Cleatus Johnson was a meticulous man.He carried mahogany boards in his arms. They were cradled with reverence as he crossed his shop to a custom made storage rack.His sausage shaped fingers carefully plucked each board from the pile and laid them into a slot labeled, JAMAICAN MAHOGANY.It was late, around 3 a.m., but no later than he was used to. Life had forced him into being a night owl. He often found it hard to leave, no matter what the time. This was his space, his time, his life. He had built this sanctuary with his own hands. That was a long time ago, when he first realized with great despair and utter clarity what his destiny was.This was his woodshop. Nothing about it was particularly grand. But it was functional. He looked around, pondered the hours he'd spent designing it, and smiled. Let's be honest, he thought, it was days, maybe even weeks before I finally got it perfect.White cabinets hovered against the wall above his table saw. He ambled over to them and clutched a pewter knob that was adorned with his initials.He flipped the door open, stretched high on the toes of his boots, and grabbed a half empty bottle of Kentucky bourbon along with an empty tumbler.The fine liquor was generally reserved for those moments when he had completed a masterpiece. However, tonight was special for a different reason.Cleatus set the glass on the counter next to his saw and rolled up his sleeves. He never placed a liquid onto his table saw; that was a mistake for amateurs.While pouring a three finger shot, he reflected on the large scar just below his right elbow.That was a rough one, he thought, almost cost me my ability to work with wood.The doctors had told him his right hand would never be the same. But, he had worked through it and surprised them all.Yes, tonight was going to be a special night.He twirled the tumbler gently before taking a swig. The liquid burned all the way down and that felt good.Spinning away from the saw, he rolled his head, and the bones in his neck cracked. He sipped more of the liquor and admired his space. It was clean, organized, and loaded with the best tools a man could buy.A wave of nostalgia, and pride, washed over him just before anger crept in.How could his life have slipped so far?He thought of Papa. His father had been a big man with shoulders like mountains and muscles of steel. Papa had been a woodworker; he was a builder of fine furniture in a time when it was heralded as an art.Little Cleatus had been by his side the minute he could walk. By the time he entered high school, he could build furniture that made his shop teacher drool.But times changed, people got to going to those big-box hell holes. The stores sold cheap shit. Half the time a customer had to assemble the furniture themselves using nameless glue and pot metal.Papa's probably rolling in his grave.The whisky soothed his nerves.He didn't care much about the rest of the world, though.Cleatus Johnson had dedicated himself to being a craftsman; a master of fine furniture.But then came… He shook his head. That's water under the bridge.He stared at the tips of his steel toed boots. His sagging belly cast a sorry shadow on the tile floor. After a moment of reflection, he swilled the last of the booze and poured himself another. A china cabinet stood in the far corner of his refuge. He was building it as a gift for his cousin Victor's wedding. Cleatus walked over to it and stroked the wood lovingly. It felt soft to him, like a woman's skin.I hope they give her the care she deserves, he thought, as he caressed the cabinet with his cheek.To him, furniture had a life of its own. It needed to be cared for, dusted, oiled, and treated with respect. His pieces weren't just objects— they were his children— birthed by his hands.The tumbler sparkled in the light as he downed the last of the whiskey.Well, enough of this revelry, he decided, time to get down to business.He carried the glass over to a stainless steel sink and washed it carefully. He dried it with a clean white towel and hung the towel on a rack over the sink.The liquor bottle and glass went back into the cabinet.Tiny droplets of perspiration formed on his upper lip. It wasn't hot this evening, but he was sweating none the less.He shuffled over to a large wooden cabinet and removed the necessary items for tonight's project; Cleatus believed that a man must always have the proper tools for the job. It was his way. The next cabinet over was eight foot tall and gleamed of gun-metal blue. The crack between the doors seeped with the aroma of machine oil and old wood. He slid over to it and breathed in deeply.After a moment, he swung the doors wide open and removed a gray plastic box from the center shelf. He placed it on his prep table, popped the snap clasps, and lifted the lid.Inside was a beautiful red router with an inscription on the handle. It read, CJ. Although, it had been used many times, the tool had been meticulously cared for and looked brand new. He lifted it from the box and snapped an eighteen volt battery into the tool's casing. He sighed, he really wanted to do this job with an old-fashioned tool that plugged into the wall, that was his spirit, just an old-fashioned kind of guy.But times have changed, he thought. You have to adapt. Pick the right tool for the job.In this case, there were nuances to the project that made the use of cords cumbersome.No, cordless was the way to go.Did I charge the battery? He asked himself. Yes, I charged it yesterday. Cleatus couldn't help but admire his own attention to detail.He walked over to some shelving near the door and grabbed his Bucket-Boss Tool Carrier.He smiled. I'll bet someone made a million bucks on this.Back at his prep table, he placed everything into the Boss. He was careful to put his router on top. A craftsman always gave priority to his tools.When everything was in place, he opened the door and stepped out into the tepid evening air.The door drifted shut, and he locked it. The last thing a guy needed was some teenage piece-of-shit wrecking his shop or stealing his tools. The neighbor's dog barked as he made his way through overgrown grass to the back of his small home.It was very late, but he felt no need to be quiet. Everyone was used to his ways, and Mable, well… Mable slept like the dead.He closed the back door behind him. The house was dark and relatively quiet, with the exception of the television which glowed in the front room. Mable always left it on.So wasteful! He scowled.With his head hung low, he plodded through the kitchen. The countertops were piled high with dirty dishes and reeked of rotting food. It was his habit to try and ignore it.When he got to the front room, he paused, chuckled at a joke being told by a talk show host, and turned the television off.Cleatus climbed the stairs slowly and cursed himself when the Bucket-Boss bounced off the wall.That'll take some touch-up paint, he groused.At the top of the stairs, he flicked on the hallway lamp. Light spewed out, casting an angular pattern of yellow rays and black shadows. He immediately recorded the image in his mind. It was nice. He decided he would recreate that pattern for an inlay.Might be perfect for my cousin's china cabinet, he mused.He strolled down the hallway to the back bedroom and pushed the door open. Mable lay comatose on the bed. The odor of cheap vodka permeated the room. He entered and began preparations. Before long, plastic sheeting covered the floor and the wall behind their bed. He draped some of it over the headboard.Cleatus made no attempt at stealth. Years of living with the old cow had taught him that when she drank herself to sleep he could've blown a French horn in her ear without a reaction.When everything else was in place, he tied ropes to each of her wrists using knots he'd learned in the Boy Scouts. This wasn't any old rope. This was purchased at McHenry's Hardware Store at thirty cents a foot.You could lasso cattle with this stuff, Cleatus thought as he tightened the last knot against her wrinkled skin. He looped the ropes through the uprights of their wooden headboard and laid the ends along each side of Mable's body.He stopped, took a deep breath, and relaxed. This was a technique his papa had taught him. Whenever you're about to make a final cut: relax, clear your mind, find your zone.He stared at her lying there. She sure did look like a fat cow. Her nightie was yellowed with age and he could see stains on her panties. She isn't meticulous!Long ago, Cleatus had buried his rage under a sense of responsibility. It went all the way back to when he wanted to take over Papa's business.But, the cow had whined incessantly about money; made his life miserable."'WE NEED MORE MONEY!'" she'd scream.He had known it was true. But dammit! He was working the business. People still wanted fine furniture.But, Mabel had used her womanly ways and before he knew it he was locked into an eighteen dollar an hour job at the factory.Providing vodka for an old cow, that's what I've been doing.Sure, he did woodworking on the side, made some money and built one hell of a woodshop, but it wasn't the same. He wasn't a pro. He was ‘Uncle Cleatus’, or, ‘Cousin Cleatus’, or, ‘that neighbor Cleatus who was pretty darn good at making furniture. Not like his papa though, that man was a craftsman!'The plastic was in place. The router lay against his pillow as if he himself were lying there. The ropes were tied.It was time to do the job.He reviewed his plan one more time before making the final cut— because that's what a craftsman does.Yes, the plan was sound.He walked over to the side of the bed and grabbed Mable by the throat. His thick arms jerked her up off the mattress with such force that she landed on her tippy toes at the end of the bed; her body dangling in his grip. Cleatus swiveled, positioning her in front of the dresser he'd built for them as a wedding present. He paused, and then slammed her face down on top of it. Spit and blood sprayed across the wood."What the hell are you doing, Cleatus," garbled out of her drunken mouth.He bent over until they were eye to eye. The flickering light from the hallway cast a crazy dance of shadows across his face. Mable's eyes grew as big as the pile of dishes down in the kitchen. Her lips quivered with fear, and this made him happy."What the hell is that?" He growled."What?""That!"Cleatus squeezed her bulbous head. She struggled to see what he was nodding at; even as his eyes turned more sadistic.Cleatus went over the edge.Mable finally caught a glimpse of what he was talking about."That's a scratch — you idiot!""That's right, Mabel! You scratched this fine piece of furniture!""Jesus! Cleatus! I scratched the damn dresser. I was in a hurry and dragged my jewelry box across it, and it got scratched!""That's right you cow. You scratched the dresser I made with my own two hands. It was a wedding gift to you, Mabel.""Good Lord, you jackass, that was thirty years ago—"Cleatus hurled her back onto the bed.She struggled to get up, but he was fast for a rotund man.He grabbed the ropes, yanked them hard, and Mable went down like a hobbled calf.Before she could scream, he'd hogtied her to the headboard and jumped on top of her— knocking the wind from her lungs. She gasped for air as he planted his large hand onto her face. Sporting a sinister grin, he squeezed with the strength of a man who works for a living. Joy washed over him, as Mabel's fear seeped out from between his taut fingers."How many times have I told you?" He hissed. "How many times have I told you how to treat fine furniture?"Cleatus turned beet red.Barely able to speak, Mabel squeaked, "It's just a dresser.""Just a dresser? Just a dresser!"He climbed higher up onto his wife's body, pinning her head between his thick thighs. She tried to kick her legs, throw him off, but quickly ran out of steam.He reached over to the other side of the bed and snatched up the router. Waving it in front of her face, he asked, "Do you know what this is?" Mable stared in silence. "No, I don't suppose you do. You never bothered to learn much about my life did you? This is a router, Mable, a specialized tool with a very sharp blade. It's used to make fine cuts and shapes.He eased the pressure on her face. "Get off of me you ass!" She screamed.Cleatus ignored her and continued on."No. As long as you had your house, your food, and your vodka, you didn't give a rip-roaring old hoot about Cleatus, or what made him happy. That's why I've spent thirty years in the factory, Mable. Because of you! You didn't believe in the power of fine furniture!"He vised his thighs tight around her head and his sweat dripped onto her face."Do you remember this?"He pressed his forearm against her mouth; his long scar wedged her nose sideways.Unintelligible words dribbled from her misshapen lips."Well, let me remind you," he continued. "This happened a long time ago when I crafted an important piece of furniture. It was a dresser; a dresser for you, for our wedding."Mable's face began to turn a shade of cyan blue. He lifted his arm to give her some air."I got this scar from a router just like this one, Mable. When I made your dresser! That fine piece of furniture you so carelessly scratched! I'm sure you don't remember, though, do you? I was cutting a curved edge. We were too poor for a proper router table. There was a tough angle, but I didn't let that stop me; I decided to hold it by hand. I was tired, had only a cheap blade; it caught on that hard oak and the tool slipped from my hands. That blade was spinning at 5500 rpm when it hit my arm, Mable."Her eyes stared up like a dead fish and it disgusted him."You got no respect for fine furniture," he said. "You're going to have to learn the hard way, Mable. You're going to learn what it feels like to let a tool have its way with you.He reached into the breast pocket of his bib overalls and produced a router blade. It was as round as a nickel and as deep as a short stack of poker chips."This is a diamond tipped router blade," he said. "Now, this is not a cheap blade. Guaranteed to cut through almost anything; bought it special just for this job. We're going to put it to the test." He placed the shank of the blade into the locking collar, tightened it up firmly, and switched on the router.The whine of a high-speed motor filled the room.Mable didn't struggle much when he pressed the spinning blade down onto her forehead. He kind of wished she had.It was a good blade to be sure. The router cut a clean hole. And it was a difficult project. The sharp edge of the spinning blade caught a few times on the bone, almost flipped out of his hands. But, in the end, the cut was surprisingly clean and that made him happy.When it was over, he slipped his forefinger into the hole. The edges were cut smooth, he was always the craftsman. Cleatus pushed his finger down further into her head until he touched the soft warm mass of her brains; he smiled. He got up from the bed and removed his overalls. Wearing nothing but his skivvies and a pair of white socks, he ventured around the room picking up bits of bone, a little gray matter, and several chunks of flesh. He rolled the whole mess up into the plastic sheeting and wrapped it up tight with some duct tape. Back beside the bed, he pulled their lavender comforter up around Mable's lifeless body.With everything tidied up, and his tools back in the Bucket Boss, he headed for the door.Upon passing the dresser, he stopped and ran his fingers over the scratch.Might be able to work that out with a little sandpaper, he thought. He stepped into the hallway and closed the door.The router needed to be cleaned up. Then he'd give her a little oil before putting her to bed.Cleatus decided to sleep on the couch that night, as he often did when he and Mable had fight.
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!