed sheets stripped off, Mom climbed back on top of the bare mattress.

Dad told us, “We’ll get it lat­er. Let her rest,” which caused Mom to say, “How can I ever rest again?” She shrieked, “I’m fore­closed,” like a curse word.

Her sobs filled the dark mas­ter bed­room. It was hard to make out her face. But I knew if we’d open the blinds, the bright full moon might’ve helped.

My high school friend, Ty, lent a hand with the oth­er beds. We rode twin mat­tress­es down the stair­case like bob­sleds. Dad didn’t care when we banked into the cheap wood­en ban­is­ter at the bot­tom. He jabbed the end of it, watched it sway, a splin­tered elephant’s trunk. Next Dad left to clear out the garage. My old­er broth­er and a few of his Mt. SAC friends moved the fur­ni­ture out of the liv­ing room, din­ing room. Loud bangs sound­ed off from walls and cor­ners and the front door’s frame. My lit­tle sis­ter packed up the kitchen. Some box tops wouldn’t close, the han­dles of pots poked up through the thick web of tape.

Finally, Dad begged Mom to get off the king-size mat­tress. She touched both my face and Ty’s with her wet hands as she left the bed­room. She mum­bled some­thing, maybe, “Just wait for it,” but, real­ly, I’m not sure what she said. She end­ed up in the rental truck’s cab. Ty said it was late, already one in the morn­ing. He had to go. We shook hands good­bye, my palm damp, too. I wiped my hand hard against my hip.

After the house was emp­ty, we gath­ered on the dri­ve­way. Dad asked us to cir­cle up, hold hands. My dad and sister’s hands were dry and numb-cold. He called for Mom to join in. We wait­ed and lis­tened to the buck­le-buck­le-buck­le of semis cross­ing the free­way over­pass in the dis­tance. She wasn’t budg­ing, though, so Dad asked us to close our eyes. He began to pray.

In the moon­light, I saw a stray dog gal­lop up a slope across the street and dis­ap­pear, fol­lowed by the spo­radic barks of oth­er dogs near­by. My broth­er’s friends, how they side­ways glanced, their smirks. My broth­er and sister’s bowed heads, their eyes pinched shut. My mom’s face float­ing like a cracked plate in the shad­ows. How Dad sound­ed, how he squeezed my hand, I avoid­ed look­ing at his face. His voice plead­ed for us. For what may come.

The dog appeared again at the crest of the hill. The defi­ant stare. Neither the dog or I blinked, I’m sure of it. Even after more fran­tic bark­ing erupt­ed, seem­ing­ly from every direction.

~

Dan Crawley is the author of the novel­la Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) and the short sto­ry col­lec­tion The Wind, It Swirls (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021). His writ­ing appears or is forth­com­ing in a num­ber of jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing JMWW, Lost Balloon, Tiny Molecules, and Atticus Review. His work has been nom­i­nat­ed for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing work­shops and lit­er­a­ture cours­es, he is a fic­tion read­er for Little Patuxent Review.