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The Sledgehammer (abridged)

In the shed, you went straight for the sledgehammer. You handed me a crowbar with a grin that convinced me that being in this together was a good thing. I remember we started on the east wall. All August, I waited around for the times you’d open my bedroom door and nod toward the basement.

“Dad’s out, let’s go get rich.” Same words every time, not that the project intrigued you every day. I couldn’t even focus on anything else. I just waited for you even though the whole job was filthy in the August heat.

The wood-paneled walls weren’t so bad. I was proud when you said I was good at removing the paneling and putting it back on after shining a flashlight on the cavities in the wall, looking for the gold T. Bryant was rumored to have filled them with. It was one compliment, and I still think of myself as good at it. But the north side, the drywall, I hated that. I was terrified every time I carried a bag of debris across the street to the empty lot. I imagined the sun beating on my aching back was Dad’s eyes and whatever meanness followed. He went after me with words, and you’d say at least he didn’t hit me, so I never thought it was so bad.

Where some people would have gotten more and more frustrated as we found nothing, your hope got worse and worse. Your contagious eagerness. Bet you can’t think of a single time I complained. When we were done for the day, I liked pretending I was Dad walking down the stairs, though I’m sure it was your idea. If I could see around the piles of junk and decaying furniture we’d arranged to cover the damage, I’d imitate his rage to make you laugh. Each part of the act terrifying and full of power.

You said I looked like a ghost coming down the stairs because I was so covered in drywall dust, plastered to my sweaty skin. The only parts of me that weren’t white were the specks of blood on my hands from torn blisters. They stung enough to make me cry when I washed all the specter off of me.

At last, you said it had to be the brick fireplace in the south wall. You had reasons behind everything, that the paneling and drywall were new since T. Bryant lived here, but the brick was original. It made sense when you said it, less as you used the sledgehammer to smash the bricks to pieces. I sat by, my strength insufficient to join in on the final stage of the destruction and too afraid of being laughed at to cover my ears. Even so, you saw Dad before I heard him coming.

And Dad punched you like you were a man, no more slapping or belts, and no questions. I kept meaning to thank you for pushing me out of sight, but I somehow never got the chance. If I’d had the bruises you did, toes of boots against my ribs, I’d have found my way someplace else where the hurt wasn’t the devil I knew. You reach a point.

When I was twelve, I went through the old cassettes you used to collect and stole my favorite ones. It was the day after you just didn’t seem like you’d be coming back. The tapes are still in my car and you still haven’t noticed. Tonight, I listened to them while I drove around town. It’s worse than when we were young. Everything’s gotten dimmer. The mine shut down the year I graduated, but I think the colors started fading about the same time we didn’t find any gold in the walls of the basement.

It was after one in the morning when I got back to Dad’s. I tried to sleep, but I wound up in the basement moving box after box until the brick fireplace was out in the open. The rest of the walls have been fixed, but the brick is still wounded. It could be we were one swing away from finding the gold in the basement, but tonight, no matter how closely I shine a flashlight over the broken bricks, I can’t tell if there’s anything there.


The Sledgehammer by Cale Plett.

Cale Plett (he/they) is a nonbinary writer who lives in Winnipeg, where they are watching and listening for stories. Some they remember, some they forget, and some they turn into poetry, prose, and lyrics. Cale’s poetry and fiction are published and/or forthcoming in Grain, CV2, The Anti-Languorous Project, and Riddle Fence. Cale on his work: "As an artist, I love telling stories in any form I know how to. While most of my published work is poetry, my favorite thing to write is YA. I'm currently in the midst of a quite hopeful queer YA project which I'm hoping to have ready to begin pitching by the end of the 2021. I also write short stories, one of which, 'Queen David,' just came out in Riddle Fence #38. I've written songs since I was a teenager, and recently I wrote the libretto for a song cycle/folk opera called Storm Cycle."


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