Nail on the Head
CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN
Where did the hammer come from?
It was in my house. Therefore it was my hammer, I guess. Mine now, at least. I must’ve gotten it from somewhere. The hardware store, sure, even though I have zero recollection of ever buying it. It wasn’t my wife’s. People simply pick up tools over time, you know? A hammer here, a screwdriver there… After a few years, somewhere in your twenties, your thirties, you suddenly discover you have amassed yourself a complete toolset without even realizing it.
So I inherited this hammer, somehow.
A Breck & Myer claw hammer.
Solid titanium head. Titanium apparently dampens the amount of recoil, far more than steel, so it’s easier on your wrists. You can hammer away for hours and hardly feel the impact.
It was covered in rust. When I picked it up, I was surprised how light it was. It had a 16-inch curved hickory handle. Rubbing my thumb along the grain, I felt something flake off. I figured it was just the varnish chipping away. But this was crusted. Scraping my fingernail over the wood, I realized the lacquer to this hammer wasn’t what was giving it such a rusted finish.
It was blood. Someone’s blood had seeped into the grain. And there was a lot of it.
Who’s hammer was this?
Nobody was ever going to mistake me for Mr. Fixit—but now that I had my own hammer, I felt like I could repair anything. My wife could make fun of me all she wanted, I could nail anything now. First up was a picture frame of me, Emma and Billy, all two years of him. Emma had already asked me twice to hang it, so I figured I’d knock it off my list straight away.
I lined the nail up along the wall.
Brought my hammer back and…
Smashed my thumb.
Really landed it, too. Everything went blindingly white behind my eyes and suddenly I know exactly how it feels to puncture someone’s skull. Like drywall crumbling. Only wetter, I guess. I could see it so clearly. The hammer’s bell pops open a hole the size of a silver dollar. Spin the hammer around and you can use the claws to crack that cranium back even wider. As wide as you want. All you got to do is slip the—
I gasped back to the living room. It took me a moment to realize where I was. What time it was. Who I was. Felt nauseous. There was a low wattage throb pulsing out from my hand. My thumb had turned a deep purple. Blood pooled up below the fingernail, flooding underneath.
Still had the hammer in my other hand.
I hadn’t let go.
Whoever this hammer belonged to before me, I think—I think they did awful things with it. Bloody things. I know this because, whenever I take the hammer into my hand, I can’t help but think about doing bloody things with it, too.
There have just been so many repairs to do around the house, you know?
It’s not like I had time to go out and buy another hammer. I already had a hammer. It worked perfectly fine. Better than fine. They don’t make them like this anymore. A Breck & Meyer? Feel how lightweight it is… You can pound a nail much faster with it because you’re not swinging steel. It takes fewer strikes because of the rate of energy transfer. Your arm doesn’t tire out as quickly.
More energy, more nails.
One of these newfangled hammers would’ve broke before I could even finish my work, I bet. The head would probably dislodge, popping off the handle while I’m banging away and where would we be then? No—my Breck & Myer was the right tool. The efficient tool. It is an extension of myself. A mighty fist. When I held it, I felt its power. Its majesty.
We have had quite a lot of time with each other. The whole weekend. With so much work to do around our house, there was absolutely no time to dilly-dally. To talk. Sleep. Eat. Not with all the walls that needed to be torn down. The spaces that needed to be opened.
Not to mention the nails. So many nails, all of them in need of finding their home.
I was soaking wet by the time I finished. Covered in sweat. Sore all over. My muscles ached. I could barely lift my arm anymore.
Still had the hammer in my hand, though. My Breck & Meyer.
I couldn’t let it go.
A wisp of auburn hair had tangled itself into the hammer’s claws.
Funny, I remember thinking. My wife has auburn hair...
I hadn’t noticed her on the floor. At first, I figured she was just a part of work that still needed to be finished. A plank with a few too many nails sticking out of it. A pin cushion.
His name had been Edmund.
I know this because I have his hammer. I know it’s his because I’ve seen everything he did with it. Everyone he murdered. Whenever I hold it in my hand, I see every swing. Every cudgel. Every strike. I feel the ripple of impact reverberate through my bones. The energy of it travels up my arm and I know what that moment felt like to him. How soft it was. How hard.
What I don’t understand is where all the nails came from. How they got over everything in our house. The walls. The floor. The furniture. All studded in nails now. Sea urchins.
Billy’s still in his crib. Or maybe it’s a porcupine, I don’t know. How he didn’t wake up with all that hammering going on throughout the house is anybody’s guess.
Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the rigorous storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show. Publications: nothing untoward, rest area, miss corpus, and The Tribe trilogy—Homeroom Headhunters, Camp Cannibal and Academic Assassins (Disney). Film: The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012) and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005). Theatre: Commencement, Hostage Song (w/ Kyle Jarrow) and volume of smoke. Comics: Lazaretto, Self Storage, Edge of Spider-Verse and Venomverse, The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man and American Vampire. He is a writing instructor at The Actors Studio MFA Program at Pace University. Visit him at: www.claymcleodchapman.com
If you enjoyed "Nail on the Head," make sure you hit the heart button below and let us know! At the end of the year, the most popular Fiction Friday stories will be included in the "Gallows Hill Best of 2019" anthology! Thanks for reading!