By Aimee Pogson
Eberly was on his way to his desk when Frank hit him in the hand with a hammer. It was only a ball-peen hammer, tiny and fashionable in the way that miniature objects often are, but it was enough to break his ring finger and make him spill his coffee all down the front of his shirt, which was sky blue. “Jesus Christ,” Eberly said. He gazed down at his ruined shirt.
Frank only shrugged and slipped the hammer back in his trouser pocket. “Good morning,” he said.
It was a good morning, a beautiful morning as far as mornings go, with the sun preparing to rise high in the sky and the birds chirping. Eberly couldn’t hear them though because the windows and walls were soundproof. He didn’t even think of them as he sat down at his desk and examined his ruined finger. It was only a finger, ultimately unnecessary to his overall well-being, but it still made him sad to think of those formerly straight bones forever snapped and bent out of shape. And the pain was something else. He rested his hands gingerly on the keyboard and tried to type. The “s,” “x,” and “w” were permanently out of reach for him. It wouldn’t be a problem, though. That’s what he had other fingers for.
He worked for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and could hear his coworkers in the hall. Their voices were muffled, and while part of him longed to join them and escape the misery of his computer and his aching hand for just a few minutes, he also knew exactly what they would say. They were upset about the lack of a bonus, which meant no vacations, no extra loan payments, no extravagant meals at expensive restaurants. They were upset that no one cared, that when they raised their voices, there were no higher-ups willing to listen.
Eberly didn’t want to be part of that talk, even though he sympathized. He typed, broken finger aching, and he typed, drinking water from a bottle he kept at his desk, and he typed, feeling the pressure in his abdomen as his bladder reached capacity. He listened. His coworkers were still talking. His bladder stretched and whined. He typed. He bit his lips and squirmed. His coworkers were still out there, still talking. He opened his office door cautiously.
They fell upon him as people with hammers often do. There would be no extravagant meals, no kitchen renovations, no above-ground pools. They broke his knuckles, one of his knees. “I understand,” he said. He always understood. There would be no taking the kids to the opera. “But kids don’t like operas,” he said. They broke his jaw. There would be no meals for him, not fancy ones, not solid ones. “I like bananas,” he said and dragged himself away. Pain suffused his body, and he once again had the feeling of floating. You are what you do every day, people said, and every day he was simultaneously driven screaming from his body while still being trapped inside it with his kidneys and heart and exceptionally full bladder.
He slipped into the bathroom and closed the door. Emptying his bladder was a relief. Sinking to the floor and taking the weight off his ruined knee was a relief. He closed his eyes and thought about how wonderful it was to be in a silent bathroom with the door locked and the birds somewhere outside, singing a song. Someday he would be on the verge of death, hopefully at home, hopefully in a bed, and he would feel this kind of peace. Maybe someone would even open a window for him. Maybe someone would let him breathe fresh air.
There was a loud rap on the door. “It’s your boss,” said his boss. “I need you to come out now.”
“I’m coming,” Eberly said, his eyes still closed, his jaw too swollen to enunciate.
“I don’t know what you said, but I know you’re in there.” His boss rapped again.
Eberly rose and, knowing that good hygiene is important, he washed his hands in the sink, wincing over his broken knuckle and broken ring finger. Who would marry him now? There were too many broken bones. Who would help him carry his groceries to the car? He was pretty sure his shoulder was dislocated. Daydreams of the life he wanted to live flashed before his eyes, rising and falling with each flash of pain. There was this life, and there was the dreamt one, and never the two could merge. He couldn’t have peace without pain. He couldn’t walk down the stairs to his car without someone helping him. He couldn’t press his foot to the gas. He couldn’t properly grip the keys.
He opened the door. “You were in there forever,” his boss said. He handed him a hammer and an envelope shoddily sealed in scotch tape. “Congratulations. You got the promotion.”
“Thank you,” Eberly said, or thought he said. He leaned against the door. “This has been a long time coming.”
He walked back to his office, the hammer weighing him down. His coworkers slapped him on the back. They congratulated him, and every touch sent shudders of pain through his broken body. Once he was in his office, he closed the door and locked it. He spread his promotion letter out on his desk and stared at it like the dark omen it was. He hadn’t wanted this promotion. He had never known what he wanted, and now he was here, leaning back in his chair, slipping off first his shoes, then his socks.
The pinky toe was small and fragile, while the big toe was a solid presence, filled with blood and muscle. Pain was a foregone conclusion, and so he closed his eyes and let the hammer fall where it would. The middle toe. The pinky toe. He swung and swung until there was nothing left.