Thanks for your patience as we transition from Elissa Nelson facilitating Mini Sledgehammer to Kristin Thiel returning to the role! Thanks so much, Elissa. Salud, cheers, to you! And congratulations to this month’s winner, Megan Savage, who successfully incorporated the following four prompts into what the judge deemed the most successful story of the evening.
Character: Flying monkey
Setting: The ocean
Action: Swinging on a rope
by Megan Savage
The first favorite fight my best friend and I had was the one about whose dad could lick whose. I had heard that word lick somewhere, and I thought it was funny and old-fashioned, and I imagined that a fight that resulted in a licking would be less boozy than elegant. As though the winner would walk away with Bryll creamed hair intact. We had that fight for a long time, until we started having the ancestry fight. She would tell me that she was a Pilgrim and then I would have to tell her that I was an Indian and we would go back and forth like this, back and forth, forever. She promising that she would produce the Mayflower manifest, me promising that I would produce my great great great grandmother’s headdress, she promising that she would produce her great great great grandmother’s buckled shoes, me promising that I would produce a smallpox blanket.
And then one day I came up with the idea that would trump any of this. We were swinging on the rope swing in her backyard that arced out over the suburban swamplands, over the plank bridge her father had lain over the depression that would fill up with water into a stream in the summer and sink into a mulch of wet leaves come fall. My father, I told her, had played the role of a flying monkey in the Wizard of Oz. I told her he didn’t talk about it because he had such a serious job now, that he was embarrassed, and she couldn’t tell anyone. She didn’t believe me, of course, but then I told her things I could never know. L Frank Baum was a white supremacist and he had written manifestos about killing Indians that he made all the monkeys sign. The monkeys developed lice from sharing those little purple hats. And her eyes widened with credibility. Her father was a Jew but his family had lived in America for a long time and none of his family had died in the Holocaust. We both knew this to be a fact, so there was nothing she could really say to make him more interesting than mine.
The ocean is the place for scattering ashes. When my father died last year I called up my friend in California and told her that she had to come back with me to take him to the ocean. She said she couldn’t get the time off work and I hung up and brushed my teeth with a Walgreen’s toothbrush. I had a dream that night that my father was a chimpanzee, swinging off the national monument. His face looked just like my father’s, but he opened his mouth in a contortion wider than human, displaying all of his teeth and much of his gums, as chimpanzees do. There is something about our occupations that changes the shape of our bodies. My father had been hunched over all his life, from carrying his barrel chest and then working a desk job at a company that set up telephone networks. This was another compelling piece of evidence for the monkey story. Once he was invited to travel to Bermuda with the telephone pioneers of America. He wasn’t a pioneer, but his boss gave him the ticket for keeping silent about the women coming in and out of the boss’s office. The beach where I brought my father is not too far from where the Pilgrim’s landed, but the area is mostly Portuguese now, and there’s a power plant that looms over the whole place like Mt. Doom. There also used to be an amusement park called Nantasket, but they tore it down to make room for condos, leaving only fried clam stands named Rocco’s and one peeling carousel from the turn of the century.
When you’re little you want to be different and important, but when you get older and you’ve each taken a different one of Frost’s divergent paths, all you want is to find the common ground you once had. Now my friend works in LA designing packaging for a popular line of dolls that are actually monsters and also high school students. I took my father on the carousel. We chose a horse with a picture of a Grecian lady on his saddle. I thought about how flying monkeys don’t make very good characters because they don’t talk but also how my father talked slower than anyone I’ve ever met. I bought my father a plate of fried clams. I said, “surrender, Daddy” and let his ashes go into the wind. Then I flew to LA and took a job working with my friend. I’ve been thinking up ideas for the copy I can write on the boxes. “High school is hell.” “Science takes braiiiinnnns.” “Bewitch your boyfriends.”
© Megan Savage 2013
This is Megan Savage’s first Mini Sledgehammer win. Congratulations!