Sparks scattered on the factory floor with every strike of the hammer.
The display might have been beautiful in another setting, another season. Here, it was just another reminder of what she was doing wrong. “You aren’t hitting it straight,” Peter said, resetting the vise. “You need to swing straight down, or you’ll ruin the edge. Try again.”
“I’ve been trying,” she said, gripping the hammer tighter in her hand. “I’m not a blacksmith, Pete. Never have been, never will be. Why do I have to do this?”
The smith’s eyes grew hard. “You need to learn, chestnut. Demand’s shifting away from the little knick-knacks and candy snacks you make in the kilns.”
“Kids still like candy canes, Pete.”
“Kids like computer games, chestnut.” Peter gestured to the assortment of Blu-Ray discs lying on the table in front of them. “They only want play-toys if they come with bluetooth. You need to learn.”
She stared down the hunk of metal in front of her. She knew there was more to this work than just swinging a hammer; there was alchemy involved, and faerie dust, and a new 3D printer the factory just got a week ago. Times were changing, and it was best to change with them.
But still she liked the quiet work of whittling. She enjoyed the feel of pine between her fingers, the smell of the lacquer when she polished each wheel in a toy train. It was hard work, but it was real, it required no magic. And, she had always believed, the children loved her work more because it was real, because it was hard.
The metal stared back at her, gleaming in the coal-fire light from the furnaces. This is wrong, she thought. But she swung the hammer again.
Clang-ktchh. Sparks showered the factory floor. The hunk of metal shattered. Peter gave her a hard look. “Pick up the pieces, chestnut,” he said. “Give them here.”
He held out his hands and waited patiently as she set each fragment in a pile on his palms. She knew she should apologize, she knew he was doing her a favor by teaching her. But she refused to feel sorry for breaking a thing she didn’t want to exist in the first place.
“Good,” said Peter, looking at her with those same hard eyes.
“Do not feel sorry,” he said, answering her thoughts. “This work is messy, it is dirty, it is not clean. It is not for you. Do not feel sorry when you break this work. This work feels nothing. Do not feel sorry. Try again.”
The coal-fires flared and she had to shield her eyes from the brightness. When the light dimmed, Peter was holding a single hunk of metal in his hands. The fragments were gone.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“That is not for you to learn,” said Peter. “Set the piece in the vise and try again.”
“What if I never get it right?” she asked.
Peter didn’t smile often. He had only a few teeth, the rest of them gradually replaced with shards of coal over the years. That was why they called him Peter Black; when he smiled, his mouth was a dark abyss. He smiled now. “Try again.”