Coins


by Dan Crawley

Engle was upset. His last check, from his nine-month Lecturer position at the university, was half of what he thought it'd be. He stood over the desk of the department's Administrative Assistant and watched her print out one payroll report after another. Then her finger slid down a column of numbers. She totaled.

"The numbers work out," she said.

"No they don't," Engle said. He had to get his son at pre-school but he assured the Administrative Assistant he'd return.

"No need." She looked stoned to Engle, the way she ogled at him. "Everything's added up."

"It's not there," Engle let her know. "I need another six hundred." He moved quickly to her office door. "I'll come back and we'll find that missing six hundred."

"Don't bother," the Administrative Assistant said.

"I am bothered," Engle said.

In his car, Engle tried calling his wife on his cell phone. He got her voice mail.

"Why aren't you picking up? You should be picking up." Engle raced up to the car in front of him and then braked hard. "You know how you said this morning that the money would show up, will it didn't. Just so you know." He snapped shut the cell.

The parking lot of the pre-school was being repaved, so Engle had to park a half block away. He saw his son standing in a line with other pre-schoolers near a chain-linked fence. On the other side of the fence, the whole surface of the lot shimmered. The teacher apologized for the inconvenience and the smell.

"You should've let the parents know," Engle said, reaching out his hand to his son. "You should send home a note or something."

"Lava," Engle's son said, pointing at the parking lot.

"No, lava is red," Engle told him.

"But it does turn black," the teacher said to the boy, smiling.

Engle's son staggered down the sidewalk like a boozer, on the verge of toppling over. So far he hadn't taken a spill, in public or at home. Engle walked slowly behind his boy. His cell phone rang. It was his wife finally calling back.

"They stole from me," Engle said.

His wife said, "The money will show eventually, right?"

"Not according to the payroll lady in the department," Engle said. "She's not adding right. She's missing her mistake. Her equations are all messed up."

He opened the back passenger car door and his son climbed up to his car seat.  "Buckle in," Engle told him.

"You buckle him in," his wife said.

"He's got it," Engle said in a scold. "He's a big man." The boy grinned at him, fumbling with the straps, the buckles.

"What do we do?" Engle stared at his struggling son. The boy couldn't get the left strap over his head and soon the harness tightly bound only the right side of his little body.

"Is he buckled in yet?"

"Yes. Did you send off the Visa already?" Engle held the cell phone in one hand and started the car with the other.

"Daddy!"

"Don't yell in the car, sweet," Engle said over his shoulder.

"Why'd he yell?" his wife said, concerned. "Is he strapped in right?"

"Daddy." 

"What is it?"

"Daddy, let me see the money," the boy said breathlessly. The boy hard-pressed the straps off his right shoulder and held the whole harness away from him like an old man messing with suspenders.

"That's great," Engle said into the cell. "He wants to see my money.  I don't need this today."

"Oh no," his wife said, "that's something he does. He's on this kick about looking in my coin purse and then he knows we have enough money to get home. Just show him some coins and he'll be fine."

"Where'd he get that from?" Then Engle said over his shoulder, "I don't have any money, sweet."

The boy's eyes glistened, undulated.

"The kid's freaking out," Engle said to his wife. "I really don't need this today."

The boy cried silently like he always did, his lips fat with tremors.

His wife said tiredly, "Just show him a few coins and he'll be fine."

Engle searched the console and picked up two pennies. He turned and showed them to his crying son. The boy's lips thinned. He eased the straps back against the right side of his chest and delicately picked up first one penny and then the other from his father's palm. He smiled and wiped at his eyes with the fist still clutching the coins.

"Are you kidding me?" Engle said.

"What's wrong now?"

"Unbelievable."

"Is it the buckles? Is he out of his seat?"

"No, he's secure." Then Engle said sarcastically to his son, "Is it safe to hit the road? Are we going to make it home?"

The boy nodded.

"Has he calmed down?"

"Yeah," Engle said into the cell phone. "According to him we are safe for travel." The pitch of Engle's voice began to soar. "We have all the money we need, right sweet?  We are abundant and safe and there's absolutely nothing that can hold us back now."




BIO: Dan Crawley has taught writing at various universities, including Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University. He was awarded a creative writing fellowship by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and his stories have appeared in the North American Review, Mississippi Review Online, Quarterly West, and elsewhere.