by Dan Crawley

 

Clara shuffles by cookie-cutter tract homes to the corner and then up the boulevard toward a convenience store. There she’ll buy her candy bar for the day. Where the sidewalk narrows next to a dirt field, a gang of boys on Schwinns clogs up behind her. They stand on their pedals and work their handlebars, a swarm of front tires darting in all directions to stay upright. The boy leading the pack shouts, “Run ‘em down” and pops a wheelie off the sidewalk and cuts in front of her. Clara doesn’t flinch. Another boy races around her, the end of his handlebar’s grip barely missing her wide shoulder. Two more boys swivel by fast, dust spitting. Clara’s fists remain in her housecoat pockets.

Then Clara’s grandson, the last one in the pack, follows another boy around her. But he makes a wide arc off into the dirt, jumping a small mound, and quickly falls back behind his friend on the sidewalk yards ahead. Pedaling hard, Clara’s grandson peers below his armpit at her. Her squat outline moves onward, impervious. She walks this way around the house. From a mile away, you could hear the bottom of her slippers sandpapering across the kitchen linoleum and down the narrow hall to her bedroom.

In the candy aisle at the Circle K, the boys argue, inspect coins in each other’s palms.

Clara’s thick fingers clench her grandson’s shoulders and fiercely shake him. His head whiplashes, but doesn’t fall off. The coins and the other boys scatter.

Clara and her grandson travel back home together. The bike slowly wheels between them. He holds onto the bike grip, walking in the gutter, and she shuffles the pace.

“When I rode by,” Clara’s grandson says, “didn’t you see I was a mile away from you?”

Clara takes another bite of her candy bar, and says with a mouth full, “Go along or go alone.”

“I didn’t even hear you sneak up.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

“You’re like a Green Beret.” Now the boy is beaming.

“Sure.”

The candy bar Clara’s grandson bought is deep inside her wide housecoat pocket.

 

*

 

Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including Jellyfish Review, New World Writing, Five:2:One, Wigleaf, and North American Review. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship and has taught fiction workshops at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and other colleges. He is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review.

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