Sean is alone in the kitchen. He sprays cleaner. The mist soon drenches the table’s top. He wipes furiously and then stares out the kitchen’s bay window at a couple walking by on the sidewalk. Just right there. The way they hold hands, fingers interlaced. Sean grips the cleaner’s nozzle, the rag. Next he sees a million little bubbles whirl inside the plastic bottle.

Sean finds his dad, Patrick, watching TV from his recliner. There is another empty recliner next to Patrick’s, also facing the TV. Sean’s mom’s spot.

“What do you want for dinner, Dad?”

Patrick gazes at a commercial about a lawyer who rides a motorcycle. And because of the leather jacket and all, this lawyer will fight even harder for his clients.

“It’s past six. You need to eat,” Sean says. “You’re getting weaker and weaker.”

“You need to know something,” Patrick says and grins in a bent way. “My strength is one of my many attributes. Just so you know.”

That word reminds Sean of what Patrick used to do.

“Remember when you taught that parent/child psychology course?” Sean can’t help it, his voice rises. “How I’d come to class, and you let the students ask me questions. How I’d tell them you chased me around the house, whipping your belt at me. All because I wouldn’t put my hands flat on the bed so you could easily take your swings.”

Patrick mutes the TV. He chortles. “You put on a show for those students,” Patrick says.

“If that happened today,” Sean says, “students would call someone. They’d—”

“You’re fine.” Patrick’s skinny fingers try to gain a purchase on the wide cushioned arms, his rangy legs splay out in front of him. Then he strikes a cushioned arm twice with his fist, his grin tightening. “Why that woman kicked you out is beyond me? You turned out just fine.”

“I’ll make you a sandwich,” Sean says.

As the TV’s volume grows louder, Patrick says, “I should thank her; you being here with me… helping out.”

In the kitchen, Sean stares down at the pieces of bread on the paper plate, the thick mustard, the jumble of turkey slices. He places the pieces together, squeezing his fingers around them. And when he is done, he washes his hands and takes out two more pieces of bread from the bag. Gently, he starts over.


About the Author

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.

Photo, "Cheap Quality Layered Belt," by Hunting Mark on Flickr. No changes made to photo.