Short story of the month: “What Comes to Hand Must Be Faced”
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 emery 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.
# # #
The flash fiction, “What Comes to Hand Must Be Faced” was published in the Open Journal of Arts and Letters in 2017. Link here to read it in the OJAL.
About Alice’s stories
Alice began writing stories as a child, and she has never stopped. She is the author of the story chapbook, Sea, Sky, Islands (Noontime Books, 2019), as well as dozens of short stories published in literary journals and anthologies. She was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Glimmer Train Fiction Prize and has received grants from UC Berkeley and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts to devote time to writing fiction.
“Look Both Ways”: Amarillo Bay, Issue 23:1, April 29, 2021
“Yesterday’s Muse”: Bull, November 19, 2020
“Mr. Who Passes Through”: Crime Readers Association, Halloween 2020
“No Prince”: The Blood Pudding, September 2020
“Risky Business“: fresh.ink, July 14, 2020
“J’arrive”: Calyx, Vol. 31, No. 1, (Winter/Spring 2019)
“The Purple Bowl“: Parentheses Journal, Issue No. 5 (January 2019)
“Life Sentences“: Amarillo Bay, Vol. 20, No. 2 (October 2018)
“What Comes to Hand Must Be Faced“: Open Journal of Arts and Letters, 2017
“After Giselle“: Amarillo Bay, Vol. 17, No. 4 (November 2015)
“The First Meeting of Babyman and Mother“: Sleetmagazine, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring 2014)
“And the Part of Me Will Be Played by Marilyn Monroe”: Amarillo Bay, Vol. 14, No. 1 (February 2012)
“Asta at the Market“: Marco Polo Arts, 9 January 2012
“A Burning House”: Stone Canoe, No. 5, January 2011
“Risky Business”: Upstairs at Duroc, No. 11, January 2010
“Dreams of a Runner”: Stone Canoe, No. 3, January 2009
“Night Washing“: Storyglossia, No. 32, 4 December 2008
“Chrissy on Earth”: Amarillo Bay, Vol. 10, No. 4 (November 2008)
“Behavior Modification”: Amarillo Bay, Vol. 9, No. 4 (November 2007)
“Survivors“: Mississippi Review Online, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Fall 2007)
“Divas”: America West, Vol. 18, No. 4, June 2003
“Reading Raymond Carver”: Enterzone, Episode 14, November 1998
“Man Leaving” (illustrated by the author): Enterzone, Episode 14, November 1998
“What I Have”: Paterson Literary Review, Issue No. 26, March 1997
“Divas”: Beloit Fiction Journal, Vol. IX, Issues No. 1 and 2 (Spring 1994)
“Golden Chances”: in Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, edited by Amber Coverdale Sumrall, (Crossing Press, 1994)
“Sheila Martin’s Last Egg”: San Jose Studies, Vol. XIX, No. 2 (Spring 1993)
“Conflicting Testimony”: in Love’s Shadow, edited by Amber Coverdale Sumrall (Crossing Press, 1993)
“Jonas”: Cricket, Vol. 19, No. 6, February 1992