• Visit Indigo

    Sledgehammer is proudly presented by Indigo, which offers editing, design, and more to authors and publishers around the world.

    Visit us at www.indigoediting.com to learn more and to schedule a free sample edit and initial consultation.

    Indigo: editing, design,
    and more


    Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.
  • Join Our Networks

  • Photo Gallery

    To view photos of Sledgehammers past, visit our Facebook photo albums!

    All photos property of Sledgehammer Writing Contest. Most photos copyright Doug Geisler.
  • Advertisements

Mini Sledgehammer December 2018

Congratulations to first-time winner Elizabeth Shupe! Happy holidays, everyone!


Prompts:
Character: A banker
Action: Wrapping a present
Setting: Stuck in an elevator
Phrase: “What would the fish do without the horse?”


Without the HorsePolination Anxiety2 emailsize

By Elizabeth Shupe

 

“What would the fish do without the horse?”

They had been her parting words to him as the orderlies had prepared to wheel her away to the operating room. It was like a Buddhist koan, a sentimental enigma. Somehow the words had left her lips, in short puffs of breath between her contractions. Somehow she had managed to smile through the pain, an attempt to reassure him as he squeezed her hand desperately.

“Fish” was her nickname for him. He was the cool, clinical type; a banker, the kind of man who ironed his socks and was on formal, cold-blooded terms with everyone including his own mother. Everyone but her.

“Horse” was what he called her because she was a wandering spirit, a painter of desolate pink deserts, deserts desperate with barely restrained passion in the tradition of Georgia O’Keefe. She was like her paintings; multi-colored and stained and always slightly disheveled.

And lately she had been heavy and round, a self-enclosed planet, their baby stirring within her like a barely articulated thought. Her heaviness had not changed her wildness but rather emphasized it– her currents ran deeper now and their movements were felt as tremors like the movement of magma deep within the earth.

“What would the fish do without the horse?” had been her answer to the simple statement he had made as the hospital staff prepared her for the operating theater.

That statement, muttered under his breath:

“Don’t leave me.”

Now, she was gone. Wheeled away. There was nothing he could do, no action to be taken. To the man who had control over everything– his retirement plan, his blood pressure, his thermostat setting– this was a terror unthinkable.

He paced the waiting room for a while but his nerves clacked together too loudly for his sanity to bear.

So he gave himself a purpose.

I’ll buy her a gift, he thought. Something to make her smile. Something for the baby? Something…

He hurried downstairs to the gift shop and bought a stuffed animal in the shape of a horse. Halfway back up the third flight of stairs he panicked and went back for some gift wrap. He envisioned himself spending time in the waiting room, carefully folding the crisp paper, taping the ends evenly, making everything perfect.

I’ve got to get back to her, he thought as he checked out for the second time, the Scotch tape and colorful roll in a bag that asked him to “Have a Nice Day”.

He decided to take the elevator back up to the waiting room.

He stepped inside, distracting himself by silently scolding whoever had cleaned the buttons, they were filthy. He pressed the button that closed the doors. They shut and the elevator began to move with a dull grinding sound.

What would the fish do without the horse? he thought again as the elevator stopped on his floor, the Obstetrics and NeoNatal department.

The doors didn’t open.

He mashed the button frantically and nothing happened. He kicked the doors, he screamed, but they didn’t open.

The cold man, the banker, the frigid fish felt tears well up in his eyes for the first time in years. The eyes of the stuffed horse under his arm were deep and unfeeling black plastic and his wife was somewhere in the bowels of the hospital, facing the struggle alone.

© 2018 Elizabeth Shupe


Elizabeth (Beth) Shupe is a writer/artist person who lives in Portland, Oregon and has been published on occasion. As a misplaced Victorian, her hobbies include collecting hair jewelry, decorating with needle-pointed pillows, and haunting people’s attics. She is a social media recluse and has no Instagram to offer you, but if you knock on her door and are very polite, she will make you a nice cup of tea.
Advertisements

Mini Sledgehammer November 2017

Mini Sledgehammerers say the nicest things. This month’s winner says, “Thank you so much for offering this event!  Everyone is so supportive and creative. You’ve got a good thing going here.” We’re glad you’re part of it, Dana, and congratulations on your win!
***

Character: An angry jogger
Action: Delivering a package
Setting: Airport
Prop: Stuffing

***

Testing

by Dana StepletonDana

I scheduled the test between two mundane errands. That way I could pretend that it was just like any other boring day, as if nothing of note had really happened.

“What did you do today?” Someone might ask.

“Oh you know, went to the grocery store and the dry cleaners. Oh, and I went in for my test, too.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” they would reply, before continuing to talk about their own day, which is what they wanted to do in the first place.

So I went to the grocery store, and even though I realized that the items I bought from the frozen section would have appreciated a different order of operations, I continued straight on to the testing center. Any change to the plan at this point would throw off my feigned coolness and irrevocably upset the hypothetical conversations I had scripted in my head.

The scene did feel a bit prophetic. “What was it like, when you found out?” My future offspring would probably ask.

“It was one of those perfect Autumn days, where the leaves are every color from plum red to lemon yellow and when you step into them they crunch. It felt like a spotlight was on my every movement.” I became aware that while the leaves were probably perfect for crunching, I had not actually crunched any. To keep my future self honest, I stepped out of my path to step down into a pile that had accumulated against the brick wall that hemmed in the sidewalk.

“Watch where you’re going!” yelled a voice from behind me. I turned to see a jogger, covered in a sheen of sweat and gesturing with righteous indignation. He skirted around my impulsive path with an exaggerated parkour-like movement.

“And then, some asshole jogger got all bent out of shape and basically ran me over,” I told my hypothetical children, while simultaneously apologizing to the man. After a second, I erased this addendum from the story. Better to leave it as a prophetic fall day. The scent in the air of things to come, that sort of thing.

When I entered the actual testing center, my future conversation fell away in the face of a small mountain of paperwork to complete. I claimed a clipboard and a pen that had a spoon taped on to the top, and began to fill out my relevant details. The last sheet was a sky blue, and it had a dotted line across the middle. Just below the line was written, “For Medical Provider Only.” It was followed by a series of “choose one of the following” questions involving incomprehensible acronyms, and at the very bottom, a simple Yes/No statement:

Epigenetic material viable for life-extending protocol (LEP): YES   /     NO

I flipped the pen over and drew silent circles around the “YES” with the spoon, around and around again. I noticed the person next to me noticing me, gave a quick smile in their general direction without making eye contact, and then put the pen/spoon down. Without my silent prayer to keep me occupied, I looked around the waiting room.

It felt more like the seating area at an airport than a medical clinic. There were no crying and snot covered children, no high schoolers absorbed in their phones while trying not to think about turning their head and coughing for their required sports physical. There were only quiet, not quite middle aged men and women like me, waiting as impassively as businessmen and women wait for their commuter flight. And this room served the same purpose as an airport, really. We were gathered here, hoping to start a great journey. Only, not all of us would be allowed on the plane. The biggest overbooking fuck up in history, I thought to myself.

Eventually I was called to the back and had my blood drawn. I sat alone for about five minutes while they processed the sample, and then I was ushered into the counseling room. This was a conversation I had not rehearsed to myself. I found myself wishing I had given that “YES” a few more circles with the spoon, just for good luck.

A women with a prepackaged compassionate look greeted me at the door of the room. She ran through some platitudes, and then paused. “Irene,” she said, “I’m so sorry, but your results came back negative. You are not a qualified candidate for the LEP. As you know, this decision is made based on the quality of your epigenetic material, which would determine if the procedures would have a positive outcome. Now, I now this can be a shock. But with other medical interventions, you likely have another,” she flipped through my chart, “eighty of ninety years of quality life.”

Later I placed the melted ice cream and ruined Stouffers stuffing in the freezer like I was delivering a package to my future self. Maybe she would care about the risk of food borne illness, the wrongness of the texture in her mouth. For now I couldn’t even ask her.

© 2017 Dana Stepleton

***

Dana recently got out of the Army and is now traveling the country in her camper van as a full time vagabond. She spends her time writing, hiking, observing the locals, and keeping her existential angst tamped firmly down.

Mini Sledgehammer September 2017

Congratulations to this month’s winner, Tovia Gehl!

***

Prompts:
A ship
A giant calendar
The milkman
Climate change

***

Burn What You Don’t Need

by Tovia Gehl

Fresh off the ship, I hadn’t expected Nick to come pounding at my window at 3am.

“Christ, what?” I snarled as I slid open the pane of glass and let in a rush of smoke. Coughing and eyes instantly watering, I looked out at my one-time best friend. “The hell do you want?”

He was grim, too grim even for our sordid history. “Gotta go, Kala. The fires are coming over the mountain. Firefighters say everyone’s gotta get out now.”

I stared at him, my feet still feeling like I was washing around in the open ocean. I’d just gotten home from deployment the night before, and I hadn’t had time to even unpack my bag.

“Kala,” he said, and there was a note of urgency in his voice I knew I couldn’t  ignore.

“Right,” I said, hoisting my still packed bag full of dirty uniforms and trinkets from the myriad of southeast Asian islands we’d been puttering around for months. I scanned my house once. It was still cold and unfeeling from my absence – my giant calendar with sailor boys, a departure gift from Nick’s sister Margo, was still nine months behind. Long enough to have a baby, my sleep addled mind came up with, but I left that and everything else behind as Nick hustled me into his car.

“Margo says she dropped you off last night,” he told me.

“Yeah, my car’s…” I trailed off as I caught sight of the ridge line, alight with the fires of hell. “Jesus.”

Nick slammed his door shut and then we raced off down the long driveway. He drove us in silence and I stared out the window as we joined the long procession of cars fleeing. Every few moments there was a burst of sparks and ashes the size of dinner plates fell from the sky. Two fire trucks passed us going the other way and I looked after them, uncomprehending of the courage it would take to run into the mouth of the devil like that. “Remember when you wanted to be a fire truck?” I asked Nick eventually.

He slipped me a sidelong look. “I wanted to be a fireman.”

“Nope, you wanted to be a fire truck so your dad told you to hold water in your mouth and spit it at things and then you spat it at your mom and she threw a towel at your dad and he laughed and hid behind the empty milk bottles.” Their house had burned down three fire seasons ago, so they’d left our sleepy town called Firbridge with the milkman behind and now they had to get milk from the store like the rest of us. I sobered up a bit. “Are they okay?”

“Yeah, they’re in Puerto Rico.”

“So, hurricanes?” He grimaced at that. “Sorry. Climate change is a bitch. This has happened before. Sea life. Trees. Dinosaurs. Sea life again. Different when it’s us.”

We didn’t talk again until we were across the river and then I couldn’t help it. “Why’d you come back for me anyhow?” Sleep deprivation made me slur my words and ask things I usually wouldn’t dream of. Nick and I hadn’t spoken since our disastrous prom night where I told him he’d never be good enough to leave Firbridge and he told me to go die in the ocean. I’d replayed that conversation half a hundred times since I’d left two years ago and had told myself that if I ever saw him again, I’d apologize. But now I was choking on the ash in my throat.

He looked at me like I’d left my mind somewhere in the Solomon Islands. “You think I’m going to let you burn to death?”

“I’d have gotten out.”

“I remember how deep you sleep.” And that plunged us back into awkward silence.

Once we were across the river he pulled over to the side of the road. We got out and leaned on the hood of his car. The ash was already thick underneath my fingers and I had to blink what felt like every second because of the grit in my eyes. “This is terrifying,” I said in a low voice. “Thanks for going into it for me. And I… I’m sorry. For everything.”

“I’d always come back for you,” he told me. “And you’d come back for me. Remember when you used to draw on your eczema lotion like war paint and scream down the canyon like a wild thing? Nothing scares you.” He coughed and then shrugged after his little speech like it made him embarrassed. “And it’s not like a bunch of idiot things we said as stupid kids matter now.”

So I leaned into him just a little and we breathed in the smoke of burning memories together and then let them burn up with the mountain.

© 2017 Tovia Gehl
***
Tovia Gehl is a reader, writer, traveler, whiskey and beer drinker, and animal lover. When she’s not busy with any of those things she works with a law firm learning all the dirty deeds and terrible sorrows of humanity. Ideally, one day she’ll become an author and not just a writer, but right now she’s content with all the exuberant imperfection in her words and life.

Mini Sledgehammer September 2016

The first Mini Sledgehammer was in September, so I guess that makes this month our anniversary! Congratulations to Joseph Aldred for winning the anniversary Mini Sledgehammer.

***

Prompts:
Character: A guard
Action: Blowing one’s nose
Setting: A factory
Prop: A cabbage

***

Untitledjoseph-mini-sledge

by Joseph Aldred

“I hate these late nights,” Jacob said, flicking the flash light on and of a few times before setting it back on the desk.

“Yeah, well you coulda guessed there would be a few of those with this job Earl,” Izzy said not looking up from the Batman comic she had read more than her fair share of times. “Personally, I prefer not having to be around people.”

“I didn’t expect I would be swinging the grave shift every week though.” He had been looking at one of the monitors, wondering briefly what all those machines meant. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of the marine blue jacket. “I’ll be happy when the get done with my jacket, maybe you’ll stop calling me that. What do they do here anyway?”

“Make something–I don’t care; I just make sure nobody makes off with anything.”

“Anybody ever break in or cause problems?”

“Naw–well one time, some kids were fooling around in the parking lot, drinking, smoking–just fucking around ya know.”

“What’d you do?”

She looked up over the top of the page where Batman had just socked Joker one and was in the process          of tying him up.  She laughed a harsh laugh, “I joined em, what do you think?”

“Christ, how old were they?”

“I don’t know, high school or something. I didn’t buy them the booze and they were willing to share if I let them stay. Why don’t you take a walk around and check things out? I’ll stay here and hold down the fort.”

“Mom sent sandwiches and other snacks if you want.”

“What’s on em?”

“Turkey, cheese, that spicy mustard she likes. You know, the usual–I think she even threw in some Oreos for you.” Izzy had been an eternally ongoing love affair with them and all their artery clogging goodness since middle school, like many kids.

“Ha mom, of course she would add those. You’d think I was the one with a new job, not you. Why do you let her do that stuff anyway?”

“You know, she likes to feel needed,” Jacob said sniffling his almost perpetually runny nose. He turned to leave the security office, one hand pressing the door half way open before he turned back, “two of the sandwiches had cabbage, she didn’t have any lettuce and I don’t think she marked any of them.”

“I think I’ll be okay, you said Oreo and all thoughts of food stopped there.”

“She said not to let you eat just those.” He sniffled again and pushed open the door to leave.

“And I’m sure you’ll run right home and tell her. How’s she doing anyway?”

“She’s been holding up okay, talks about you coming over sometime for dinner ya know.” He sniffed again and rubbed slowly at his nose.

“You know that’s gross, just go blow your nose already.”

“I hate the way my ear’s pop.”

“Just do it and be done with already.”

“I’ll do it after you eat one of those sandwiches and take it easy on those cookies–they’ll give you a heart attack.”

“We’ll see, go have a look around, blow your nose in peace, and I’ll sit here keeping an eye on how Mr. J is doing.”

Jacob pushed through the door, pulling a handkerchief from his back pocket as he walked, hitched up his pants and put the cotton to his nose.

© 2016 Joseph Aldred

***

Joseph Aldred lives in Vancouver, Washington. By night he is a writer, by day he is a writer only when his boss isn’t around. He loves to eat sushi with his kids and to drink the occasional bottle of cider. He works freelance creating content for the web.

Mini Sledgehammer July 2016

Congratulations to Donald on his second win!
***
Prompts:
Character: A diplomat
Action: Going viral
Setting: Before the revolution
Phrase: “Gotta catch ’em all”
***

Only the Lonely

by Donald Carson

They call me a monster. And perhaps I am. Donald_Carson

They call me a lover. And I do have my moments.

I do not think they suspect that in my large and fiery heart lies the spark of sensibility. To them, I am just a large lump. A thing to take advantage of until no more advantages remain to be taken.

They talk about leaving me. I would like to see them try! They have hurled themselves away from my massive body but they always return, like fleas flick back onto a dying dog.

They give me no credit for creating them, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it was not I who brought them into being, but something larger than myself. Perhaps there is a God.

I doubt it.

I was lonely. I longed for a mind to share my deep, dark cavernous thoughts with. And so I fiddled and I fidgeted. I sent lighting where lightning might not have gone. I crafted and I coddled. I was quite clever, if I do say so myself. Eventually things went viral, as they say now, and I sat back to watch.

It took awhile, but I had awhile. Fire burned, and cauldron bubbled.

And forth they came.

How they have disappointed me! I thought to have companions, but instead I have a mange, that spreads across my skin, leaving death in its tracks.

And they think me a monster. Oh, I kill them casually enough, as one brushes a mosquito from one’s shoulder, or poisons ants. Gotta catch ’em all!

So I am a monster. But I am also a diplomat. I want them to one day be my equal, so I try to keep them alive, but I despair how long it will take. Or whether I will have to start over.

They are the humans I birthed in my wet womb. And I, I am the planet they call the Earth. Brooding, scheming, and always hopeful that someday I will meet my equal. Before the revolution that is intelligence spread across my surface I had given up hope.

Now, I have a tiny particle of hope. Will they someday evolve into a companion for me?

Oh, I’ve reached across the emptiness and tapped Venus on the shoulder. I’ve called out to Saturn. But apparently I am the only sentient planet in hailing range.

And while they prattle, and dissect their minuscule existences, and give themselves hugs, and take selfies, I wait.

For a friend.

© 2016 Donald Carson

***

Donald lives in Portland, where he works in digital content and user experience, which is a fancy way of saying he tries to make websites and apps more useful for businesses and their customers. He is a food addict and must eat at least 3 times a day to sustain a metabolic high. He also enjoys avoiding things he knows he should do, working on the same novel for 10 years, and tending to the needs of 2 furry animals which for some reason have taken up residence in his house.

Mini Sledgehammer May 2016

Donald has cropped up to quite a few Indigo events lately—happy hour chats, write-ins, and now Mini Sledgehammer! Thanks for being part of our community, Donald, and congratulations on winning.

***

Prompts:
Character: A delivery person
Action: Taking x-rays
Setting: An ice rink
Phrase: “Heads up”

***

The Disappearance of Bobby Gond

by Donald Carson

Everyone searched and searched, but they could not find him.Donald_Carson

If ever a 7-year-old could have been said to have vanished, it was Bobby.

His grandmother, old Muriel Gond, who was raising Bobby after his mother had left town with a pizza delivery person Muriel referred to only as “that man,” stomped all over the property, looking in old refrigerators, rusting car carcasses, and oil drums.

She pulled things off of shelves.

She clattered in the garage, in the barn, in the overhang where the big RV had been parked for ten years without moving an inch.

She yelled until she was hoarse.

And she was not alone. The entire town of Ice Rink, Idaho (pop. 837) roamed the streets shouting Bobby’s name until the glow on the horizon disappeared and it was too dark to see. Many of them abandoned the search then, but a few of the brave flashlight owners got them out, dusted them off, and continued searching across the fields, rustling through the grass like a herd of migrating elk.

Muriel worried that Bobby had never spent a night out of his bed before, and would be scared to be by himself in the dark. The matriarchs of the town comforted her as they sat up into the night, watching Fox News and waiting for their own news from the search parties.

Morning came. The sun rose, and the town rose, but no Bobby. Muriel Gond finally fell into a troubled sleep. She was a religious woman, and in a dream God came to her, pressed a cold cloth to her brow, and, in the voice of Charleton Heston, told her not to worry.

They never did find Bobby.

The search went on for several days. In the second week, it became half-hearted. In the third week, it was quarter-hearted, and so on, until there was no heart left at all.

It should be said, and here is as good a place as any, that Bobby was no ordinary boy. You only know him as a missing child, but to those who knew him, Bobby was a delight. Most young boys you can take or leave. Mostly leave. They’re noisy, smelly, and fully of questions that don’t need answering. The best you can say about 7-year-old boys is that they’ll “probably turn out OK.”

But Bobby was different. Smart, funny, and kind, he made everyone around him glad to see him show up and sorry to see him leave.

And when he disappeared from their lives so suddenly and mysteriously, the town of Ice Rink was forever more subdued after that.

Muriel took ill, with a fever, and raged and groaned and was on the verge of cursing God, but thought better of it. They needed his help to find Bobby. She grew no better, and finally the doctor took x-rays to see what was the matter. He could find nothing wrong.

But one day Muriel sprang out of bed, exclaiming that God had come to her in a dream and told her that all was accounted for. That was all she would say. But she never was quite the same after that, fading like wallpaper in the sun as the years went by.

And the years did go by. Muriel, who had been old when Bobby went missing, grew even older.

And then she died.

Muriel had been something of a hoarder, saving the possessions of her late husband Josephus X. Gond in careful stacks as though his life had been worthy of furnishing a museum.

After Bobby disappeared, she became even worse. Perhaps she thought that by saving everything that came into her life she could somehow atone for having misplaced her grandson.

When she died, the town had a lot of sorting to do. The one Goodwill was strained to the bursting point with the detritus of Muriel Gond’s home and many outbuildings.

Before he settled in Idaho, Josephus had been a cook in the Merchant Marine, and one of the things he’d brought back with him was the taxidermied corpse of an alligator perched on a rock, swatting at a stuffed kingfisher flying overhead on a wire. No one knew how Josephus had managed to get the ridiculously heavy thing from God Knows Where to his home, but he had. And it had the place of honor in the middle of the garage, where it had lain, gathering the dust of the ages, for half a century.

When it came time to take the alligator out of the place, it took seven men and a truck with a winch.

As they were dragging it into the yard, it came apart. Turns out the rock that alligator was on was hollow—who knew?

Someone yelled “heads up” at the man driving the truck and he stopped tugging.

They all gathered around the rock that had split horizontally in two, showing the hollow space within.

Where the skeleton of a young boy lay, perfectly preserved, his empty eye socket pressed against a small hole in the rock, gazing eternally at the world outside.

No one could figure out how Bobby had gotten himself into the hollow of the rock without help, nor why no one had heard him yelling when they searched.

But there he was.

What was not widely reported, and only spoken of in hushed tones among the townspeople, was that the skeleton had grown small wings—just bones now—that curled against his body as he lay.

It couldn’t be explained.

But anyhow, there is so much in this life that can’t be explained, isn’t there?

© 2016 Donald Carson

 

***

 

Donald lives in Portland, where he works in digital content and user experience, which is a fancy way of saying he tries to make websites and apps more useful for businesses and their customers. He is a food addict and must eat at least 3 times a day to sustain a metabolic high. He also enjoys avoiding things he knows he should do, working on the same novel for 10 years, and tending to the needs of 2 furry animals which for some reason have taken up residence in his house.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2016

Laurel Rogers was brand new to Sledgehammer this month, and she walked out with a newly won bottle of wine! She says, “I really loved it. Such a great event. Thanks again.” Thank YOU, Laurel!

***

This month’s prompts were:
Character: A barber
Action: Parallel parking
Setting: At a bike rack
Phrase: “You gotta remember where you are.”

***

Extinction

by Laurel RogersLaurelRogersHeadShot

The icy wind wrapped around Kay like a vicious sneer, as if the islands themselves knew how much she didn’t belong there. Not now anyway. Not in this alternate timeline she’d lived for the past five aching years.

Bill’s face was, as always, immutable, but that was preferred to the blood-red anger that had overtaken him when she pulled the car up by the bike rack in a haphazard version of parallel parking near the beach. “You still just can’t do it, can you,” he fumed.

Well, fuck him.

The old Kay would feel the sting of his words. The old Kay, who had a heart that did more than beat.

A heart that stopped feeling years before.

***

You could only find a few references to it online, always tagged as the “Puget Sound Mini Tsunami.” No one really knew much about it—almost know one ever heard of it.

But it was the lightning rod moment for Bill and Kay. An extinction-level event, as tsunamis often were. And here they were at the spot, five years and a few months later.

Because coming on the anniversary would be cliche, Kay had said.

Too fucking impossibly painful, she meant.

Time supposedly heals all wounds, but it hadn’t proved to have an effect on the abject, utter loss of an entire world. And that’s what the “mini tsunami” had been—the Great Flood, ending of everything. Just a random late spring day, the kind when families play, lovers kiss, sailboats unfurl their spinnakers and hillsides fifty miles away don’t collapse into the sea, spawning a two-foot-high relentless, powerful ripple across the sound and around Spieden Island.

And funneled—“with surgical precision,” one newscaster described it—right into the spit by Davis Head.

Where Bill and Kay were.

Watching.

Watching in utter helplessness as their three kids looked in momentary shock as the water receded to showcase the crabs and sea slime and purple clams they had, but seconds before, longed to reach under the too-deep water.

“Mom, look!” Lina hollered. “A starfish!”

It was the last thing Kay would ever hear any of her children say.

***

“You’ve gotta remember where you are,” Kay’s therapist reminded her about once a month. “And that’s a lot further than you were last month.”

Was it? Was it really? Because it felt like a treadmill. Day after day, going through the motions of a life Kay wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.

Bill was on a treadmill too. It just wasn’t the same treadmill. And gradually Kay realized it wasn’t even pointed in the same direction.

At first, there was still some kind of connection. The inconceivable grief, combined with a zombie-like onslaught of “helpful” opinions offered by friends and family, had given them at least the shared focus of survival.

No, they weren’t wearing lifejackets, they answered a thousand times. No, it wouldn’t have occurred to them. How could we possible know if it would’ve made a difference. NO, NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD PUT LIFEJACKETS ON KIDS WADING IN ANKLE-DEEP WATER SO FUCK THE HELL OFF.

Over time, the world went on. Other children died. A mom down the street died five weeks after being diagnosed with melanoma. Bill’s grandpa died. A truck driver on I-5 fell asleep and took out a motorcyclist heading home from work.

Death was everywhere, and after a few months, Bill and Kay weren’t special. Or interesting.

Or even alive, they realized.

But no one else really noticed.

***

Kay had heard of people “growing apart” or just “not having that spark” any more. People got bored. People got lonely. People got scared as the years ticked by closer to an unknown but certain doomsday looming—age 72? 80? Maybe 100? No one knew, but it was there like a barber holding a straight-edge razor, ready to cull a few more strands from the world’s tapestry.

But only three strands mattered to Kay, and they were gone. And over time, as she looked at Bill, he seemed more and more part of the memory of those family days—days that gradually became myth and legend, rolled up in the modern cave paintings of family scrapbooks.

And just as untouchable as an extinct mammoth.

Extinct. That was what their marriage was. They realized this quietly, she and Bill. Each on their own.

Out of habit she kissed him on the mouth on his way out the door to work for the first time since their world was destroyed. But there was nothing there. For either of them.

“It’ll take time,” the counselor assured them, first together, when they tried together, and then separately.

Gradually everything was separate. First, Kay tried a few nights on the couch, knowing too well her insomnia was keeping Bill from sleeping. “One of us has to get some rest,” she said as she left their plush king-size bed.

She never came back, in word or deed.

And Bill never asked.

Extinct.

***

Coming back to San Juan Island again was Bill’s idea. It wasn’t a romantic proposition. They both knew that. They hadn’t even driven together, although they decided to meet at the Anacortes ferry terminal and go that far together to save a few bucks. Naturally that was Bill’s idea, but Kay knew, in fairness, it was best. Lawyers cost money. Tax accountants cost money. Never mind the therapy bills, the online dating fees, an increasing amount of money going out the door separately.

The papers were ready, and they both were fine. It didn’t hurt, in the same way you don’t feel a thing when they remove your leg while you’re under general anesthesia. But they weren’t macabre enough to make some grand ceremony of it on the island.

That wasn’t the point.

Even though neither ever said it, Kay knew that this trip was a simple, quiet, strangely necessary funeral. A terribly cold one, inside and out.

***

Kay shivered again as she looked out toward Pearl Island. The Davis spit was so much the same—its swath of granite gravel and pearly clams. Million-dollar yachts still bobbed at moorages out of reach of the common folk. Yet it was oddly silent, shrouded in winter’s inescapable solitude.

Kay was grateful. The island she had known and loved was seared in her memory, an endless summer where her children played happily in their eternal youth.

She looked at Bill, whose stoic face was lined with ever more wrinkles even if they weren’t caused by grins and laughter.

Suddenly he looked at her, really looked at her, as if for the first time in all these years. And then he spoke aloud the epitaph they both had written in their hearts.

“I always thought I’d grow old with you.”

Extinct.

© 2016 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel loves to make up stories. Sometimes she even realizes they’re fiction. Other times she fashions them into website content, blogs and twisted Facebook posts about her family. One day soon, she’ll actually get her own blog going at www.theclockstruckmidlife.com.