The Hammer

William Klein Family Millie Ho Short Story

The best you can ever hope for is to stay out of prison.

Gavin replayed his stepfather’s words in his head as he jumped the fence and landed in his parents’ backyard.

He’d been kicked out of the house a week earlier for doing something he couldn’t even remember. Was it for speaking out against the stepfather gambling his mother’s wages away? Or was it for hitting his stepsister after he saw her not only steal the rum Gavin had stashed under his bed, but also freaking lick the excess liquid off the bottle with her gross, bumpy tongue in order to hide her crime?

It didn’t matter. What mattered now was his stepfather’s dog sleeping in the doghouse. Gavin pulled the dog out by its tail, and then held on to the leash when the dog started twisting and yelping.

“Shut up, fugly bitch,” Gavin said, and tugged on the leash hard.

The dog looked like no other dog in the neighbourhood. It had long, black fur that hung down its sturdy body like dreads. When it pounced the dreads flailed about like a mop. Gavin couldn’t see the dog’s eyes. All he saw was the long black coat and the red floppy tongue. Creepy as hell.

Gavin grunted as he continued dragging the dog towards the shed. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but it was going to be something that would make a statement. The shed contained all his father’s tools. Gavin remembered the slingshot-propelled cart he and his father had built together for a middle school project. His mother had told him it would be easier to just buy a kit from some toy store, but Gavin had enjoyed toiling over the building of the thing with his father, liked seeing how the pieces fitted and were put together.

Now he was going to use the same tools to take the pieces apart, he decided. He set the dog in the middle of the shed and fastened the leash to the workbench leg. The dog started yelping and Gavin shut the door. He turned on the lights. He looked around the crowded space for the first time since his father was killed. There were cobwebs everywhere, in bright spaces and dark spaces, between the small crowded objects on the workbench and along the long wooden planks stacked against the wall.

Gavin took a hammer and held the dog’s head in his other hand. The walls seemed to close in on him and the air felt dense on his skin. He didn’t realize he’d been waiting for some time, just standing there and staring at the black mop head that didn’t have any eyes, until he heard the garage door creak.

Somebody was coming home.

His stepfather would be out with his poker buddies, so it must be either his stepsister or his mother—whatever, they were all the same, all brainwashed by the same freeloading tyrant.

Gavin stared at the dog again. He could do this. His hammer-holding hand was starting to shake, and Gavin hated any part of him shaking, hated anything that made him feel weak.

Then something long and rectangular caught his eye. It poked out between the toolbox near the wall, under a tapestry of cobwebs.

It was the cart he and his father built. It was crusted and dusted with age and splintered in more places than he remembered. But it was the one and the same.

Then the sound of the front door opening, and door keys jingling.

In the end, Gavin set the hammer down and let the dog go.

When he escaped, however, he made sure to leave through the fence door this time, and to leave it wide, wide open.


Millie’s Note: Happy Father’s Day! Photo by William Klein, as usual.

 

17 thoughts on “The Hammer

      • kvennarad says:

        But really, the build-up of tension in this is amazing, and the reader has no idea where the kid’s psychology and motivation is going to lead us. Besides, I had just watched the French film ‘Caché’, where a six-year-old boy chops the head off a chicken, so I was already in the mind for children behaving oddly! 🙂

  1. sanberdooboy says:

    what is it about dogs? i feared for the dog in this story but then realized that gavin is the one needing sympathy and caring. glad the dog was spared but gladder to see the choice gavin made. it makes me hope he might learn to be as kind to himself, sometime. well-crafted story!

    • Millie Ho says:

      I didn’t realize when I was writing this story that Gavin needed to be kind to himself, but I can see it now. Interesting how the theme of your story can become that much clearer after time has passed, and with the benefit of feedback. Thanks for reading and for your interpretation, Michael!

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