Red Hammers – J. Alan Nelson

Elwood was not at the town meeting.
The meeting was about him.
The town was worried.
Elwood got a sentence in his head, the mayor said.
An idea.
The others murmured, cursed.
You remember when the Smiths one day
started wearing ripped jeans and ripped tees
they bought new, the mayor said.
Another murmur, harsh rumbles.
And you remember when the Osgoods
started watching Rick and Morty, he sis.
Vulgar, an old man screamed.
Yes, said the mayor. And next town over,
in Cow Creek, they say words like
Cerebral, ennui, fulgent and gloaming.
There’s children here, Mrs. Shiloh shrieked.
I’m sorry, the mayor said,
but we can’t risk a Cow Creek problem.
No one spoke for a moment.
Well, the dance teacher said,
I miss the Smiths. And even the Osgoods.
But I think we must get our hammers. We
must take Elwood to the town anvil.
Must we, asked Miss Bonnie. Why don’t
we wait and see if the words will pass.
Like a kidney stone.
We can’t risk a Cow Creek, the mayor said.
Or have another Waco.
Like the Branch Davidian inferno,
asked Miss Bonnie.
No, the mayor said. He hesitated.
Then in a hoarse whisper,
like the shiplap fixer upper craze.
The town gasped. Miss Bonnie wailed.
Get your hammers, the dance teacher screamed.
The town, now a mob,
went for hammers. Claw,
ball peen, rock,
club, piton, sledge, scutch
drywall, brick—
the town was known
for its rich treasury of hammers,
common and uncommon.
Elwood didn’t get to act on his idea.
The dance teacher’s name is Madelyn.
The old man,
who died shortly afterward,
was Cliff.
They laid his rip hammer on his chest
when they laid him to rest,
the steel and wood
stained red.