Oddjob by David Henson

Robby Brown, self-conscious about his speech impediment, needs a confidante before his life falls apart; by David Henson.

Oddjob is reeling in his line when the bobber dives under the surface a couple feet from the bank. He yanks the rod, and it bends in half. A lunker, he thinks. He gives another pull, and a human hand arcs out of the water as if it's attacking him. Oddjob shrieks, drops the rod and stumbles backwards. He takes a few deep breaths then lifts the hand, bleeding water, his new Devil lure hooked in the palm.

After he notifies the police, he takes a few photos of the hand. When the officers arrive, he gives them a statement. Back home, he emails the photos to the local newspaper.

The day had started uneventfully with Oddjob having Sunday breakfast at the Silver Spoon cafe, a place with more grease on the spoons than silver in them. He was looking forward to stuffing himself then trying out his new lure at Williams Pond. A needed break from trimming hedges, fixing clogged toilets, caulking windows and whatever else the townfolk had on their To Do lists for him. He chose a place, as always, in Jeannie's area. Unfortunately, this day that bastard Randall Richards was in the booth in front of him.

"Hi, Jeannie," Oddjob said. "I'll take my Sunday usual."

"Hon, you're gonna have to spell it out. I got a lot of usuals and folks in a hurry to get to church."

"Eggs, potatoes, toast, bacon. You know."

Jeannie stared at her order pad. "Fried potatoes or hash browns?"

Was she trying to force him to say it? "The second."

"How do you want your eggs?"

He told her how he wanted his eggs.

Jeannie frowned. "You gotta speak up, hon."

"Scwambled," Oddjob said more loudly and, upon hearing a loud snicker from in front of him.

Jeannie slides in across from Oddjob, rattles open a newspaper and reads aloud. An Elm Meadow man made an unexpected catch while fishing in a farm pond yesterday. Former schoolteacher Robert "Oddjob" Brown hooked what appeared to be a human hand. A spokesperson for the Laconette Police Department declined to comment. "Guess you had quite the adventure after breakfast," she says.

Oddjob shakes his head. "Oh, it was intense. And it wasn't just the hand." He pauses. Jeannie leans forward. Oddjob chooses his words carefully trying to avoid a word that might explode in his face and destroy the moment. "The... one who did it could've still been... on the loose. Maybe I fwightened him off." Shit.

Jeannie reaches across the table and squeezes Oddjob's hand. "I better get back to work, hon. The usual for you?"

Oddjob smiles. He's been thinking about asking Jeannie out. Three years ago, his wife, Rosemary, was killed in a car wreck. They'd been married only four. Over the past few months, he'd gone out a couple times. On both dates, he so badly fumbled the conversation trying to avoid R-words, he was too embarrassed to see the woman again. "Just coffee and toast today. Got a lot of jobs."

Several people stop by to ask Oddjob about his strange experience at the pond. His story grows like a tale about the one that got away. He tells Margaret Simms he might have seen a body, but can't be sure because the water was murky. He tells Pete Sommers he's pretty sure there was someone watching him from the woods near the pond. His enthusiasm and the interest of those he's talking to wash away his self-consciousness. "It must've been tewwibly painful," he says to Rhonda Morgan and doesn't think a thing about it. She doesn't seem to either.

His 15 minutes of fame stretch to nearly 45, and he has to reschedule his appointment with Fred Adamson till the following week. When Oddjob finally is leaving the diner, he comes face-to-face with Randall Richards.

"So you caught a hand," Randall says. "Did you shit yourself, Mr. Bwown?" He smirks.

Oddjob clenches his fists as he stares at his former student. Oddjob is a head taller, but knows well that bullies, as well as the bullied, come in all shapes and sizes. He takes a deep breath, sidesteps Randall and leaves the cafe.

Oddjob doesn't go out of his house for nearly a week. He lies awake most of the night and during the day sleeps in the basement, where he keeps a sleeping bag. The place is dark and dank, which fits his mood. Sometimes his hears mice skittering and squeaking. He doesn't even flinch when he feels one crawl over him. He feels it serves him right after letting himself get so high on the attention he'd received from finding the hand. It wasn't real. None of it was.

He finally forces himself to reschedule the jobs he's missed and ventures out to The Silver Spoon for breakfast. Maybe seeing Jeannie will breathe some life back into him. Maybe he'll finally ask her out.

He finds one of his usual spots in the cafe. Every time somebody laughs, he thinks it's at him. If they speak in a low voice, he thinks they're talking about him. Jeannie breezes back and forth past his booth without a nod. He finally holds up his hand. "Coffee, please... Jeannie?"

The waitress comes over and sloshes coffee into his cup and dribbles a brown trail on the paper table-cover as she pulls the carafe away. "Also a couple slices of toast, please," Oddjob says.

Jeannie turns toward another booth. "Right with you, Hon." Oddjob is certain she's ignoring him because he's made a fool of himself.

Randall Richards slides in across from Oddjob. When Jeannie walks past, Randall grabs her arm. "Got my own place now. The old Humphrey homestead. Why don't you stop by and help me break it in, hotcakes?" Jeannie frees her arm and walks away.

Randall plucks a packet of sweetener from the sugar bowl, pours the powder into his palm and licks it. "I thought there was something fishy about your hand story, but I couldn't put my finger on it." He looks around to see if anyone's laughing. "Just one question," Randall says. "When you landed that wubber hand, did it flop awound and scare you?"

Oddjob wonders if the sugar bowl is heavy enough to crack a skull. Frightened at having such a thought, he lays three dollars on the table and heads for the door.

"See you, Mr. Bwown," says the bastard who got Oddjob banned from teaching.

When he was young, Robby Brown never imagined he'd one day be a teacher. He dreaded school. The other kids teased him. He was afraid to talk in class. Then came Mr. Hickman's class.

The high school science instructor walked with a limp and was rumored to have a glass eye, both supposedly suffered when he was in the marines. Everyone quickly learned that if you didn't want to clean whiteboards after school, you came to Mr. Hickman's class well-prepared, didn't speak without being called on and certainly didn't make fun of anyone. For 50 minutes three times a week, Robby found a refuge.

"Let's give someone else a chance to answer a question," the science teacher said more often than not when Robby's hand shot up yet again.

One day Mr. Hickman asked Robby to stay when the period ended. The teacher sat on the corner of his desk and tapped his right eye with a pencil. "You know it's glass, right?"

"Was it a... battle wound?"

"Not sure how you got that idea. I was seven when I got hit by a car. The other kids teased me about my eye. I learned to laugh off the wisecracks, chuckle along with my tormentors. Sometimes I'd make a joke... Like 'At least when I lose my marbles, I'll have one left.' Helped a little. Enough that I got by." Mr. Hickman stood.

"Sometimes I want to punch 'em."

Mr. Hickman whistled softly. "You're bright. Don't let them drag you down. Exercise restraint, Mr. Brown. Take a few deep breaths when you feel like that. Anyway, the main reason I wanted to see you is I'm going to be faculty sponsor of a new astronomy club. I need a student to help me out. Think you're up to it?"

When Robby came back down to earth, he said yes.

Although things didn't change overnight for Robby, his humor quelled some of the teasing and his grades started improving across the board. He credited Mr. Hickman's letter of recommendation with his acceptance at a state teachers' school.

At college, Robert kept to himself and found that most of the other students didn't pay much attention to how he talked. They were too focused on the next party or ballgame the first couple of years and then on their grades and future careers. He met his wife-to-be his senior year.

Rosemary freshened Robert's coffee. "First day of the year," she said. "Ready?"

Robert nodded. "I guess." Robert loved teaching science to high school seniors but introducing himself to a new group of students made him nervous.

"You'll do fine," Rosemary said. "Two years and summer sessions under your belt - you're an old hand at this now. Are you going to tell a joke?"

Robert nodded. At the start of a new term, he'd take a few deep breaths and say "Welcome, class. My name is Mr. Bwown." Then he'd smile and tell a self-deprecating joke. There always were a few giggles and snickers, but they faded away as the semester progressed, and the students got caught up in the net of his enthusiasm.

"I thought of a joke," Rosemary said. "You could say something about watching too many Elmer Fudd cartoons when you were a boy. I know it's silly, but -"

Robert chuckled. "Perfect. Thanks, Honey."

Rosemary gulped the last of her coffee. "I might be home a little late this evening. Big meeting."

A half hour later Robert was standing in front of his desk. "Welcome, class. My name is Mr. Bwown." Then he smiled and told his wife's joke. The students groaned and rolled their eyes, and Robert laughed along with them.

That evening Robert got home before his wife. He put two bowls of leftover spaghetti in the microwave and waited in the living room. After several minutes, headlights illuminated the curtains on the picture window. Robert hurried into the kitchen and started the oven.

He was surprised when the doorbell rang. Rosemary always came in the back way through the garage. He opened the door and found two police officers.

"Must be a mistake," he said after the officers told him his wife had been killed in an automobile accident. "Not my Wosemawy." The two cops made eye contact. Robert sat on the floor in the entry. In the kitchen, the microwave beeped.

Robert stumbled through the school year and called in sick so often the principal threatened to put him on probation. After taking the summer off, Robert committed himself to a fresh start, hoping his love of teaching would embrace him again. It might have except for one thing - Randy Richards.

The first day of the year, when Robert introduced himself and told Rosemary's Elmer Fudd joke, Randy howled with exaggerated laughter and took a pratfall out of his seat. During the semester, he continually referred to himself as Wandy Wichards and infected the other students, almost all of whom called Robert "Mr. Bwown."

One day, Robert asked Randy to stay after class. Robert sat on the corner of his desk. "I'm thinking about starting an... sky-watching club. I thought you might want to lead it."

Randy slapped his knee and laughed. "You mean astwomony club? No thanks, Mr. Bwown."

Robert bit his lip. "Well, think about it. But, in any case, son. Can't we have a twu... peace."

"A twuce? Are you pwoposing a twuce?"

Robert closed his eyes. As he took a few deep breaths, he heard Randy whisper "Wobert and Wosemawy sittin' in a twee."

Hearing his late wife's name being mocked jerked Robert to his feet. He grabbed Randy by the collar then immediately restrained himself and let go.

Randy stumbled backward halfway across the room, knocking over a desk and bumping against a wall. He grabbed a periodic table of elements as if trying to steady himself, then sat on his butt, ripping the chart in half. "You're in twouble now, Mr. Bwown."

Robert was suspended pending a review by the school board. He met with the board president, the head of the parent-teacher organization and his rep on the teachers' federation. He apologized, promised it would never happen again, told everyone how much he loved being a teacher and offered to take on more extracurriculars. None of it mattered. He was banned from ever teaching again.

Robert became even more self-conscious about his speech impediment and, for a couple years, flitted from job to job... factory assembler, grocery clerk. He finally set up his own handyman service. He didn't enjoy the work but could grunt and nod his way through the day without saying much. He painted Odd Jobs by Oddjob on the side of his pickup truck. Clear, concise... and no Rs.

The day after Oddjob fantasizes about smashing Randall Richard's skull with a sugar bowl, he visits Mr. Hickman, who now lives in a town about a five-hour drive away. A staff member leads Oddjob to his former teacher's room. "Don't stay long," she says. "He tires easily."

"Hi, Mr. Hickman. It's me, Wobert Bwown. Astwomony club?"

Mr. Hickman grips his walker, pulls himself up partway up from a chair by the window of the tiny room then sits back down. "Were you one of my students?"

"Yes, yes. It's so good to see you, Mr. Hickman. It's been too long."

"You, too."

"I want... need to talk to you." Oddjob tells Mr. Hickman about losing his wife, being banned from teaching, becoming more self-conscious than ever about his impediment.

He describes something he's never told anyone but his wife. How when he was a boy, his mother would tell him to say his name. How he'd work his jaw, push down his tongue, think Robby Brown, then say "Wobby Bwown." His mother would slap his face, then shake "the ants" from her hand and tell him to say it again. "Wobby Bwown." He begins speaking more quickly as he tells Mr. Hickman how sometimes his mother slapped his other cheek and her left hand didn't hurt as much as the right and his father would tell Robby he'd thank his mother some day and sometimes his father took over and that was the worst.

Oddjob pants to catch his breath and says how lately he feels like he's losing control, wanting to do horrible things. "Did you feel like that sometimes? How did you westwain... not do anything bad?"

Mr. Hickman twists in his chair and stares at Oddjob with his good eye. "So, were you one of my students?"

When Oddjob gets back home, he puts a bowl of leftover tomato soup in the microwave. When the oven beeps, he ignores it. After it signals two more times, he removes the soup, dumps it down the drain and punches the microwave. He wraps a cold pack around his hand then goes down to the basement and crawls into the sleeping bag.

Oddjob is at Fred Adamson's house on the outskirts of town. The old man has hired him to trim his ornamental crab apple tree. Then he's to clean the filter on his septic tank; Oddjob nearly gags at the thought.

Adamson shows Oddjob several limbs he wants cut. "One more," Adamson says after several minutes and points toward a dead branch. "Lop it off at the joint."

Oddjob stares at the man's skinny wrist. The shears would slice right through it. He could take the hand to Williams Pond, hook it on his line. He'd be a big shot for real. When you landed that wubber hand, did it flop awound and scare you? He'd have to kill the old man first. Hide the body. You're in twouble now, Mr. Bwown. He'd be caught eventually no doubt, but what's he got to lose? Life's already got him in a cage. He'd be big news. Probably statewide. Maybe national. Go out with a bang. Who's laughing now? No one, that's who. Oddjob reaches the shears toward Adamson's wrist. Don't let them drag you down, Mr. Brown. Exercise restraint.

"Careful with those things, Oddjob."

Oddjob freezes, jaws the cutters around the branch and chops.

Later, Adamson studies the tree. "You've made this old thing look young again. You do good work, Oddjob. When you show up."

Oddjob steps behind the old man, picks up the pipe wrench he brought to access the septic tank then turns. The old Humphrey homestead. Why don't you stop by and help me break it in, hotcakes?

"Hey, where're you going? What about my filter?"

Oddjob meets the two police officers at the door. "Robert Brown?"one of them says.

Oddjob nods.

The officer holds up a photograph. "Do you know this man?"

Oddjob shrugs.

"Well, we think you know him. Neighbors report that your truck was seen in his driveway two days ago. He hasn't answered his phone or been seen since."

Singing softly under his breath, Oddjob leads the officers into the kitchen. The floor is littered with a spilled carton of milk, broken eggs, a half loaf of bread and other contents from the refrigerator, including the shelves. A large pipe wrench with dried blood and hair sits on the table next to a head of lettuce.

Oddjob opens the refrigerator door. The two officers gasp and clamp their hands over their mouths. One of them bends at the waist and wretches.

After a moment, the other cop cuffs Oddjob. "Robert Brown," he says. "I'm arresting you for the murder of Randall Richards," he then reads Oddjob his rights. "Do you have anything to say?"

Oddjob begins to laugh. "I was going cut the pwick's hands off, but I westwained myself." He slaps his knee and laughs more loudly.

Oddjob sees the officers make eye contact. As they lead him to their squad car, he sings, slowly and softly, "Wobert and Wosemawy sittin' in a twee, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Wobert and Wosemawy sittin' a twee, K-I-S-S-I-N-G..."


  1. Great opening really "hooked" me in, and the smooth transitions for a non linear story terrific also. Robert's descent while dark and shocking was also sympathetic seeing an inherently good man lose it. Enjoyed it, thanks.

  2. The story of a man who's buttons got pushed one time too often. On his tombstone might be read "he tried his best." I like the part where he goes back to visit Mr. Hickman in a desperate need for recognition and advice and a little respect. This visit pushes him over the edge. His descent into childhood with his final rhyme is a fitting ending. Good 1., and a lesson to treat people with respect.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Harrison. You hit the points I was trying to make.

  3. Enjoyed it. Nice read. Well developed characters and well paced narrative pull.

  4. Vivid and fast paced with a sense of an inevitable but unavoidable conclusion. I liked the way the energy and pace stayed high even with the back and forth between, "then and now."

    Very much enjoyed this.

  5. David Henson’s “Oddjob” is a heart-wrenching story about a man you can’t help but feel for and hope that he overcomes his limitations and then prospers. Everyone knows a Randall Richards—they creep into every life at one point or another. But I was disappointed with the ending—not because it wasn’t well written (it was) but because I wanted Oddjob to overcome and succeed. Another poignant story, David, and part of the reason you’re one of my favorite FOTW authors.