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Mini Sledgehammer February 2020

Laurel Roger’s February Mini Sledge winning story is a wonderful, detail-laden scene. Congrats on the win, Laurel!

Prompts:

Character: Politician

Action: Sitting in a rocket, waiting for liftoff

Setting: Underwater

Phrase: “I still left early.”


Rocket Powered
by Laurel Rogersthumbnail_IMG_6168

Her over-processed blonde hair reflected the brassy Florida sun with a glint that made the admiring men around her glad they had donned their Vuarnets and Ray-Bans. Cloaked in dark glass, their eyes tracked her breasts as they bounced gently with every stride of her long, tan legs.

Blonde or not, she wasn’t stupid enough to be unaware of their stares, but today she was too busy to bother with her usual sly tip of her head and knowing smile of her hot-pink lips. Today, she was on a mission–just like the men who would be sitting and waiting for liftoff in the rocket that rose in full phallic spectacle from the sandbar they called a cape. The boys and their stares would have to wait, even if she was more than a little pleased that her bra size was still larger than her age, even if the two were getting dangerously close the same.

Determined, she yanked hard on the handle and the heavy glass doors opened with a swish of cool air. She shivered from the contrast of temperature inside and out. Or was it from the thoughts in her head?

Her heels clicked across the terrazzo floor until the security guard and a velvet rope halted her progress.

“Badge?” the guard asked.

“Don’t you know who I am?”

Just to be sure, the guard looked her over, head to toe with a brief stop at her chest. For security purposes, of course. “Nope, sure don’t,” he replied finally. “Step to the desk.”

She went where he waved, and what seemed like a perky 12-year-old greeted her with too much familiarity. “Welcome to NASA. Do you have an appointment?”

“I don’t need an appointment. I’m Mrs. Lefterly.”

The receptionist started to reply her usual “appointments are required for everyone…” but wisely stopped herself as her memory kicked in. “Ohhhh. Lefterly. Lefterly? THE Lefterly?”

Estelle Lefterly just stared at the poor girl as she struggled to collect herself. When the girl finally gave up speaking, Estelle replied quietly, “As I said, I don’t need an appointment.”

“Y-y-y-yes, yes, of course, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Lefterly.” The girl tried to hand Estelle a visitor badge, but Estelle had already started clicking her way across the lobby to the executive elevators.

“George, I know we’re already underwater on this mission. But we can’t just….” The elevator doors only had to open an inch for him to see who was inside, and he knew what he had to say had no more value.

George turned around to see what had so derailed Bob’s thought. His eyes widened, and his body tensed. As the elevator doors finished opening, George inhaled and willed his body to relax as he lifted his most practiced Southern smile to his face and flashed his too-large teeth too-largely toward the once-bombshell. “Estelle! Sweetheart! It’s been too long!” He took the manicured hand she presented coldly and tried to warm it with a brief kiss.

“George, you’re sweet as always, but you know why I’m here, and it’s not to listen to you blow sunshine up my…skirt,” Estelle replied. Then she turned slightly to Bob. “And who’s this?”

“Ah, right,” George answered. “This is Bob. He’s the chief engineer of…”

Estelle cut him off. “You know I have no interest in that engine stuff.” She waved her hand at the meaninglessness of Bob’s position while emphasizing the importance of the hefty diamonds clustered on her fourth finger.

Bob squirmed and turned away toward some suits over by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Unable to flee with grace, George had no choice but to see to Mrs. Lefterly. “Well, Estelle, how about we just step over to my office and have ourselves a little chat.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary,” she replied with a saccharine smile. “There’s just one thing I want, and that’s my boy up there on your big rocket tomorrow when it lifts off.”

George feigned an understanding chuckle. “Well, Estelle, darling. Oh, you know I’d like nothing more than that, but Johnny is still in rotation for next time. Of course if we need him as a sub for this mission, he’s first in line for that. But this isn’t his turn.”

Estelle looked hard in George’s eyes, then scanned the room. She nodded her head to a few of the suits and shot a knowing smile at a couple more. The room grew quieter as some of the most powerful politicians from Washington and their wannabe counterparts in NASA shifted uneasily from foot to foot.

She knew George was watching. She knew he knew the power she actually had. She knew he knew she held the same sway over him. So she just let him think about that for a moment, before she leaned in close, her pink lips almost touching the soft peach fuzz of his earlobe, and whispered. “My boy, on that rocket. Tomorrow, George.”

Then she pulled back and smiled warmly at him. “You look a little pale, George. You need to come out to the beach house sometime soon.” With that she waved and turned back to the elevator. As she climbed in and the doors began to shut, she overheard Bob begin his thoughts again.

“George, seriously, the launch is tomorrow, and this is about safety….”

© 2020 Laurel Rogers


Laurel Rogers was surprised to win her third Sledgehammer this month. When she’s not playing with fiction, Laurel is busy providing content strategy, writing and editing to a variety of clients throughout the West Coast. Her blog and podcast are underdevelopment at theclockstruckmidlife.com.

Mini Sledgehammer April 2017

Congratulations to Laurel Rogers, who won this month and also won in April last year! She says, “April must be my magic ticket to Sledgehammer success. It was nice to be back after a few months away while I was teaching. We had a big group this month–spilled over to a second table even–but there was no change in the excellent quality of everyone’s writing. Thanks for another fun round.” Thank you, Laurel!

Prompts:
Character: A tailor
Action: Spring cleaning
Setting: A Catholic church
Phrase: Bippity, boppety, boo

***

Earthquakes

by Laurel RogersIMG_6437

She was drunk.

At least that’s what she told herself, even if anyone watching her would, at worst, call her a wee bit tipsy.

But after years—decades really—of being the village teetotaler, and having done the unthinkable and snitching a sip of the vodka Father Jacob kept in a communion wine bottle on the middle shelf of the mahogany bookcase in his office, Sister Frances figured she was surely drunk. Only that could explain why, after stealing AND imbibing all in the same swallow, she shelved her better self and took another sip. And then a proper swallow.

Maybe even…a gulp.

She looked at the calendar on the wall, which apparently hadn’t been changed since October 2015. She admired the watercolor print of a basket full of shiny red apples and imagined herself reaching and plucking one from its basket.

Forbidden fruit.

She could almost taste it, despite the subtle tingle on her tongue from Father Jacob’s vodka.

Sister Frances sighed with a weight only years of rote certainty could place upon a soul. The calendar lied. There were no bushels of apples—in fact, the tree outside Father Jacob’s office hadn’t so much as budded yet this spring. What little sun peered through the veil of clouds that hung over the village filtered past the heavy velvet curtains and pooled on a threadbare rug.

It wouldn’t do to indulge in such extravagances as new wool rugs, especially in Father Jacob’s retreat so far in the back of the old Catholic church no one visited. Even the Father seemed reticent to journey so far from the loftier heights of the sanctuary.

Sister Frances wondered, in fact, how long since someone had ventured into the musty space. She wrinkled her nose at the dusty bookshelf as she replaced the vodka—ahem, the wine, wink wink—bottle on the shelf. She wondered if she could sing a little tune out the window and then, bam and bippity boppity boo, her fairy godmother would rescue her from the task ahead.

The task assigned by her not-so-fairy-nor-god-but-she-seemed-to-think-she-was Mother Anna. “Spring cleaning,” the Reverend Mother announced over their standard breakfast of sourdough toast, a spread of processed cheese-like fat, orange juice and coffee. Because naturally orange juice and coffee tasted so good together, Sister Frances fumed. Almost as good as toothpaste and coffee.

She was wasting time, procrastinating the spring cleaning she had been assigned by Mother Anna. Might be the last spring Mother Anna was making such assignments. If the tittering of the mousy church ladies was any indication, next year Sister Frances might well be the Mother. The Big Mother on Campus. Like a boss, she thought to herself.

She blushed a little. How in the world had she learned that phrase?

Oh how the world was changing, before her very eyes. And, no, it wasn’t just the astigmatism that came up worse at every eye exam. Age was a bitch, she thought, then she cringed again at her choice of words.

In His house no less, she chided herself.

But most of her wasn’t even listening. Most of her somehow stopped listening a long time ago.

***

Continents drift apart a little each and every day. Imperceptibly. Oh sure, cataclysms of quake and inferno may create visual schisms more expediently, but the geology of change is the slow, steady, relentless separation of masses that once shared everything in common.

And so Sister Frances woke one morning to realize she didn’t know where she was.

Oh, she wasn’t demented or even muddled—this was long before she took a nip from Father’s stash. She knew she was in the convent adjacent the church, where she had done the Lord’s good and holy work every day since she took her novice vows at age 17.

She had walked through the ethereal curtains of stained-glass sunlight, along the center aisle of that same church, her cherubic face scrubbed and rosy behind a white veil. The only wedding dress she would ever wear fell softly from her youthful breasts, spilled over her gently curved hips, perfectly shaped for her and her alone by the village tailor who shook his head sadly every spring as worked on the next set of novice gowns.

She had walked forward to a groom she would never hold.

Who would never let her down.

Who grew more distant through the years, as grooms are wont to do.

Until one day she woke up and didn’t recognize her own life. She had walked a script written by someone else, always sure of its honesty, its goodness, its correctness, until she couldn’t read it any more. She was left wondering in what language it was even written.

***

The future is a funny thing. It can be full of plans and purposes and intentions, yet it’s all just a fiction. Sister Frances never believed that, until she could see so clearly that the story could end in so many different ways.

In fact, the possibilities were so overwhelming, she had half a mind to return to Father Jacob’s bottle. Better be careful not to end up at the Monday night AA meetings, she reminded herself.

She chuckled aloud. Imagine Mother Anna’s face when she served coffee to the group at precisely 7 p.m. and saw Sister Frances waiting for her turn to say, “Hi, my name is….”

A small rumble in this village.

Maybe she could ask to take a trip. Go on a mission to somewhere exotic. Find a way to sneak away from her godly duties with orphans or the sick or the poor and swim naked under a full moon in a phosphorescent sea.

But no one would know. That didn’t seem enough.

She needed something to feel like she was the author of her own existence.

Sister Frances took the bottle off the shelf one more time. A sip. An idea. They hit her brain together.

There would be an earthquake. She would cause it, and it would be known. A relatively small one to be sure, but an earthquake nonetheless. A shaking. A sign that the plates were no longer one.

Sister Frances wondered if that was enough.

© 2017 Laurel Rogers

***

Laurel Rogers is a professional juggler of client deadlines, Uber driver to her three home-schooled kids, kayaking partner to her husband and sounding board to her fascinating friends. She enjoys using short fiction to explore the very nonfictional ways people relate to themselves and each other.