“Receptionist (1972)” by Christine Potter

Christine Potter


The men weren’t in charge. My mother was,
at her desk by the tall Third Avenue window:
Executive Secretary. The men tried to get me
drunk at lunch on magnums of cheap white wine

at the Indian restaurant by the river, and kept
taxidermied piranhas on their giant desks. I sat
out front, behind an even larger desk, guarding
a door two guys high, all summer. I was nineteen.

Mom had already taught me to drink Beck’s Dark
and whiskey sours. Fun City! said the mayor. I
was no easy prey. My acid-addled ex-boyfriend
cried on the couch in the lobby when I told him

to go away, his muddy eyes matching the awful
wall panelling. He seemed a nice young man,
someone said. The pay was good. I typed poems
on the Correcting Selectric with its magic white

ribbon that could lift mistakes right off the page.
The phone seldom rang. It was fine to crack jokes
when it did. I thought the job easy. Once, I watched
a solar eclipse with Mom, from her desk, and the

midtown air went grey as someone dying. There’s
a blackness in everything, Mom said, even light.
The real receptionist came back from vacation. I
went back to school. As always, my mother was right.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

[download audio]


Christine Potter: “There were a number of things you weren’t supposed to do in my family: ride in Volkswagens (my dad was sure they were instant death), read comic books, or tell anyone anything about what went on in our house. And writing down that stuff? The ultimate no-no, the plutonium of taboos. The truth was, what went on in our house went on in everyone else’s house. The power was in the telling of it. How could I possibly have become anything but a writer and poet?” (website)

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