The social worker told her to fix the basement. Said it was too much of a reminder and wasn’t healthy. The social worker had also said they’d eventually need to raise the ceiling, that the ceiling’s pitch wasn’t up to code. Said that she needed to start changing the house into her home, the home of a woman. Mary flatly told her that mostly she just didn’t want to hurt anymore, but the worker said to start with fixing the basement.
There were chores to be done. Mary opens the window in the basement, just a crack, so she can feel the air while she does laundry. The mildew in every corner of the basement makes it difficult to keep the clean laundry clean, so she piles it high on a rug in the middle of the room, trying to keep it from touching the house.
There may be a call today, maybe a job, a path and a way. She tucks the cell phone not into her pocket, but into the waistband of her pants where it can be covered by the length of her shirt. She hopes the fact that it is pressed against her body will muffle the vibrating ring. The call would meet one of the social worker’s goals, employment, though her husband just keeps saying no. Mary hates the idea and the cost. Somebody else’s promise to her, to fix her and to keep her safe.
She hums deep in her chest and the resonance is like a mother, comforting and foundational. The smell of the laundry detergent is warm, like other people’s houses, and she leans against the drywall behind her. Her head is not met with the right-angled resistance of a wall, but fits perfectly into a matching impression, a dent made by her own head and it chills her. Now reminded, she sees all the holes in the walls, the dents, the splintered raw drywall. Like pictures of criminals, they take her back to another place of fear and she sits to rest on the floor, leaning against the dryer, the only unadulterated surface here.
Her pulse pounds, trying to get out. Sporadic and dizzying. It tells her she can’t be safe here, can’t stay on the floor. But there is nothing else clean, nothing else warm, so she rests her cheek on the vibration of the dryer and waits. The phone shakes on her hipbone and she instinctively pushes the silencing button, terrified of being heard and being found.
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Portland Fiction Project
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