The Hammer Not the Hog
“So, Mr. Brogan, it says here that you were deemed fully rehabilitated by the state.” The fat man behind the desk looks over his wire rimmed glasses at me. Scanning my scarred exterior for cracks, looking for a peek under the armor, looking for a hint of the fire that once raged there. I show him nothing. “Do you think you’re ready?” he says.
I sit erect, shoulders back and chest out, just like they taught me in basic training a thousand years ago. I look the fat weasel in the eyes and resist the urge to reach over the desk and pull his throat out. I remind myself that I’ve waited a long time for this. I remind myself that prison was just a pause, like a breath held in the bottom of my lungs. Now I’m out and I’m breathing, and I ain’t never going back.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Good, I think I’ve got just the thing for your particular…skill set. Tell me Mr. Brogan, how do you feel about working outside with your hands?”
The thermometer in the barn reads just north of ninety and I’m shirtless and covered in sweat and blood. It’s not my blood, but the overspray from the sledge hammer. I’m standing over a livestock shoot with a twenty pound hammer raised over my head. As the hogs come down the line I bring the hard steel down between their eyes, sending bone fragments into their tiny brains. It’s funny, this job’s not much different from what I did for my old boss; what I did that put me in prison.
Two rangy looking Hispanics with blue green prison ink pull the carcasses over to a hoist where they’re hauled up and bled out. We do this eight hours a day six days a week. At the end of my shift I wash the blood and brains off with a water hose and put my shirt back on. I walk out to the back lot and wait for my ride because I can’t afford a car on what they pay me. Being broke don’t bother me none though, I’m honestly just glad to be working. Keeping busy is the key to staying out of trouble.
“Damn Reed, you smell like a goddamned death sandwich. You’re gonna have to ride in the back today. I can’t be comin’ home with that stink on me, Trina won’t let me sit down at the dinner table.” Ricky Basham’s my neighbor and a real standup guy. He catches hell from his old lady for giving me a ride to and from work, but he does it anyway. I can hear them fighting about it at night from over the fence. She screams at him for being stupid and getting mixed up with a convicted murderer. He just drinks his beer and tells her to fuck off, saying he can’t just drive by every morning and watch me walk the six miles to the slaughter house. Like I said, Ricky’s a standup guy.
“Trina’s makin’ pot roast tonight. She won’t let me invite you over Reed, but I’ll slip out later and bring you a plate if you like,” Ricky shouts through the open window between the cab and the bed of the truck. I give him a thumbs up so I don’t have to try and yell over the rushing air and the rumble of the engine. Truth is I’m not the talker I used to be. Put a man in solitary confinement long enough, and some parts start to wither.
Ricky drops me off at the curb in front my shitty little garage apartment so Trina won’t see me get out of the truck. If she catches sight of me, he won’t hear the end of it until he passes out drunk on the couch. As I walk up the rotted staircase that leads to my place, I see something move and look over into Ricky’s backyard. I see a man in a deputy’s uniform leaving out with his belt undone and his boots cradled under one arm. He looks around before jumping the back fence and disappearing into the thicket on the other side.
“You ever think about getting a divorce?” I say looking out the passenger window of Ricky’s truck. The sun is coming up over the kudzu covered tree line, painting the broad leaves a red that reminds me of splattered blood.
“Leave Trina? Shit man, she drives me fucking crazy, but I couldn’t leave her. Hell, I doubt she could get along without me.” Ricky hands me the thermos of steaming coffee and I pour another cup.
“It’s none of my business, it just seems you two fight all the time.”
“Aw hell, she fusses and scratches like a wet hen, but she knows she’s got it good. I make enough at the garage to let her stay at home all day. She ain’t gonna fuck that up.” Ricky knocks back his coffee and lights a smoke. “Your stinky ass is my biggest problem right now.”
“About that,” I say. “Why don’t you stop picking me up. It might make things easier on you.”
Ricky squints at me through the smoke from his Camel. “That ain’t gonna happen brother. Every damn one of us has made a mistake or three in our lives and after a man has done his time and paid what he owes, he deserves a break. So until your ass can afford a car, you’re stuck with me.”
After Ricky drops me off at the slaughter house, I go to the tool shed, like I do every morning, and get the twenty pound hammer from the rack. The cold weight gives me comfort, like it’s the only steady thing in the world. I grip the smooth ash handle and a curious feeling runs over me. I think about what Ricky said, about how every man deserves a break and it dawns on me that I can’t go to the barn, not today, not ever again. It slowly becomes clear in my mind what I have to do.
It only takes me an hour and a half to walk back to Ricky’s house. I slip around the back and push open the mold stained gate. I notice a pair of brown boots, a couple of sizes bigger than Ricky’s feet, sitting at the back door. I grip the sledge a little tighter and take a moment to think about my life. I’ve never been good for nothing but breaking bones. I’ve bloodied and buried more bodies than I can count, and I know exactly what’s gonna happen if I open that door and step inside.
To be clear, I don’t want to go back to jail. But it’s like I’ve been holding my breath all these years, waiting for something to happen. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is my chance to set things right. I think about Ricky and how he’s helped me out. How if anybody in this world deserves a break, it’s that man. Anger starts building up in my chest, burning my throat as I reach out for the door handle. For once in my miserable life I’m going to do something that makes a difference. I’m not going to be a loser anymore. For once I’m gonna be the hammer and not the hog.
David Jaggers lives and writes just outside of Nashville Tennessee. His stories have been published in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and Flash Fiction Offensive among others. His work can be found in various anthologies including Last Word, a project to raise awareness for prison reform and Paladins for Myeloma Cancer awareness. His collection of interconnected short stories Down in the Devil Hole is available on Amazon from Near to the Knuckle press. A full list of credits can be found at www.Straightrazorfiction.com