Byte Shorts: The Hammer by Rebekah Latin-Rawstrone

Posted by Justine Solomons on 18 December 2020, in Showcase, Writers

The weight of the hammer is satisfying.

‘Help me with the fence,’ Mother had said. ‘Get the big hammer in the shed.’

Such a heavy lump of metal, smelted and beaten into shape. The muddy black colour of dirty fingernails. Its neat edges are blunt with use.

We’d just got back from the long drive to the hospital. Our bodies stiff from sitting. Our voices cracking through lack of use. There would only be another hour or so of sunlight.

The feel of the wooden handle flimsy in comparison, smooth with the faintest touch of roughened splinter where frequent handling has worn away the varnish. All its weight is in the rectangular block.

He was dying, that was for sure. We’d shouted over his bed. ‘Are these the feeding tubes?’ ‘How the hell should I fucking know?’ The monitors beeping out crazy spikes in primary colours. The occasional sound of an alarm that brought in nurses who adjusted syringes of drugs that fed into the complex machinery of wires piping into his body.

It smells of honest labour: sweat and iron. A slow tool too human against the green of the field.

His breathing was regular, aided by a machine that covered half his face and took away the juddered, phlegmy gasps of the days before.

I know what it would feel like to wield the hammer, to lift the end above my eyeline, the extra heft gravity would add to the blow as metal meets hair, skin, fat, bone. The dull, wet thud it would make.

‘I’ll reposition the posts. Hammer them in for me while I sort the wire.’

It was probably the last time I'd see him alive. I held his swollen hand, trying to rub away the edema, thinking all the things I wanted to say, knowing there was no need to say them aloud, but wishing I could be alone with him anyway. My father.

The metal fence posts are rusty. Their yellow paint flaking away into the grass. It feels good to knock them deeper into the earth, knowing how much damage the hammer could do. It is all so easy that my sweat blooms not from exertion but through the heat of this dreadful thought. Clank, thud, bang, each post is fixed in place.

I’d had to beg her to take me there one more time before my flight. I couldn’t stay any longer and the hospital was too far for me to get to without a car. She was planning to see him after my plane had left the runway. Taking in the hospital after dropping me off. She didn’t see the point in our visits. He was no longer giving any signs of recognising our presence. All that way to stand over an unconscious android, waiting. This wasn’t my burden, but hers. And she could control when I went, how long I stayed, who stayed with me.

I want so badly to knock her down. To make her listen. I can feel my knees shaking, my fingers twitching with nervous energy. Bile rises up my throat. Any moment now and my body will do what my mind won’t allow.

‘I’d like 5 minutes alone with him,’ she’d said. Of course I left. I let her have that 5 minutes I so badly wanted. She could see him tomorrow, but I would be gone. Why couldn’t I ask for those 5 minutes for myself? But I breathed and I told myself there was nothing amiss between my father and me, what was 5 minutes in a lifetime?

The tears are stinging the corners of my eyes. It just feels so nice to hold the hammer, so stupid of her to suggest I get it.

I’d cried in the hospital toilets. Fat, ugly tears shouted out in silent screams I flushed away when I heard her come in. We drove home in silence. I was too angry to speak. Especially when she said, ‘None of you think about what I feel.’

‘Thanks,’ she says. ‘That’ll do the horses for another week or so. I’ll put them out.’

I watch her walk towards the stables.

‘You can put the hammer and extra wire away,’ she says.

I nod and tread slow heavy steps to the shed, the weight of the hammer making my fingers tingle.

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Rebekah is a prize-winning writer, editor and creative writing teacher. Her novel Home, about a corrupt care home, was published in 2015 and Glitches, her short story chapbook, is published by Acorn Books.

Rebekah teaches on the year long Novel Studio course at City University and runs the City Short Courses Creative Writing Showcase, City Writes. Passionate about literature, Rebekah writes a blog reviewing a different novel every week and occasionally interviews authors for her Author QH. She is currently working on her second novel.

See www.lattin-rawstrone.com and also links to some of her reviews below:

The Medici Mirror by Melissa Bailey
Wounding by Heidi James
The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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