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Mini Sledgehammer: August 2011, Blackbird Wine

We sat outside Tuesday for a lovely evening of wine, cheese, and frenzied writing. While all the stories were quite strong, one stood out for all of the judges. We’re happy to announced Courtney Sherwood as the August 2011 Mini Sledgehammer (Blackbird Wine edition) champion!

Character: Landlord
Action: Haggling
Setting: The set for a TV show
Phrase: “I just came over here to…”



by Courtney Sherwood

It’s not like I didn’t know anything about the world when I ran away. Some of the kids in my homeschool group had televisions, and they’d whisper inscrutable tales about the world of sin when mama left us alone doing exercises as she changed a diaper or kneaded bread. When I was very young she even used to take me in to town on her supply runs. I saw billboards and the shockingly immodest attire of the modern world. Plus, mama and papa even talked about it, to warn us off, to explain why we lived this strange, sequestered life. Not that it felt sequestered. It was all I knew, and I was loved and nurtured and encouraged, as they raised me up  to become a godly woman, a mother, a helpmeet and a wife.

And it’s not even like I was all that sheltered. The Bible’s full of sin, and so are the lives of those who call themselves godly. Mama and papa were kind, but some of the kids from our worship meetings came from stricter homes. No “spare the rod for them.” And after my best friend, Rebekkah, joined in holy matrimony to the godly man who’d courted her I heard of other horrors. Pain and cruelty that we didn’t know the words for, and no way to escape. Marriage was forever, an eternal binding of two immortal souls.

Since I struck out on my own I’ve met other girls and women who fled my sheltered, narrow world. Most were like Rebekkah – shattered creatures, nearly broken by expectations that they could no longer bear. But I was happy. It was the fear – fear of eternity with palm-shaped bruises, fear of a soul bound to a man I couldn’t love. And yes, fear, that the sin in my heart was greater than mama, papa, maybe even God could ever forgive. Though as I thought that I cursed myself, because God could forgive everything. He was perfect. That I could think overwise was proof of my imperfection.

So at 18, after papa headed off to work and mama left for her fortnightly shopping trip, I put my eldest younger sister in charge of the family brood, gathered my favorite calico dresses in a bundle, sneaked sinfully into mama’s spare cash jar and stole half of everything she’d left behind, and struck out east, hoping to have at least a few years of joy before the sin of it all devoured my soul.

I was book smart, I’ll credit the homeschooling for that. I could read and write, do my sums, and quote the Bible on command. But I didn’t know a thing about money or phones or work or the modern world. I slept outside the first night, and on the second day wandered into a town where I saw a “room for rent” sign on a telephone pole.

Took about 30 seconds of haggling with my first potential landlord to learn the $80 I’d stolen from mama was not gonna get me very far. That was three days ago.

The landlord was a woman, a lady with a day job and tall shoes and short hair, and a fast, important-sounding way of talking. A sinner for sure. Well, we’re all sinners, I guess. But she was doubly sinful, to watch her move and listen to her talk, and not a bit contrite. So it surprised me when it turned out she was also a little bit kind.

“You really don’t know anything about the world, do you?” she asked, the same look of wonder on her face as the younguns would get upon discovering yesterday’s tadpole had grown legs over night.

“Look, you can stay in the room, no charge, until I find a paying renter or you find a job. Could be a day, could be a week, could be a month. But if I find someone who can afford my rent brfore you can do it, you’re gone. And no pets, no smoking, no late-night parties, either.” She smiled at that. “Somehow, I think the job part’s really the only thing I need to worry about. You got any skills?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Skills? Though I can bake and wash and corral a hord of children, plus think for myself a little even, I’d never thought of any of that in terms of skills, and so I hesitated.

“Great,” she said. “No skills. That’ll get you far. Well, follow me. I’ll show you to your room, at least for tonight.”

The room had a big bed, a clost, and even a television set. I’d seem them before, like I said, at homeschool friends’ homes, but I’d never turned one on, and that first day and night I was afraid to even touch it.

Day two, I walked downtown from my temporary home and went door to door in search of work. I never walked so much or saw so many strange things in all my life. Girls and boys holding hands. Men and women with skin all different colors. So much diversity, but one thing was the same everywhere I looked: No jobs.

My feet were blistered by the time I staggered back to the landlady’s spare room, and I only had $70 left, having spent $10 on food to get me through the day.

“I got a call about the room,” she said, as I came in. “I’ll be showing it off tomorrow.”

“I understand,” I said, biting back my fear. I was afraid of the future, but it was strange, because I’d been afraid of the future for months before I’d run away and this was a different kind of fear. There was an excitement hidden in it, and a stubbornness. I was not going back.

I fell sleep instantly when I got to my room, and when I woke everything was dark, there were crickets chirping, and suddenly I didn’t feel afraid anymore. I felt ready for the world – even for television – and I decided it was time to learn more about the sin of every day.

After a few minutes I figured out how to turn the television on, and that’s when I saw the ad for this show: “Seeking young men and women, age 18 to 28, for a new kind of reality TV.”

I got on the bus to California the next day.

I just came here to say, I don’t know much about reality, but I’m ready to learn and I need a job. I hope you’ll consider me for your television show.

© Courtney Sherwood


Courtney Sherwood is editor of the features and business sections of The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash., and a repeat volunteer at the Wordstock book festival. She lives in Portland with her husband, jazz musician Ben Lincon, and their two cats. She loves to eat, drink, hike, sleep, read, write and dream.


One Response

  1. […] then I won. (The unedited story, which has major chronological failings, is posted here.) My prize: a nice bottle of wine, a couple of books, and a free critique of the first page of the […]

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