Dan Crawley ~ Uncle Sam

Most of us crowd in Uncle Sam’s small house. He screams we’re evil, look­ing to do him harm. He kicks, swings at the air. Some of my lit­tle cousins race from the bed­rooms to the liv­ing room to the kitchen and loop back again. My mom and Aunt Carrie sit on either side of Uncle Sam on the couch, their arm­rests jolt when their broth­er flails. My Aunt Suzy, Uncle Ned, Aunt Peg, and Uncle Gerald share the edges of the cof­fee table. There are kitchen chairs, two reclin­ers. But my fam­i­ly prefers in-your-face-adja­cent with every­one. Especially for those they’re try­ing to convince.

I’ve been off to a uni­ver­si­ty, so I’ve acquired the obvi­ous con­sid­er­a­tion of per­son­al space. I stand by the wall cov­ered in shel­lacked prints of land­scapes. Rugged coast­lines with foam­ing waves, moun­tain vis­tas of snow-capped peaks, bound­less prairies unfold­ing its gold­en car­pet. Glossy pic­tures cut out of mag­a­zines, glued to par­ti­cle boards, cov­ered in thick varnish.

Uncle Sam’s sib­lings speak over each oth­er. “It’s time you come with us to the fam­i­ly gath­er­ing.… Everybody’ll be there and you need to be a part of us…. Like Grandpops used to gospelize, ‘Family’s a tight-knit school of fish, safe in the depths of our loy­al­ty. But one of ‘em swims away to the sur­face, he’ll end up in the fry­ing pan.’”

You’re pur­vey­ors of ruin,” Uncle Sam yells.

Aunt Peg yells, “Stop act­ing like Joshua and his army run­ning in cir­cles with your heads cut off,” when the cousins reappear.

Out in the yard, I see Uncle Roy and my young cousin Jimmy by a wood­en fence. Uncle Roy gives me a wicked smile as I stroll toward them.

How’s the col­lege boy?” Uncle Roy goes on, “I don’t need a col­lege degree; I’m always the smartest guy in the room.”

Jimmy stares intense­ly at a mound near the fence, the dark loam shift­ing all over the cone. The fire ants are in a fren­zy. They cas­cade like lava. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” he whis­pers and shakes his head.

Jimmy,” Uncle Roy says. “Listen to your Pops. Don’t be a weak­ling. You won’t even feel their stings through your pants. I wouldn’t lie to you. Hey, I’ll pay you. Let’s say, a buck a minute you stay put?” Uncle Roy places his arm over my shoul­der. “Your cuz here last­ed five min­utes when he was your age. Five whole dollars.”

My mound wasn’t that big,” I say.

Uncle Roy tweaks my shoul­der. He bares ser­rat­ed teeth at me.

Get away from there.” Uncle Sam is at one of the open win­dows. “Leave me in peace!”

The sound of bang­ing pots and pans clam­or from the win­dows. The cousins have found a new dis­trac­tion. Then the short chirp of a whis­tle fol­lows. My Uncle Gerald is a PE teacher and wears his whis­tle around his neck at all times. It blasts again, this time a long shrill, and it’s as if the very walls of Jericho are tum­bling down, down, down.


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.