If I Had a Hammer by Margaret Eaton
“If I get fired, who’ll bring you chicken pot pie and Pepsi?”
I said this into my phone as I dug through a pile of work jeans.
“Ma, I gotta go in tonight. Did you look under the towels on the back of the bathroom door? Sometimes he takes them off in there,” I said. What I didn’t say is Dad’s crazy now. That I worry about her in that house with him. And his hammer. He carries it around all day. He waves it at the cat for stealing from his coin collection. He waves it at the microwave for not being a TV. He waves it at the neighbor’s shrubs for not getting out of the way of the car he shouldn’t be driving.
“Try the linen closet. Sometimes they get in with the sheets.” I said as I unplugged the coffee pot and poured what was left into my thermos. He loses everything. He shuffles and shouts, searching and searching. She joins the search. He shouts at her. Then she locks herself in the laundry room and touches up her toenails with a Sharpie. When he loses the blue pajamas things escalate. He can’t sleep without the blue pajamas. She made him an apron with big pockets. One for the remote, one for the newspaper, one for the hammer. No pocket for pajamas.
“Did you look under his bed?” I asked. But what I wanted to ask is: does she ever see the old him, original him, underneath the crazy? Is that how she maintains? Is that what keeps her hovering above the thin membrane separating eccentricity from lunacy? Denial from dementia?
I was in my truck headed to the job site when she called me back.
“Gretchen found them,” she said.
“Gretchen? Who’s Gretchen?”
“The young lady from next door, the slender one with the important job. She found the pajamas and I wanted you to know.”
She tells me this as if everything’s back to normal. As if original him had resurfaced. As if she’s not going to call me five more times before my shift ends.
“That’s good, Ma,” I said as I drove into the lot.
“Where were they?”
“Uh-huh. I went into the kitchen and Gretchen was standing there holding our little cat burglar and a piece of her shrubbery, a broken off piece, from Dad’s car. She’s very nice. She had on a pantsuit. Anyway, she was staring at your father who was staring at the microwave waiting for the news to come on. I had his apron and I was going to put it on him and that’s when he did it.”
“Unbuckled his belt.”
“He dropped his pants right there in front of Gretchen and the microwave.”
“Then Gretchen dropped the cat and pointed her broken shrub at your father’s, you know, pants area.”
“And there they were, the blue pajamas, underneath.”
Margaret Eaton’s stories have been published in Opium, Matchbook, The Collagist, The Quotable, and Pif Magazine. Others are forthcoming in Barrelhouse and Grey Sparrow Journal. She was an early contributing editor to Dowser, an online news source for social entrepreneurs. She lives in St. Louis.