The following is a flash prose piece by me, Evin Hughes, called “The Last Screw.”
We did it on the day our six-year-old got in trouble for stealing at school. He’d made it hot out the classroom door with a box of crayons, a set with four different shades of black and an abandoned snub of green. Before the teacher called, he’d managed to spit out a picture of black stick-men and stick-women with megaphones on notebook paper—the figures’ mouths were open as if they were talking into the amplifiers, but there were no sound waves coming out at the ends.
That day we both took off of work, the misses and I, and took a trip to the Ikea store. Before we even made it out of the driveway, she started to lay into me, harassing me about my seatbelt. Can we not go five minutes without a safety lecture please? I bit my tongue and the click of the mechanism filled the minivan; I was at least going to try to get through it.
After twenty minutes of “this one will match the mahogany trim on the coffee table” and “but this one goes with the sinopia drapes” and “why aren’t you helping?”—to be fair I wasn’t; everything looked brown to me—we made it home with a six-foot bookshelf. After twenty years of yelling, arguing, we’d both had enough. It was agreed: If we could put the shelf together without killing each other, then we wouldn’t get a divorce.
An hour later we’d erected the shelf and it was ugly, a massive side-A-doesn’t-line-up-with-side-B monster, the horribly disfigured twin of the picture on the box, which had apparently gotten all the good genes. There was a noticeable chip on the third shelf where I’d tried too hard to force it into its place, but the bookshelf was standing. We’d made it to the end, alive; my tongue was throbbing—do I taste blood?—but I’d made it without yelling.
Wait. There’s a screw missing.
“Honey, what are we going to do about our son?” she asked as I searched the box for the screw.
“What do you mean?” Where the hell is it? I know we started with the right number of screws. I counted them. “Punish him for stealing crayons?”
“Well sure it’s just crayons now but—”
“Jesus Christ,” I started, my volume rising, “It’s just a box of crayons. You act like he’s a kleptomaniac. There’s no such thing as gateway-crayons.” A quick breath and I exhale out of my nostrils; it sounds more menacing than a sigh. “How did you manage to loose the last fucking screw?”
“You were supposed to be the one holding the screws,” she yelled, “and don’t you curse at me!”
“Don’t fucking curse at you? When did you become so damn snooty?”
“How dare you!”
I threw on my jacket. Grabbed my keys. My hand was on the doorknob, itching to twist.
Suddenly our son came into the room. In his hands, the last screw. His eyes were red. Suddenly I realized what I had really been missing—that when we yelled we weren’t really saying anything, just useless sounds like the click of a seatbelt or the snort of air rapidly escaping nostrils or the static over a megaphone; that I may have a nagging wife and a son with sticky fingers, that we weren’t pretty, didn’t match the furniture, but we could stand with a few missing parts. Suddenly I had a screw and so many reasons to stay.