Mary Carroll-Hackett - The Potomac
July 2007 - THE POTOMAC - Three Quictions

Paper at the End of the Century
   Mary Carroll-Hackett

She followed, point by point, the instructions on the hand-bill, the tri-folded paper shoved in the crook of her door at some point in the day while she had perched over her keyboard, entering names and numbers and places of dwelling for the hospital records. Driving home, she expected all to be the same on her street, 1101 Lilac Way, houses built on the same plan, only the never-paint-again siding varying in hue, hunched behind curbs neatly trimmed by the homeowner’s association. Carefully, she removed the hand-bill from the regulation screen door, didn’t read it until she had tucked her purse away, slid her shoes beside the bed--never under as that was a sign of impending death--and boiled water for tea. Then, having read, memorized actually, the instructions, she carefully, reverently, folded the paper in quarters, then in tens, then again in a thousand equal little squares. Her work completed, she went to bed for the night, sheets like an envelope, hands tucked in a tight little knot under her pillow. In the morning a man she’d never seen, didn't know, washed shamelessly in front of her mirror. As he shaved, she counted the strokes of blade against skin, razor rasping dangerously over bone on his unfamiliar jaw line, water droplets tangling, winking at her from the curls on his chest. She found her purse where she’d left it, then started a bit at her shoes shoved back under the bed. Kneeling to reach them, she looked up to see the man she didn’t know but who had come at her request. He smiled at her reflection, and with a quiet finger drew a curlicue heart in the mist on the mirror. She looked around before she left the house, but the paper, creased and folded so many times, soiled by the touch of her fingers just yesterday, had disappeared.

Women Now and the Trick of Avoiding Touch
   Mary Carroll-Hackett

Wandering through Sunday afternoon crowds by the river, obliged to come to some sticky end, she locks her knees, draws breath up beneath her ribs, fearing the sudden warmth under the sheets, skin against skin, afraid for a moment she will repulse him. Power could not reside all in one room, whatever their illusions. A maintenance agreement, they call it, she calls it, whenever he tries to add something, only this giving in for a moment, this letting go, his weight, his chest,, his thrust pinning her into place, returning her soul to her body, forcing it back to where she can hold it, control it. His shirt takes the shape of the chair it hangs on, the seat in the same shadows that cleft his collarbone, his knee, the largeness of him above her and she closes her eyes, wordlessly receiving, only what she needs, not more, no matter how he offers, his lips on her upper arm, whispering for some level of trust she hasn’t unpacked in years. She’s confident this will work. She will make it work, maintaining the trick of avoiding touch. After all, what really can replace the heat of your hands at the crucial moment? Roles crumble, she slides on her jeans and opens the door, the room darker and darker behind her.

   Mary Carroll-Hackett

The boy she loved in high school, or thought she loved, because he was so insistent, because he pursued her so. Junior year, he followed her to Nags Head even after she had dumped him, risking arrest by walking into her biology class two years after he’d quit to work repairing cars in the daytime, selling meth at night. His mouth powdery, ancient, conquered hers as everyone in Mr. Bullock’s class looked on. His insistence confirmed her belief that Neanderthals had not, in fact, vanished, but bred, bowed bone to long femur, coarse into fine, into any number of their taller sisters, homo sapienettes, who laid back accepting his devolved beauty, but only where they wouldn’t be seen. After, she moved again to the fires of her own kind, sending him back to scrape hides, believing her birthright came from finer bones, shapelier skull. He must have watched her, seen her satiated. Secretly animalized. That boy, Randy, black eyes beneath ridged brow, led her to the beach below the motel, sand sliding a world away beneath them, his demanding hands showing again and again that he wanted her, wanted her like no one else, her pelvis a dense flat rock worthy of pounding, flint sharp hips against his, bent on making a spark against extinction, shaping a species.

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