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Mini Sledgehammer December 2016

We got our Mini Sledgehammer in just between Portland’s two snowstorms this month. Thanks to everyone who came out for it! Congratulations to Benjamin Gross, who got his pick of books from the recently boosted prize box.

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Prompts:
Character: Post Modernist
Theme: Containing an epidemic
Object: Oriental Rug
Phrase: “What are you doing New Years Eve?”

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post-modernism: what Is it?: an education On what Is And what Is not, Or perhaps what might have been

By Benjamin Gross ben-gross-hs

Jackson Clearheart rubbed his feet against the threadbare Oriental rug brought back to the graduate student lounge, as the legend held, in the early part of the 20th century by the man who made the Hawthorne University English department what it was today, the venerable Professor William R. Slopes, authority on the nearer east, as it was called then, and the modernist novel, as it was coming to be called, by the cultured and educated milieu in which people such as he, Dr. Slopes, ran in that sliver of time, now almost a hundred years gone. But Jackson rarely thought of the esteemed W.R. Slopes, despite the great doctor’s name christening the ferroconcrete archway that marked the delineation of the English department from the Philosophy department (which some, much to Jackson’s immature chagrin but a veritable nothing to his more refined, older cognizance of the world and its fickle ways, would call the pride of Hawthorne University), even though the renowned professor’s name was inscribed on a gold placard in the lounge to attest to the fact that this modern Renaissance man, as the placard said (and the irony here, Jackson always thought, should not be wasted) that this modernist modern Renaissance man had brought back the fine, but now tattered and worn, Oriental rug from one of his biyearly sabbaticals in Turkey, where the man studied like no other the connection between James Joyce (who happened, not without coincidence, to have been his off and on pen pal) and the crumbling authority of the Ottoman Empire, and regardless of the fact that the Hawthorne University English department was, in fact, called the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies.

As he rubbed his feet against that hallowed rug – of history known but possibly apocryphal – the future Doctor Clearheart thought of his last encounter with the eventual Doctor Emelia Alberta, holder of one Master’s degree in Slavic languages, another in Folkloric studies, and a heart that Jackson Clearheart felt himself especially qualified to judge as just, honest, and true. Emilia also happened to be a member of Jackson’s cohort, that faithful seven, slogging their way, semester by semester, poor review on Rate-My-Professor by Facebook poke from an overly libidinous undergraduate, rejection from Post-Modernism today by acceptance at The Post-Modernist Quarterly: A Review, through the five to sixteen-year ordeal that it was to earn a Ph.D. from the William R. Slopes Department of English and Anglophonic Cultural Studies. Clearheart had Alberta on his mind because just before the cessation of classes for that semester (which was yesterday), he was hustling from his graduate seminar on the Post-Modernist position on theories of love and race in the plays of Jean-Paul Sartre, with the critical distinction in mind that in translating those plays from French to English they lost their essential being and became nothingness, to the undergraduate course he taught, for the final day, that semester, “Post-Modernism: What is It?,” and as he was making his way through the crowded academic corridor, Professor Clearheart (though he was, of course, technically not a professor, but was often referred to as one by the majority of his students who did not understand the fine distinction between doctoral candidate and doctor [a distinction Jackson was never too quick to point out, feeling his duty to his students did not extend to include an education on the finer points of modern day Academic hierarchies]) bumped into semi-Professor Alberta directly beneath the vaunted Slopes Arch, which apparently did not bare the same powers as mistletoe, and asked, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve, Emelia?” “Well,” she responded, with the voice he had heard so many times in his seminar on the intersection of 17th Century piracy and the tension in British literature between the cosmos and human sexuality, but only so rarely in more casual forums, “I’ve been contacted by the Princeton Review. Apparently there’s a modern epidemic going round! Students across the country are just bombing the Verbal Reasoning section of the SAT. And the good people at the ETS spent so much of their honest time and effort to make the test more equitable and fair! It’s such a…”

“But wait,” quasi-professor Clearheart interjected, “What does that have to do with New Year’s Eve?”

“Oh, Jackson, I’m sorry. I’m always so circuitous in my speech! They’re flying me out to Princeton for the next two weeks to help them overhaul the test. They think that I can help them, because of my skillset in different languages and cultures, make the exam a bit more approachable. What are you doing, Jack?”

“Well,” he responded, “to conjecture as to what I might be doing would be a relic of the modernist thought, and since I am a strict post-modernist, I guess all I can say is that I’ll be thinking of you.”

© 2016 Benjamin Gross

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Ben grew up on the east coast but is happy to now call Portland home.  He has an M.A. in English literature and enjoys studying and writing about the plays of Shakespeare.  Ben also writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.  His current project is a collection of essays drawn from his experiences driving from South Florida to Oregon.

 

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Mini Sledgehammer May 2015

Congratulations to Elizabeth Grace Martin, a new Sledgehammerer who wrote a winning story on her first try!

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Character: Ice cream vendor
Action: Recycling
Setting: In the rain
Prop: Smoke

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Burnt Ice Cream

by Elizabeth Grace Martin

Maven got a rush from the flick of the lighter. The burn of the cigarette down her lungs felt like the appropriate amount of unhealthy. Fuck healthy. She liked smoke and ice cream. She even dyed her hair to add a swirl of gray to damage her streak of brunette.

After being recycled in the foster care system, she fated herself into a runaway. That’s when the gray came—a nod to the wisdom she decided she was due—not the wisdom she’s earned.

The smoke came before the streets. Fire was home. Maven didn’t much like the term “arsonist.” She preferred creator. She burned ugly away. It gave her control over something—at least that’s what her therapist claimed. Fuck him.

She didn’t see him more than once. Maven didn’t see anyone more than once. Judgment stays at bay when you don’t let people know you. Only she needed to know her.

So she hopped trains and claimed the title explorer. She slept in barns with livestock and thought herself a farmer. She was neither. Maven was a homeless runaway, but a good marketer. But even runaways need a break; even runaways need an identity.

The train Maven was currently riding stopped for fuel or to load or unload. Fuck if she knew. But the day was bright, sweat grouped at the bottom of her spine.

“Ice cream,” she said to no one. No one was her favorite audience. The jump from the train car to the red rocks below sent a shock up her legs—the kind that reminds you you’re still alive. Pain, fleeting but passionate.

Maven lit her first cigarette of the day and walked along the tracks until the town came into view. She’d never been to Arizona before, but it felt like every other place. She lit another cigarette as soon as she stomped her first one out on the metal track.

The tracks went straight and she curved to the left. The siren song of the ice cream truck was calling her. It sounded like home.

On the first main street she crossed, she pick-pocketed an empty-faced stranger. The siren was getting closer.

“Banana split,” Maven called to the ice cream vendor.

A man with naturally gray hair and newsboy cap popped his head out of the freezer and into her view.

“Hi there, Miss. How are you?”

“Banana split,” Maven repeated, ignoring the vendor’s inquiry.

“Talkative aren’t you?”

“Not to strangers.”

“How do you ‘pect to make friends?”

“What?” her attitude was showing through. This was already the longest conversation Maven had had in months. “Fuck man, you got a banana split or not?”

“Fresh out. Fudgicle?”

“Whatever.”

“It’s on the house,” he said, eyeing Maven’s unwashed hair and wrinkled clothes.

“Take care.”

She wanted to be snotty. She wanted to ruin him with words. But Maven bit her tongue and accepted the Fudgicle before it melted under the Arizona sun.

She nodded at him. He smiled, toothy. It was the best he was going to get from a runaway punk and they both knew it. Maven couldn’t shake the interaction. No one is nice to her. She gives no one a reason to. She felt uneasy about it. She followed the ice cream vendor that day, touring the city in his shadows.

When the sun dunked into the night, he parked the truck and Maven kept watching it. She flicked her lighter in front of her. Up and down, the flame teased her, called her like the siren song of ice cream trucks.

She answered.

The fire started to burn slowly. Deliberately. The tires melted into puddles and the ice cream would soon do the same. She watched the damage long enough to feel satisfied. The smoke pillowed the sky into more darkness and she walked away, without remorse, into the rain.

The fire won again.

©  2015 By: Elizabeth Grace Martin

***

Elizabeth can often be found talking to her dog like he’s a real human boy, being inspired byzane kiss 2 TED Talks, and creating an ever-growing travel wish list. Her newest dream is to live in a tiny house mansion. Her longest dream is to be a best-selling author. She’s working on one of those at: www.elizabethgracemartin.com.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2015

Julia Himmelstein is back with another amazing story!

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Character: The cowgirl
Action: Watching British television
Setting: the factory
Prop: A milk jug

***

Untitled

by Julia Himmelstein

It had been a while since the cowgirl had been around. He had been watching for her, shyly, spending lapses of evenings by the kitchen sink, washing the same four dishes, while peering out the window. It wasn’t really her looks that got to him, just the fact that she was so incredibly out of place. The first time, he had wondered if this was a mistaken Halloween costume, a drunken party guest in the wrong part of town. Their eyes had met as he sat on his front stoop, tongue-tied. The fringes on her leather vest rustled in the light breeze, and she made a funny clicking noise with her boots, as though commanding an invisible horse.  Long after she was gone, he thought he could hear the click-clack of her boots on the pavement.

They saw each other every few nights after that, she always wearing gingham and leather, and he always staring, dumbfounded. “Just say something to her, man,” he muttered to himself, channeling one of his high school buddies that surely would have had the balls to talk to her, and probably say something incredibly rude. But those friends were long gone, off to work in the factories that made pointless gadgets for white folks. It was just him now, him and his four dishes and the cat Theo. He couldn’t remember the last time he had talked to a human, let alone see one in real life. He used to have video chats with his sister, but that was before the internet cut out. Now when he wanted to see people he popped in one of the British Television discs that he had found in a closet when he first moved in.

He found himself dreaming about her at night. In his dreams, she was close enough that he could see her freckles, and smell her breath. It smelled funny, like something old. Sometimes she would even smile.

He hadn’t always been such a loner. He too, had tried the factory life, first for a manufacturer of milk jugs and then for a tech company. He grew listless and bored, and had enough near misses with large machinery that he was let go. With a sigh, he moved to the empty country, finding an abandoned trailer on a field to call home.

The cowgirl usually walked past around dusk. There was something about the way she looked, like a hungry child, that made him feel protective and tentative at the same time. She always went the same direction, and always looked at him, brief and hard, before leaving.

He started to worry when he hadn’t seen her in a week. He wondered if she had met someone that actually spoke to her. Maybe she even found a horse. Did she have a home, or a family? What did her voice sound like?

He awoke late one night to hear the click-clack of her boots. As if in a dream, he walked through the dark trailer and stepped outside into the moonlight, knowing she would be there. She stared at him with her usual look. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said.

© Julia Himmelstein

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IMG_0808Julia Himmelstein lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches, smiles, listens, and wonders. She delights in hugs from friends, children’s smiles, and fresh baked cookies (or any food, really).