Midsummer's evening in a country field, the sun setting low and long, not quite there yet. Squabbling shadows drew themselves lifelike across the grass, cast by the hotchpotch of sculptures dotted all around. In the middle of it all, a woman sat on a dining room chair. A man stood nearby, looking down at her.
“You know Clive,” said Sarah, “I actually like being chained up like this.”
He knew that she meant it, loved the contrasts. The warm summer's breeze on her cheeks. The sensation of cool, heavy iron chains laced round her legs, arms and torso, jangling from ankle to shoulder. Her fingers hardly able to move.
“You've done a pretty good job.” she said, smiling, but he could only think of icy water, draining from a sink.
“Please don't talk to me while we do this,” he said. “I need silence to work.”
Her eyes kept on sparkling anyway, so he turned away, his field of vision dominated all around by the metal sculptures, all glowing with varying degrees of reddish haze, his very own handiwork shining it's very own inner beauty at him. He sighed and put a hand inside his jacket, fondling first the rolled up socks, then his tool, the hammer. He'd get to the hammer soon enough. First to the pair of socks, which he slipped out with a pang of guilt. Just as Sarah was about to take the chance to say something, he shoved them in her mouth.
“I'm so sorry Sarah.” he blurted his words. “You won't understand. You can't... well, perhaps you may a little. Not fully... Anyway, please don't worry, just sit there and wait. I'm going to pray now. Don't worry, it's something I've been doing by myself for a while now. Don't worry. Just sit.”
There it was, the confession. Somewhat relieved, he sat himself crossed legged on the grass, his back to her. A strand of sun-light stroked his face like a bony finger reaching through the trees. He pulled out the hammer from it's strap, placed it's glowing redness in his lap, closing his eyes.
Without meaning to, he thought of the discovery: a marvel, a complete accidental whilst combing second hand stores for collectables. Back then he was always on the look-out for good memorabilia: cards, models, figures. There was one big underground store in particular he used to go most weekends, down a garishly lit, disinfectant smelling staircase, every dusty corner brim full of treasure laden stalls. There it just sat one afternoon, on one of thousands of disordered shelves, surrounded by old teddy bears, fancy wigs, plastic treasure chests of fake jewellery. It gave off a faint red aura, and a dull hum seemed to tickled his ears from the air about it.
“I'd like that hammer.” he said, pointing to it.
Big Martin looked up from his ever rustling newspaper.
“That old thing?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Clive, his fingers tingling.
“Come on now,” Martin coughed, scrunching his crossword. “Don't be silly, I'm sure I'll get some new stuff in for you soon. The comic book stuff you like. They've been promising a load for weeks now...”
“No, I like that hammer,” Clive insisted. “What do you want for it?”
For a second Martin's bloodshot eyes were completely humourless.
“Look,” he said, “you don't really want it. It's just scrap. I was going to throw it away. Just saw it in a tip the other day and couldn't resist. Don't know why I didn't. Should have just left it there.”
He scratched his stubbly chin absently.
“I suppose you might as well have it.”
And he placed it's cool mass into Clive's eager hands, reluctantly, but with a fatherly grin.
“So what are you going to do with it?” he asked.
“Smash up my collection...” said Clive, the kind of words that speak themselves into finality.
“What?!!” Martin had roared laughter, his newspaper floating to the floor.
“Oh no, come on now Clive, I wasn't born yesterday, there's no way in hell you're going to do that.”
But Clive went straight ahead and did it just as soon as he got home, storming straight into his cupboard, throwing down all the neatly stacked boxes, covering the floor with a torrent of colourless plastic aliens, robots, spacecraft, assorted heroes and villains. The hammer crushed and dispersed it all into millions of little flecks and sharp bits. After he was all done he used the hoover to crunch up the debris. It made a wondrous spluttering, coughing sound.
“What the fuck are you doing?” his flat mate cried.
“Getting rid of all this old crap...”
Clive opened his eyes upon the row of trees, his lips shivering with excitement. He cursed himself for allowing his prayer to lapse, for getting blown off course by the mists of memory. He breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. Thoughts of a pile of materials he'd stacked by the gate suddenly barged into his head.
“Please! Smash us!” he could practically hear it screaming. “You can still get yourself out of this!”
“No,” he told himself, keeping in mind that it was just a few sheets of metal and some rusty car parts.
“No wilting. Be resolute.”
He remained in the lotus position, just breathing.
After a few moments, he found himself staring at one sculpture in particular. It's tall and mangled spire easily reached the tree tops at the far end of the field. Once upon a time a passing driver had screeched to an unplanned halt at the gate, nearly crashing his car looking at that tall one. This was way back when the field was less than a quarter as full as it was now and the hammer and it's transformative affect on him were still novelties. “The tree-scraper” the driver, a man called Geoff, had coined it, on that very spot, and a very fortuitous meeting it turned out to be. Geoff, a most wilful man and many other things besides turned out to be an art collector of some note, with bags of cash, experience and hard sell. After a couple of whirlwind weeks, Clive gladly let him act as his personal agent and sponsor.
“God how that thing rose up...” Geoff later said during the award speech, in his characteristically awe-struck, theatrical voice.
“I can honestly say it moved me.” Geoff paused to chuckle. “As if mother nature was being raped by the swirling black smokes of industry themselves...”
He kept his eyes to himself, tugging at his tie indulgently as if he was talking only to trusted confidants, not to the room that was filled with well-known artists, collectors and expert journalists.
“But I liked it,” he finished, staring up at those who could take his gaze.
“Oh yes. I bloody loved it.”
Thus Geoff set Clive up the all conquering modern-art hero, bellowing for Clive to come to the stage, thrusting him the shiny, golden, curvy award with all his enthusiasm. He roared and clapped his hands, causing the whole room to stand and cheer and clap their hands in agreement. Later that evening Clive was so emboldened he even went on a rare night out on the town, accompanied by a whole dragoon of his new found “friends”, the fellow artists, collectors, and expert journalists. And what fate that turned out to be.
She was playing piano in a jazz trio at some club they ended up at. Clive was tipsy and full of himself, award in hand, placing it at centre stage of every table at which he sat, quietly proud amongst those chattering around him. He moved onto straight bourbon in that place. For once he stopped stroking the hammer.
“You stroke that thing like it's a pet,” some drunk journalist had kept repeating, but in that club he stopped stroking it, just left it strapped to his chest where he always carried it. He even forgot about the award.
Instead, he just stared up at this woman he would later know as Sarah, locking his eyes onto her throughout the performance, blocking all else out. She was a small girl with scruffy hair, and struck rather a rag doll figure playing such a large grand piano. The instrument itself seemed oversized, sitting on such a tiny stage in such a dark, smoky red corner of the place. But what really fascinated him was the way she smiled, with her eyes closed, forever making faces like she was tasting Belgium chocolate, or something with just the right amount of cinnamon kick. Every time she played a interesting new chord or a particularly percussive melody, she made one of those faces. Then there was her voice, to be heard when she addressed the audience with her whimsical misadventures, of which Clive could recall none. But she oozed rust, like gravel in syrup.
Clive never expected to meet her, or engage her in conversation, or for anything at all to happen between them. He certainly never thought she noticed him. Strictly speaking, she didn't. Rather, between two of the later numbers the bass player, Chuck, singled him out. She'd since told the story a thousand times.
“That guy is fucking weird,” Chuck said. “Watch out for him, he's been staring at you. Staring for fucking ages. And take a look at his hands.”
She peaked at his fingers. They tapped away on the table top. The next things she noticed were their immense size and their intense rhythm, like giant spiders dancing on a trampoline, spilling the drinks on the table all around them.
“I don't know...” she said, “he doesn't look so bad. Could be a hell of a player with hands like those.”
She played it cool, but made a point of finding out who he was. Lenny the barman got the low-down from one of his arty buddies, and she was suitably impressed.
And so, a few days later, on a sunny spring afternoon, she took it upon herself to appear at his field of dreams.
Clive coughed and winced. His lotus legs were aching.
He unlatched himself and stretched them out onto the grass. He couldn't help thinking sadly of Sarah sat there behind him, gagged and cocooned in chains.
Returning promptly to the lotus position, his eyes inevitably latched onto “the hunchback”.
So there she'd been quite unexpectedly one afternoon, standing in the sunlight barely a few metres away. She was looking at him. Her head was cocked to one side with a bare smile. She crossed her arms, waiting for something.
He froze, embarrassed for some reason. He realised that he'd spent days not knowing her name, yet thinking of her constantly. She was simply the “the beautiful pianist” to him, and there she suddenly was, in the flesh.
Hardly knowing how to react, he just got on with his work.
He bashed at the old Volvo, pretending not to notice her.
“You're a complete nut, aren't you.” she said, like it was the greatest compliment in the world.
Still he worked away in silence. Every now and again, he stole glances at her, wishing he could say something, never able to capture the words. He began to find himself overwhelmed with the fear that she would soon reach a climax of disappointment, disappear at any moment. But she stayed well into the afternoon, quite relaxed, just watching him and smoking her cigarettes, leaning against the smooth chest of the “iron bear”.
The more she remained, the harder he bashed away at the Volvo. Sweat began streaming into his eyes as he ripped it apart. He worked ridiculously hard, puzzling it together in a matter of hours. Even for him, it was record time. When he finally stood back to admire the resulting metal humanoid, it stood with a definite, quite unintended and up until then unnoticed hunch. It was bitterly disappointing. For the second time, he felt embarrassed. Moreover, for some reason, he began to feel a strong urge to cry.
“I'm a hunchback”, he realised, “a fucking emotional hunchback”.
Tears welled. He pushed them back, wasting no more time, turning round to face her properly. There she was, still there, eyes sparkling.
“You've been staring at me.” he said.
An amber broach she wore caught his eye. It shot reddish spears of reflected sunlight straight into his eyes. And it was shaped like a tear drop, he thought.
“You were staring at me all the other night.” she said.
“Yes...” he said, “you played beautifully.”
“You work beautifully,” she replied, stroking the broach.
“I don't know what it is...,” he thought about it, rubbing the hammer between his fingers.
“I just work with nature.”
“Me too”, she replied.
“My name's Sarah,” she said, after a serious moment of silence.
“I'm Clive,” he said, followed by an even more serious moment of heart thumping silence, a moment of doubt and desire in equal measure.
Then she spoke the big words.
“Well Clive, I don't know what you think, but I think we could really be something.”
That was all that was required, he was lit up like a burning bush. He rushed towards her, the hammer slipping from his hand.
His hands were digging themselves deep in chilly earth, grasping at grass and mud. What use could that have? He pulled them out and squeezed, hoping for a worm. None appeared, so he tossed both wads to the ground. Prayer was proving worse than elusive. Enough sweetness and reminiscence.
He gripped the hammer, and stood up with a far too sudden movement, paying for it immediately with a large sense of spinning dizziness exacerbated by sunlight flicking in his eyes from between the trees. He hunched forward to regain his composure.
A worm popped it's head out from the ripped up earth below. He watched it. It took its time, swivelling itself around where it's head and neck would have been, having a good look at everything.
“I need more time,” he thought. He decided to take a little walk.
The field was good for walking. He meandered happily through the sculptures. “The dog” appealed to him for some reason. He brushed it with the palm of his hand. On the spur of the moment, he stopped and clunked its iron belly three times with the hammer. At the same time he put an ear to it. He was rewarded with the bright clanking of metal on metal echoing about inside. It sounded like a cathedral in there.
“Am I really going to do it?” he asked himself.
He really didn't want to kill her. That was the last thing he wanted. He wanted both of them, together. Why shouldn't he have both? A hammer, and a woman. Surely the two weren't mutually exclusive?
He moved compulsively to the next sculpture. It had no name as yet, just a kind of cylinder sheathed with poles and cutlery. He tapped at it. It clunked very dull and soft.
The basic truth was he should have been more careful. The first kiss had been too quick, too powerful. He'd allowed things to become too wonderful, too quickly. It was all just a fairy tale. Her playing him private jazz solo's in her piano room. The notes, the chords, her expressive face. Him just sat there, watching her, loving it.
He'd neglected his art, let it get stale, even grew a little bored of it. It seemed like madness to neglect that most cherished, most rewarding, recuperative compulsion, to neglect the awesome tool that had so inspired him. The very thing that had rescued him so dramatically from nothingness. How ungrateful of him, how retrograde to grow weary of bashing new metal from old metal, of thumping rusty dead things into shiny new things that literally glowed with vibrancy and their own unique beauty.
He'd even started wasting time playing piano. She would go on the big Grand, he on the little Baby. There they'd sit, eye to eye across the swaying plants, rhythms melting into each other like butter and brandy. Simple duets, blues, happy music. It was no wonder that day should have come.
The day he heard it's humming all the way from the distant field, saw with exact clarity in his mind eye it's red orb flickering amongst the unkempt grass. Calling to him like an abandoned child. The very notion sliced at his sides, draining all the good mood out of him, telling him with absolute certainty that anything he'd ever feared or suspected could and was most probably true.
He panicked and rushed over to the field, thinking of rescue, but with the niggling guilt that he'd forgotten it there in the field again just like when she'd spoken those electrifying first words of romance, when he'd thrown it down with such dreadful, wonderful, passionate abandon.
“Where the fuck is it?” he said, running around and around in circles, looking under every sculpture, under every bush and tree. Nowhere. Back in her cottage, he repeated the exercise. Nowhere. He searched ever more frantically while she smiled and reassured him as you would an eccentric.
“It's just a hammer, darling,” she joked, “I'll by you a new one...”
He shook his head, trying to ignore her, continuing the search. It wasn't just any hammer, it was his hammer. A special, mystical hammer. He didn't know how, or why, or where it really came from, but it had powers, it had transformed him, made him a success, brought her to him. And now it was missing, calling to him from where it wasn't. Playing with him.
Toying with him.
That's what it was really doing. After many hours, he found it sitting there under her big Grand. Just sitting there where'd he'd never look, where there was just no way in hell he would have put it. There it had been.
He moved swiftly towards the next sculpture, hammer arm extended. Passing, he bashed it, quickly trotting to the next, bashing that with even greater force. His trot became a run. Running made his blood run faster, brought him oxygen, gave him clarity. He kept on running, faster and faster. His feet bounced off the soft ground. Soon he was pin-balling across the field, bashing each and every sculpture.
There was no way he would have put it under that Grand. More to the point, there was no way he would have kept loosing it the way he did, kept finding it where it shouldn't be. In a sofa, in a cupboard, under the bed. There was no way he would have left it under her music cabinet, in her underwear drawer, under her pillow. And there was certainly no way he could do what it seemed to be jealously indicating for him to do. There was no way he could possibly kill her. He loved her.
He stopped running, filling his lungs with the grass scented air. He looked left and right about him, instinctively, like a hunted animal. The sunlight was dwindling. Wind rustled Sarah's hair beyond the shadows, flicking it up, reminding him.
There was a but, of course, a thing that could make sense of it. Swing him into sensible, pragmatic action, and away from desperate, dark ignorance. Madness.
At first he'd entertained the rather dramatic thought that it was the hammer of Thor, or at least some kind of Norse magical object. But that was just library books talking. He knew he didn't really believe. He'd never had the feeling about it.
He rubbed the sweat from his forehead, breathing deeply, gathering steam within.
But then, of course, there had been that day. Amazing, to just begin playing something so spontaneously one afternoon, sat there alone in her piano room with all her plants listening in on him. Amazing, the music just emerging from his fingers, without any will on his part. Some invisible force pushing through his tips. Surely, he'd never played “Amazing Grace”?
It was a sign, a definite instruction, confirmed shortly by the hint of red coming from the book shelf, the faint humming in the empty air. He stopped playing, rushed over, searching for the thing. There was always an important thing. This time it was The Bible.
And perhaps that wouldn't have been enough, but it wasn't just The Bible. There was a certain chapter in The Bible that just happened to open for him, a certain page that just happened to glow, a certain story that tingled his fingers, as good as spoke to him.
His fingers tingled. There was no reason to wait any more. He was ready.
He moved out of the shadows, into what was both the area of grass immediately before her and the central clearing of the sculpture field.
“I believe in You, Lord,” he began at once. “Nature be my witness, I love You, Lord and I love this woman, my Sarah.”
Her eyes showed nothing but terror. It disturbed him, but he understood her.
“Sarah,” he reassured, “I love you more than anything I have ever loved. But the Lord... the Lord I love more than my own soul. He has touched me. I know you understand, Sarah. He's touched you too, I see and hear it in all that you do... The point is, He literally is All; you, me, everyone, everywhere. Everything. He placed this hammer in my hands, it's His hammer, it does His work, just as He brought you to me. All He asks now is that I prove my love. Prove my worth for Him.”
Clive moved a step closer. Sarah shook her head. She was panicking, trying in vain to break free from his expertly secured chains, and her eyes upset him with their glazed whiteness, so afraid, so alien. He forced himself to look up straight past her, to where the “big bear” happened to sit, grinning on it's haunches. He plastered his eyes onto it's nuts and bolts smile, and took another step. Now was the time. He looked to the sky, a darkening blue speckled with white.
“Please Lord,” he continued, “trust and believe that I will kill this woman, this love of my life. I will kill Sarah, for You. Look into my heart. Look now. See. I will do it.”
He took another step forward, casting his shadow over her. Each step he took, it became more difficult to avoid her eyes. Only with great strength did he somehow managed to keep looking at the big bear.
“I will kill this woman, Lord.” he repeated the mantra, locked in the face of the bear.
“Even though she is my one true love, the only one whose ever cared, my very own angel,” he pleaded now. “I would still kill her for You. Look into my heart, please, and You will see that I will do this. I will kill her.”
By now he was close enough to hear the deep, rasping breaths she was making through the socks. She whimpered like a child and he nearly threw up, just managing to keep his eyes on the bear. It steadied him somehow, held him up, kept him from choking. For an flash he sensed menace somehow in it's meaningless grin, but he pushed it aside as nerves. It was more important just to ignore her right now. That was the only way to get through to the end.
He raised the hammer above her head.
“Lord, hear me.” he said, raising his voice. “Lord, hear me.”
The hammer was high now, poised and ready. He began shaking, his stomach closing in on itself, tense like a rock. He sensed Sarah was looking up at him now, calmly pleading for her life. He couldn't look down. It felt like the end of the world. Where was the Angel? He wondered desperately. The rescue? Why had Abraham been so lucky? Did the Lord want him to look her in the eyes? Was He that cruel?
The problem was, he just couldn't look down. No, it was more than that. He was actually locked in the bear's gaze, its silver smile had a strange power over him. Something in the bear was working it's way into him. It had more and more of the glow, and that glow bore relentless further down and down, into the deepest recesses of his mind, into a locked room in his deep, dark, forgotten past. It was a room without a key. A key he'd long since thrown away.
For a moment he felt an excruciating, exploding pain in his head.
Then he felt the bottom drop out of himself. A flashbulb lit up somewhere inside, burning his eyes, and it became a dead question. The door was blasted open even as he pictured it. Suddenly, there he was, six years old again, sat on the bunk bed talking to his favourite bear, Mr. Paddington, again.
There was a dull hum in the air, Mr. Paddington was glowing a faint shade of red, in the middle of telling him something.
“...and if you put little Michael in the microwave,” Mr. Paddington spoke in a deep, hearty voice, “...if you put him right into that oven and turn that thing right on up to number eleven, just to see, just for a minute, because we're playing a game together, I will tell all my nice teddy bear friends how fun you are, and we'll all have a proper Teddy Bears' Picnic together out in the forest. We'll play Teddy Bears' games. Wouldn't that be nice, Max? So let's just see what happens if you turn it on, just for a few minutes. Come on, Max, it'll be interesting...”
Clive gulped and took a deep breath. He was no longer aware of exactly where or who he was. How could he have forgotten himself? His name, Max? The little boy? Mr. Paddington? The train of thought gathered steam.
He saw himself hungry, in the dark of night, entering a room on the top of a staircase. Inside he found a scene of utter carnage and horror in the unfamiliar glow of a deep red bedside lamp. On the bed under the crucifix his naked father was kneeling, his hairy backside exposed, thrusting into his mother. She screamed and writhed, and something began humming in Max's head. He wanted to scream too, but was frozen on the spot. His mother saw him, and he saw the terrible fear in her eyes. His father jumped down, angry, growling, shoving him out the door, telling him to get back to his fucking room. Back in the room, tears and sobs, his eyes full of the red glow, his ears his mothers screams. “Why?” he asked Mr. Paddington, sat on his haunches on top of the chest of drawers. To his gratitude, Mr. Paddington told him.
Months of delightful scheming passed, just him and Mr. Paddington. It was innocent. But then how on earth could he have forgotten Michael? The microwave? All at once he saw Dad bashing him all over, throwing things, burning his toys. He saw Mum screaming, shouting, kicking. Dad roaring drunk and then just gone one day. Mum burning herself, her arms, her hair, rampaging through the kitchen, the drink, the thud of her head bashing against the walls in the night. And then he saw the nice Social Services rescue him, give him a chance, a new life. It all came back with slippery ease. They started with therapy; one to one sessions with a friendly grey lady in a soft, cheery office with fun books, pencils, paper, a keyboard, a few toys, lots of Lego, endless innocent questions. Max had built happy toys out of the Lego, played nice tunes on their keyboard, enjoyed all the attention, told them he was just fine. But they weren't satisfied. Then there'd been pills, and Max didn't like that, being sleepy all the time, the dizziness, the sickness. Still they weren't satisfied. So there'd been a special room, in a special big building with a special bed just for him to lie on in the afternoons, even when he wasn't tired. There something different and confusing had happened. A door was closed: the door that had stayed closed for so long. The closing itself was very hard to make out in any detail, sketching itself in his memory only as searing white heat. It hurt to think of it. But after that, it was simple, everything was black and white. No piano. No red. No humming. No little Max. Just an empty little Clive, a lonely boy growing up with unfamiliar people, everyone was unfamiliar, so he became an even more lonely adult, always the collector, filling himself up, trying to make himself real, familiar.
Until he found the hammer.
He sucked in a gallon of air through his nose all at once, looking down at Sarah, whimpering, so scared, so chained up, looking up to see the hammer in his hand, so heavy, so hard.
“What am I thinking?” he said, shaking. “What am I doing?”
He wanted to ask more questions of himself, to find a path out of all the mess, but the shaking started to take over, and the hammer began burning redder and redder in his hand, the humming began pulsing louder and louder through the air, hurting his ears, hurting his eyes, wounding and weakening his whole body. Then it just slipped from his hand.
“No,” he thought, as if helpless in a dream, no time to do anything.
In less than seconds it landed with it's sharpest corner right on the apex of her skull, in the parting of her wavy hair. It made a thick thudding sound, the slap of hard mud.
She slumped forward. The socks fell from her mouth. A trickle of blood ran down her forehead, down the rim of her nose. It dripped onto the grass.
“No,” whispered Clive.
For a while there was no thought, no colour.
After a few minutes of total stillness, he began to stroke her hair. It wasn't the softest hair, a little ratty to tell the truth. But it was Sarah's hair. He lifted her head up by the chin. Dead eyes, no sparkle. It fell back down as soon as he let go.
“No,” he said again, stood perfectly still, looking down at her lifeless form. He so wanted to cry, but there was nothing.
Clive hardly noticed minutes later the sun finally set behind the horizon of trees and smooth, crop filled slopes. Neither did he notice when, moments after that, with daylight finally extinguished, the clear and starry country night's sky awoke to give things a silver hue, to breath ethereal life into the sculptures, to turn them into strange, giant silhouettes squabbling over the field, laying warring moon shadows of white smoke that curved and slithered across the dark grass.
In the middle of it all, Clive stood there exactly the same, looking down at her. He stayed like that until somebody found them.