Right Tool

Right Tool

Josh Meyer stood in the hardware store looking at the selection of tools.  He wasn’t sure what he needed.  The store’s owner had done the right thing and arranged things by type and function.  It was what a customer would expect, and logical too.

The new implements hung under the fluorescent lights that shone in blue glints off the lacquered metal and smooth rubber handles.  Meyer didn’t know what he needed but he had a picture of it in his head from his childhood.

Always use the right tool for the job, son,” his father’s voice echoed in his head.  Meyer smiled inside but it reflected on his face as a scowl.

“Not sure what I’m looking for, Dad,” Meyer mumbled under his breath.

He sidestepped by two-foot increments to his left up the aisle.  At each step, he scanned the hanging wares and read each barcoded label attached to the product hangar.  All of this attached to pegboards mounted in standard four-by-eight metal frames designed for this one purpose.

“Help you?” one of the store employees said as he approached from Meyer’s right.

“I’m not sure,” Meyer said and rubbed his chin.  He felt the stubble of the weekend and realized he assumed a stereotyped, hardware store image of a confused customer.

Meyer put his hands on his hips in a determined manner and the floor clerk mirrored his pose and even looked up at the top row of shiny, new implements.

“Well, we have a full selection,” the clerk said.  He shifted his eyes over onto Meyer and pressed his lips together.  The motion blended his gray mustache together with his well-tended and equally-gray beard.

“I see,” Meyer said.  He didn’t know what else to say.

“Right,” the clerk said.  “So what are you planning on doing?”

“Uhm… I had a brick walkway in mind.  I’ve got a bunch of clinker brick I scrounged from around my property.  It’ll stretch from the two concrete pads that came with the house,” Meyer explained.

“Oh, so you’re new to the area,” the clerk said.

“Yeah, just moved in… well, the van came two weeks ago.  I’m dug out from under the boxes and ready to fix the back yard.  Previous owners didn’t do much,” Meyer said.

“No problem,” the clerk said and stuck out his hand, “Mitch Owens.  I own this place.”

“Really?” Meyer said and turned to face Owens.  He took the man’s thick, callused hand that was covered in sunspots and white hair up to the knuckles.  “Josh… Josh Meyer.  Army, here for probably two years.”

“Thanks for your service, Josh,” Owens said.

“You’re welcome, I’m glad to do it,” Meyer said out of habit.

Owens returned his ham hands to his waist and rocked on the balls of his toes.  “So,” he said, “A brick walkway… with clinkers, no less.”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll look nice,” Owens said, “And around here, after a season, you’ll get a real nice mossy patina on ’em.  I love that, myself.”

“Yeah, me too,” Meyer said.

“So what exactly do you need?  You said you have the brick,” Owens asked.

“Well,” Meyer crossed his arms, “I don’t know what it’s called.”

“What do you need to do?” Owens asked and looked at Josh.

“I have to be able to split the bricks in half, or take bits off the corners.  The walk will curve,” Meyer said.

Owens nodded and said, “Yeah, real nice.  You know what you’re doing, then.”

“I’d like to think so,” Meyer laughed.  “I’ve never actually done it.  I watched my dad work brick as a kid and remember.  He had this really wide… bladed thing that looked like a wallpaper knife, but… sturdy.”

“You need a brick set,” Owens said and took a half step toward Meyer to urge him down the aisle.  “You’re in the right spot, you just haven’t got there yet.”

The pair walked down the row twelve feet and Owens said, “Here, this is what you’re thinking of, I’m sure.”  He pointed at a metal tool hanging from the standard pegboard display.

“Yes!” Meyer said and smiled, “That’s exactly what I remember.”  He appeared to be a man reunited with a long-lost and favorite toy.

“It’s really only a wide cold chisel, but of course they name it a brick set and charge an extra three nickels,” Owen said.

“Or you could give me a discount,” Meyer said and looked at Owens out of the corner of his eye.

“Hey, I gotta make a living too, Josh,” Owen tossed his hands in the air in a gesture of helplessness.

“I know, I’m kidding,” Meyer said, “I’ll take it.” He reached to slide the tool off the metal rod it hung on.

“I could give you a military discount,” Owens said, “We do that for regular customers.  Veterans and active duty, like you and such… you know.”

“Only if it’s store policy,” Meyer said.

“It is for you,” Owens said.

“Thanks,” Josh smiled.

Owens assumed his crossed-arm pose and studied Meyer.  The tall young man scanned the rack to make sure that he needed nothing else from the masonry area.

“You have some other cold chisels and a rubber mallet?” Owens asked.

“Yeah, I have those,” Josh said.

“I mean, you’re supposed to use this brick hammer,” Owens said and pointed at another item, “But if you know what you’re doing, you could use a rock for God’s sake.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Meyer said, “I have a one-inch and a three-quarter cold chisel.  I planned on just using my claw hammer with the right touch.”

“Sounds fine,” Owens said.

“I just needed this,” Meyer held up the stickered, labeled tool.  “Dad had one like this, and finished off each cut of a brick with it after he’d scored it.”

“Good man,” Owens said.

“He was,” Meyer said without thought.

“I’m sorry,” Owens said.

“Huh?  Oh…” Meyer realized that Owen had given him a polite apology for his father’s death.  “It’s okay.  He’s been gone a while.”

“You still have some of his tools,” Owens said on a hunch.

“Yes,” Meyer brightened, “The chisels, and though the hammer is mine, I do have a tack hammer that was handed down from my great-grandfather.  The handle is beautiful now.”

“I’m sure it is,” Owens said, “And probably hand-carved.”

“Absolutely,” Meyer agreed.

A long silence fell between the two men.  Meyer continued to examine Owens’ selection of tools and even took a side step to look at another section of pegboard.  Owen shuffled along with him with a troubled look.

“My father’s still with us,” Owen said.

“Wow,” Meyer said, “You’re a lucky man.”

Owens nodded and said, “Yeah, well… yes and no.”

Meyer stopped his browsing and turned to look at Owens.  He said, “You’re lucky to still have your father.  I couldn’t even get home from Europe in time for my Dad’s funeral.”

“Yes, yes,” Owens said.  He met Josh’s look eye to eye and said, “Dad’s not completely here, though.  It’s a daily struggle.  Alzheimer’s is… not a lot of fun.”

“I’m sorry,” Meyer retreated and felt a pang of regret for assuming the distribution of luck between them.

“It’s fine, son,” Owens said.  “It’s just that there are worse things than dying.”

“I… didn’t think,” Meyer said and continued his apology.  “I didn’t mean…”

“Josh,” Owens said, “You didn’t upset me.”

“Okay.”

“You’re lucky,” Owens said.

“I am?” Josh asked.

“Yes,” Owens smiled and surprised Meyer, “You have your memories.  Your father taught you things well enough that even had I not come down the aisle and asked what you needed, you’d have scooted on down here and spotted that,” Owens pointed at the chisel in Meyer’s hand.

“Well, yeah,” Meyer said.

“Yeah,” Owens said.  “And he gave you things that have use as well as meaning, like the tack hammer.  But the most valuable thing he gave you is the memory.”  Owen tapped his head with a thick-nailed finger.

Meyer stood up straight with a jerk as if he’d been shocked by a wire.  He thought about Owens’ words and his eyes filled with moisture.

“You’re right, Sir,” Meyer said.  “I should have thought of that.”

“Stop apologizing,” Owens said, “You’re young and you still hurt from missing your dad.”

“I do,” Meyer said.  “Every day.”

“It’s okay,” Owens said.  “If he went quickly without pain, that’s all a man can ask for.”

“He did,” Meyer said but didn’t elaborate.

Another long period of quiet fell in the masonry section of the hardware store.  Both men pretended to study the ugly linoleum left over from the 1960’s that remained adhered to the floor.  Neither registered the black tiles with white and yellow splotches.

“You know what?” Meyer broke the reverie.  “I appreciate what you said, Sir.”

“I don’t understand,” Owens said.

“That was a big thought,” Meyer said, “I needed to understand that.  I kind of feel a lot better now.”

“I’m glad I could help,” Owens said.

“I hope your dad is okay,” Meyer said, “Or at least will be okay.”

“He will,” Owens said, “Soon.”

“Yeah,” Meyer said.

Meyer stuck out his hand again as he tucked the chisel into his other hand.  Owens returned he gesture.

“Thank you,” Meyer said.

“Anytime,” Owens said, “I’m always here… if you need another tool or something.”

“I’ll come back,” Meyer said.

“Good,” Owens said, “And if you want, I’d love to see your work on that walkway when you’re done”

“Sure,” Meyer said, “I’ll let you know.  I’ll stop by.  I love hardware stores.”

“I bet you do,” Owens said and split his suntanned face into a wide smile.

“See you,” Meyer said.  He walked away around the end cap toward the lone cash register planted inside the entrance.  He walked with a lighter step and held his head up high as he fished his wallet out of the back pocket of his worn jeans.

– – – – – (Short Story / 1653 words) – – – – –

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