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Mini Sledgehammer April 2012: Blackbird Wine & Atomic Cheese

One person arrived for Mini Sledgehammer . . . then another. In the end, there were six writers, four of whom had never before participated in a Sledgehammer, Mini or otherwise. Three of those four are participating in our special OBA Mini Sledgehammer, and they wanted to test their strength and limber their muscles before then. And one of those four won this month’s prize.


Character: Procrastinator
Action: Surprising
Setting: A board-game competition
Phrase: Batten down the hatches



by Miriam Lambert

Henry was going to propose to Clara on the fifteenth of May, 2009.  Her birthday.  He’d planned it out down to the shoes he would wear when he took her to Iorio Ristorante: blue, with patent leather soles that he imagined made him look like a dancer.

But then a week before the day one of his patent leathers got a hole, and while he was going to have it repaired, the shop he liked best had closed the month before, and by the time he found another one it was the fourteenth, and they’d only do a rush job if he paid an extra $85 up front with no guarantee of workmanship, and Henry’s momma hadn’t raised no fools, so he left the shop with his patent leathers in his hand, a hole in the sole and his thin chest swelled with righteous indignation.

By the time he got home his chest had deflated and he was sunk in uncertainty.  He could wear his Oxfords.  They were old, though, and brown, and he harbored a sneaking suspicion that they made him look as if he were wearing orthopedic supports.

Clara was already seven years his junior.  He couldn’t propose to her wearing orthopedics.

He pulled the lid off a can of spagettios and dumped the contents into a pot.  Stirring the red mass, he turned the problem over in his mind.  He could wear sandals.  Sandals might be hip.  He’d seen a guy Clara’s age wearing sandals, and he’d looked hip.  But he wasn’t sure Iorio Ristorante would let him in wearing sandals.

Then his head shot up – the restaurant!  He’d forgotten to make the reservation at the restaurant!  Leaving the spagettios on the stove, he hurried to dig his phone out of his bag.  When he finally found it, its battery was dead.

Henry sank into a chair.  It was a sign, he decided.  First his shoes, then the restaurant, now his phone.  He was not meant to propose to Clara tomorrow.   It was too soon, anyway.  They’d only been dating for eight months.  He’d give it some time.

Three years later, Henry was determined.  This time he’d do it.  For certain.  The last two years had been bad luck – Clara had got a spring flu in 2010, and Henry’s weak immune system meant he had to avoid germs.  For two weeks they played Battleship over the phone – Henry had called “Batten Down the Hatches” the first time Clara hit one of his ships, which made her laugh, so he’d kept saying it every time afterward.  She didn’t laugh at it anymore, but if he stopped he’d feel dumb that he hadn’t stopped earlier, so he kept saying it.

In 2011 Henry had had to attend a medical billing conference – bill con, they called it.  It was at Disney World, but Clara still hadn’t gone with him.

But this was the year.  Powell’s Books was hosting a World Battleship Competition, and Henry had gotten a place for himself and Clara.  He put on his blue patent leather shoes and tied the laces with determination.  Nothing could go wrong.

People were milling outside the bookstore when they arrived.  Most of them were rather young, Henry noticed – in fact there were a lot of kids about.  Some of them were wearing Naval Commander hats.  Doubt niggled at him.

Clara was waiting in the lobby.  An inch taller than Henry, she was auburn, slim, and she was wearing a cotton dress and sandals.  Henry felt a pang.  Maybe he should have gone with sandals after all.

But when he smiled at her she gave him a small smile in return, and she let him take her hand.  They found a place at one of the tables in the back of the room.

As they sat down, Henry cleared his throat.  “Clara, I wanted to ask you something.”

She raised her eyebrows.  Henry swallowed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!” the MC announced.  “Please arrange your pieces.  You have five minutes.”

“Let the World Battleship Championship begin!”

Clara scored the first hit.  Henry felt a giggle rising in his throat.  He choked.  Clara looked at him in alarm, but he couldn’t stop himself.  He tried to stop the words, but they were coming, and Clara knew it.  She reached a hand toward him, but Henry was already on his feet.

“Batten down the hatches!  Clara Williams, will you marry me?”

Everything stopped.  Everyone was looking at him.  Someone tittered.  Clara was staring at her board.  She didn’t meet his eyes.

Heat was rising in Henry’s face.  He stood there, feeling foolish, feeling stupid, wishing he could sit down, wishing he’d worn the sandals.

He took a step, and then another.  He slid across the floor on his patent leather soles.

He spun, and twirled, and hit a board that was sitting at the edge of a competitor’s table.  The plastic pieces hit the floor and scattered.

Then he was out the door, dancing into the spring air, and Clara was running after him.

“Henry, wait!” she said.  But Henry couldn’t stop.  He was done waiting.

“Catch me, “ he called, and kept going.

© 2012 Miriam Lambert


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