The Hammer Not the Hog, fiction by David Jaggers

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.

jaggersDavid 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​.Straigh​tra​zor​fic​tion​.com

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