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Mini Sledgehammer: January 2011

It’s a cold, blustery night here at January’s Mini Sledgehammer, but the shop is warm and the wine makes us warmer, so we’re still writing away. Join us from home!

character: a pet (remember, this does not have to be your main character)
action: doing web research
setting: under a dripping ceiling
phrase: song lyrics (from a real song, recognizable by anyone)

Only writers present can compete, but if you’re writing from home for fun, be sure to post your story to your own blog or website and then put a link in a comment below.

Thanks for writing!

Congratulations to Elissa Nelson, our first-ever writer to win two MiniSledgehammers!


by Elissa Nelson

The dog was lying under her computer annoyed as usual that Cynthia was on the computer instead of curled up with Fluffy. Peter was on the couch watching TV, and Samantha was in her parents’ room reading on their bed, hiding out from the dripping ceiling in Samantha’s own room, but Fluffy still wanted to be where Cynthia was, even if Cynthia was the only one occupied in an activity that prohibited cuddling.

But she had no choice. It was 9:45 on a Tuesday night, she’d promised her students their presentation grades by Wednesday, and she was still verifying that everyone had used an actual song. In the past, students had been known to make up a song, confident that Cynthia was too old and too uncool to know that 2Pac did not sing—rap, whatever—anything called “Yo Auntie Wasn’t a Black Panther.” So now Cynthia verified all the songs she didn’t personally recognize. This year, that eliminated Yoko’s Joni Mitchell presentation on “California” and Vicki’s Bangles presentation on “Manic Monday,” which included a photo of a dashing young Rudolph Valentino. She had to look up pretty much everyone else. It didn’t help that her own daughter listened exclusively to what she called “emo” music in which the singers felt sorry for themselves and went on about their pathetic lives. Apparently Samantha felt sorry for herself and her pathetic life, but this was not something she discussed with her mother, it was just something Cynthia had inferred, inference being a major skill she taught in ninth grade English and one that she relied on heavily both as a teacher and as a mother. Not to mention as a wife and a daughter. And as a friend. Inference was important. Cynthia couldn’t believe it wasn’t a skill that had been taught when she herself was in middle school. She’d just picked it up along the way. A drunkard of a father was helpful in that regard, if perhaps only in that regard.

Tonight she had looked up and verified lyrics by Sam Cooke’s gospel band The Soul Stirrers (who knew?), a song that she probably would have known if she’d gone to church with her mother and/or paid attention to any of the music her mother had listened to when Cynthia herself was growing up. But until her father took her bedroom door off its hinges, Cynthia avoided the gospel music pervading the house by slamming said door at every opportunity. When he took it off its hinges, saying—slurring—that he was tired of her slamming it all the damn time, and damn it she was part of this family too, why didn’t she come out of that damn room once in a while and spend some time with her parents, she just moved down to the finished basement that no one spent any time in. Granted, the edges of the wall-to-wall carpet were always wet—it was rather a leaky basement—and it was very cold in wintertime, but she figured it was worth it. The basement door stayed closed, and even when it was open, she would’ve heard her mom or dad on the stairs before they could see her. Not that she was doing anything, but maybe it was more about other kinds of preparation than, say, extinguishing the cigarette. That house reeked anyway, and her mother smoked so much that she probably wouldn’t have even noticed if Cynthia had a cigarette. She certainly couldn’t have said anything about it. Not that her mother minded much about hypocrisy, but yeah. Regardless, it never came to pass. It was never an issue.

So she’d looked up “Farther Along.” Yep, a real song. Not that Sally Simmons would lie, anyway. Interestingly, Elvis had also sung it, and so had Johnny Cash, along with about a thousand other people.

That was the problem. Just looking up the songs and verifying their existence wouldn’t take her so long. But then there was You Tube and all the background information. 2Pac didn’t have a song called “Yo Auntie Wasn’t a Black Panther,” but Rashid really did his homework for the assignment, except for making up the song. If he would’ve talked to her ahead of time, she would’ve excused him from the song assignment and let him research Assata Shakur (Tupac’s mother’s sister!) and the Panthers as an alternate assignment, but when he made up a song, what was she supposed to do?

She also looked up a lot of top 40 hits, some heavy metal, too many contemporary Christian rock songs, and some “emo” music that Samantha probably could have loaned her—although she had tried talking with Samantha about this assignment last year, thinking maybe they could at least have a conversation about it, if not bond—and Samantha had rolled her eyes so many times that Cynthia gave up. She had eyes rolled at her enough at school, and at home there was no Principal Woodman to send her daughter to. There wasn’t even a Mrs. Sheehan—and Cynthia had her doubts about some of Mrs. Sheehan’s methods, but there was no question that some of the students really loved her—perhaps loved her too much—and she had probably stopped a few from attempting suicide or running away from home. Who was Cynthia to dismiss her efforts? All Cynthia could do was try to make the difference she could make, and support or at least not interfere with others’ efforts to do the same.

She looked up “A Taste of Honey” and then was very embarrassed to see that of course she knew that one, it had been on that early Beatles hits record that her sister had owned. She’d heard it thousands of times. But Sari Marshall did her presentation on a version recorded in the oughts by some terrible jazz singer, and she didn’t mention the fact that it had been released by the Beatles. Not that that would mean something to every child in high school now, but—sometimes Cynthia couldn’t believe what a world she lived in. How many worlds they all lived in, neatly or messily lined up next to each other. She stopped reading about that terrible song, “If You Wanna Be Happy” (which of course she knew this was a song, did she really need to look it up?!) and leaned down to pet poor Fluffy. Then she looked up a couple more, shut down her computer, and went to watch TV with her husband, Fluffy curled up between them and Samantha now sullen in her dripping bedroom, “emo” music coming from under her door.

© 2011 Elissa Nelson


Elissa Nelson is a high school English teacher and a writer who is really close to being finished with her first novel.


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