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Mini Sledgehammer May 2017

Sarah is a big help at Mini Sledgehammer, especially on a super-secret project we’ll be announcing in the next couple months. But this month, she’s featured not for her helpfulness but for her writing. Congratulations, Sarah!

***

Prompts:
Character: Little sister
Setting: A covered wagon
Prop: A paintbrush
Phrase: The light shines through it

***

Tolya

by Sarah Farnham

He worked patiently. He worked frantically.Sarah Farnham

He worked by light of day and by the moonlight herself.

 

He was building a time machine.

 

“Aw, you doin’ that stuff again?”

He ignored her, focusing on spreading the paint as far and as wide as he could reach.

“Hey–”

A small tug on his painter’s smock caused his eyebrows to rise.

A shake of the ladder got him to put down his brush.

 

“Yes, hermanita?”

“I tolya I don’t know what that means. And we’re not Mexican.”

He tossed his bangs out of his face irritably.

“Little sister. I use it because I like–”

“Don’t care.”

She started walking away, tiny feet pounding into the ground.

“Well, whatdya want?” He called after her.

“Dad’s dead.”

 

That’s all she spoke, and then her mouth was shut for good. She refused to talk entirely. She hadn’t lost any of her sass–just the will to propel it past her vocal cords and into the air. She became very good at pointing.

 

The funeral was hellish. His mom barely held it together. She kept on going around the funeral telling people to leave, telling them to “go eat something–go fuck someone. Funerals are horrible.”

He crept out a side door just to get some air and smoke a joint.

A small tug on his button-up made him choke.

“God, what have I told you about creeping up on me like that?”

She pointed to the overgrown fence behind the church.

“So?”

She tugged his shirt again, leading him over.

“Oh, I gotcha. Little thief, eh?”

She frowned and stomped her foot.

“Betcha no one’s using this paint anyway.”

The cans were rusted over and probably full of shit. She tapped his arm and pointed forcefully toward one can in particular.

“Yellow. Ok. I can dig it.”

He lugged the cans into his hatchback.

 

He was seven when the covered wagon appeared in the backyard. She wasn’t around yet. They had just gotten a computer, Oregon Trail was his new obsession. He played until his eyes were red and raw and “falling out of his head.” His dad built him the wagon, asking him to exercise his imagination instead of his keyboard.

 

He grew out of it eventually–by the time she came around anyway. He would still sneak down and read at night. He kept comic books in a locked toolbox under the bench seat.

When dad got sick, he sat there more and more. It was easier than watching him die in the living room; easier than holding his mother while she screamed with anger.

The canvas was rotting away. One Saturday when things were decently calm and dad was still busy living he asked his mom to borrow the station wagon. She came with him, of course–down to the hardware store where they bought a whole roll of canvas.

She held the hammer in her tiny hands while he fixed up whatever wood had melted away. She held the staple gun while he reverse peeled the fresh canvas back onto the wagon-bones. She sat and watched and asked questions, but mostly was willing to be quiet.

He worked patiently, and he worked frantically–willing himself to finish the wagon before the end. So he could have the chance to show dad just how much he meant–

“Dad’s dead.”

 

He didn’t go back to the wagon after the funeral. Months passed–in and out of school, in and out of a daze he couldn’t shake. Nothing seemed to be real. Nothing felt right.

Their mom was drunk inside, yelling at their aunt. He couldn’t listen to her blame him anymore.

He walked to the back of the house, grabbing his setup and handling the brushes, making sure they were still pliable and clean.

She followed him, way past her bedtime–silently, like a tiny ghost.

We’re both ghosts, now–he thought.

He put an electric lamp inside, for her. He left one outside, for him.

 

He went at the covered wagon like Jackson Pollack must have attacked his canvases, like Yves Klein must have felt when he invented Blue all over again. His mind was inflamed, his hand was moving faster than light, hotter than fire–

He felt a tug.

“Not now.”

A stronger tug, now–his brush slipped.

“Goddamnit, Ash–what do you want?”

She looked up at the canvas, hand on his arm, willing him to see what she saw.

“Don’t paint anymore.” He took a careful breath, not wanting to disturb the spell of speech.

“The light shines through it.”

 

They fell asleep in front of the wagon that night, watching moths dance around the wildly painted figures of their childhoods.

© 2017 by Sarah Farnham

***

Sarah Farnham is a freelance writer living in Portland. She likes odd habits and new words.

 

Mini Sledgehammer December 2015

Blackbird Wine was bursting Tuesday night with holiday parties and devoted writers! Thanks to everyone who came out, and congratulations to Sarah Farnham for winning on her second try. She says she’s “100% hooked.”

The prompts were:
Character: Nobody
Action: Breaking and entering
Setting: A fireplace
Phrase: “Not as bad as last Christmas.”

***

The Givingprofile

by Sarah Farnham

the girl dangled her legs over the bed. her little brother sat in front of her.

‘whaddya think this christmas will be like?’ she asked.

‘worse than last.’

she chewed on the blanket and sighed. she knew he was right.

‘what’s for dinner?’

‘dunno.’ he slumped as he sat there, back caving over as he pulled out strings from the carpet.

 

their mother, dressed in skirts and elegant cardigans, started when they were three. ‘your only task in life is to give back,’ she would say, smiling. ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ the only holidays they remember were spent volunteering at the shelter, passing out food for the homeless or the domestic victims of the gritty streets of philadelphia. their father, while still in the picture–he stayed home and watched football. he preferred not to listen to their mother.

they didn’t have any extended family. no cousins to play barbies with, no aunts to lecture them, no uncles to tease them. they were no good at making friends, either. two years apart, they much preferred the company of each other. teachers marvelled at it, but the other kids sneered. they teased her for hanging with her baby brother, and they tortured him for wanting to hang out with a girl.

but they were the coolest people they knew. everyone else was kinda dumb, and definitely didn’t understand the intricacies of their daily life.

they were not cinderella children–it wasn’t as if they counted lentils in the fireplace or peeled potatoes for days on end. they did, however, make their beds and wash the dishes. their mother asked them to, and they obliged, gratefully. if a grownup in their life, say at an uncommon party, would ever laugh at them, wondering how children were so well-behaved, they would stare blankly, uncaring, until that grownup wandered off. their eyes frequently glazed off in conversations with teachers–they always had the right answers, but there was more than one educator who thought ‘there was something wrong with those two.’

if they knew about it, they had shrugged it off long ago.

because they knew something no ordinary adult knew.

their mother, a kind and benevolent force, had taught them the secret to life.

she taught them to volunteer first. being small children, they thought of nothing but pleasing their mother. they went about, merry, caroling and passing out food and smiling at strangers, a tiny movement unto themselves. after school, they collected bottles for the men who would ride by and collect them late at night. they had an allowance, and it was spent on other people. coats for cold bridge people, hats for the dirty children who roamed the streets. a can of beans for the woman who always walked by at noon on Tuesday.

the girl asked first.

‘mother?’

‘yes, darling?’

‘other children sometimes–‘

‘what have i told you about other children?’

‘that they don’t know what i know.’

‘which is?’

‘that the world is operating on a different level entirely, and that they are wasting their time and money and energy.’

‘correct. you were saying?’

‘nothing.’

the girl sat on her bed at night, thinking. she knew some things, that was sure. she knew that the world was keeping score, she knew that someone was always watching, she knew that she needed to always do more.

she also knew she was not happy, because it was never enough.

he felt the same. they sat on the swings, bundled up in the cold. december was windy, but bearable. they allowed themselves a small break in collecting cans twice a week. he decided to ask her instead of Mother. ‘sis–why don’t other children do what we do? don’t they know better?’

she shook her head. ‘no, because they are silly. they might have a chance to change, but they’re starting so late…’

‘what’s going to happen to them?’

‘i’m not sure; Mother never told us that part.’

he chewed on his lip. he whispered, ‘do you ever think we should be doing more?’

she turned to him and looked visibly relieved. ‘all the time. i just don’t think it’s enough.’

he sat forward, excited. ‘i’ve been thinking about something.’ she nodded. ‘what if we–what if we did what He did?’

she frowned. ‘that’s blasphemy.’ she started to swing again.

he scooted forward again, irritated. ‘it’s not. He wants us to.’

‘why do you think that?’

he started to breathe faster. she looked over at him sharply. ‘don’t trigger an attack.’

he shook his head. ‘i won’t. just listen.’ he got off the swing and stood in front of her.

‘He started poor, right?’ she nodded. ‘He started with nothing, just by giving everything He could. and eventually He built a factory, and an empire, and He was able to really give everything.’ she nodded again. he folded his arms. ‘i think the only way we’ll ever truly escape death is if we do the same. He’s still alive, right?’

she stopped swinging. ‘we could live forever, just like Him. His power is what keeps Him alive, after all. the Giving.’

‘exactly. it’s just common sense.’

she frowned slightly. ‘i know we can always do more. i know we always have more to give. so what are you thinking? what’s the big thing?’

he leaned in, his eyes glittering. ‘we can do what He did.’

she gasped. ‘we–we could–‘

he nodded. ‘it’s not enough that we give what we can. we need to be invisible, like Him. we need to build His empire.’

‘what if he sees us?’

‘are you serious?’ he asked. ‘even better.’

‘what if we go to the same houses?’

he whispered. ‘then we would see him. maybe compare notes, see what we could do better. sis–we could see Him.’

she stood up suddenly. ‘i’m in,’ she said.

 

they began preparing that night. they had exactly one month to train. he had started collecting supplies (ropes, backpacks, climbing gear from his dad’s abandoned hobby) before he even had told her, but she added the fine details he knew he had needed her for. the small headlamps were her idea.

as smaller than average children go, they were pretty quiet already. but they practiced themselves to be downright silent. their mother beamed as they walked around the house, doing their chores and storing items like squirrels.

‘children,’ she said one day. ‘i just want to congratulate you. you’ve been working so hard, and giving so much–but i also want to encourage you to work just a little harder.’ she pinched their cheeks, frowning as she noticed the smudges of coal. using a thumb and her tongue, she rubbed at their faces. ‘death won’t escape itself.’ she twirled around the corner in a swirl of skirts and Chanel.

the night came. they were ready, and executed their task with skill and ease.

 

and as the police prepared to cart them off, they could hear the buzz of the radio.

’10-4, on your way?’

‘yeap.’

the window was open.

one policeman, standing outside of the car, turned to the other. ‘what happened tonight?’

‘coupla kids, breaking and entering. left a bunch of useless shit in the living room. fifth house this week.’

‘jesus.’

‘santa nuts. at least it’s not as bad as last year.’

 

the children smiled at each other in the back seat.

© 2015 Sarah Farnham

***

Sarah Farnham is a bi-coastal wanderer. She loves writing, coffee, and sunshine. Poetry was her main squeeze until she accidentally started writing fiction. You can contact her at westcoastcharlie@gmail.com.