Alice K. Boatwright

What comes to hand must be faced

MaDraS Web by Ferrandis Issaev

Carla Mattheson looked down at her hands crossed over each other on her lap. They were pale and still, but the perspiration forming where they touched the wool of her black dress said they were alert. Waiting. Across the backs, thick blue veins traced the history of her life. Her continuing life, though she couldn’t feel the beat of her own heart.

Her nails were filed, short and round, the better for work of all kinds. She liked her hands to be clean neat tools, ready for whatever task lay ahead. Came to hand. The expression said it all.

Was it really only a week ago that she had last filed her nails? She and Michael had been watching the news on television. They joked about the future and reminisced about the past as the Emory board scattered dust that floated in the air. She didn’t know if fingernails were considered dead or alive, but she could see that her nails had already grown. Would continue to grow and demand to be filed again and again. Michael’s would not.

The next morning, she had been awakened by the absence of a sound she usually wasn’t aware of. His breathing beside her. She had seen death before, but it was still a surprise that what is left is so utterly not what it had been.

Carla knew this was the surest evidence that we don’t understand, can never grasp or control, the real source of our selves. It’s not in our busy doings or sayings, the clothes we wear or how we live, and what had come to her with the name of Michael had not left her. She might long to touch his living flesh again, but her hands would have to turn to other tasks, and she would find him there.

The sound of a Bach prelude that Michael had loved wafted from the organ loft and around her the congregation began to stand. Her hands reached out for the pew in front of her, the oak solid and smooth from the generations of hands it had supported to meet whatever would come next, and she too rose to her feet.


About the writer:
Alice K. Boatwright is the author of three books and dozens of stories published in journals such as Mississippi Review, America West, Stone Canoe, and Storyglossia. Her first book, COLLATERAL DAMAGE, was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and received the Bronze Medal for Literary Fiction from the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her second book, UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN, received the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize for best mystery. The sequel, WHAT CHILD IS THIS? will be published in November 2017. She formerly taught writing for UC Berkeley Extension’s Writing Program and the University of New Hampshire. After 10 years of living in Europe, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest.

Image: MaDras Web by Ferrandis Issaev. No medium specified. No size specified. No date specified. By permission.