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  • Blood Harmony
  • Rebecca Bengal (bio) and Kristine Potter (bio)

When charlie sings, her sister Audra's voice follows, the voice of a grown woman inside a little-girl body, high and lonesome and worried at first, till it wraps itself around hers to become pure and whole, and then forks off on its own. They were raised first on shape notes at church and the radio and Who's gonna shoe your pretty little feet, who's gonna glove your hand? but what they like to sing best are the old, old ballads. Audra's favorite is "Down from Dover" the way Dolly does it, and Charlie likes to sing the Everly Brothers, the lady "old and gray" pleading with the warden to get her baby out of jail, and they intertwine the closest when they chorus the Louvin Brothers, "go down, go down you Knoxville Girl." Charlie's voice is the current, low and silty and running over the trace fossils and the smoothed-over ancient stones and Audra's is the steam rising off the water, eerie and sure, slipping off into sky and ether. They sing the songs their mother can hardly stand to hear now, the songs their daddy taught them.

The father isn't the kind of television dad with a big white smile and a punchline or a picture-book daddy grilling hot dogs and pitching baseballs. He is the kind of father with handsome craters in his cheeks and the rocket end of a cigarette in his lips, the kind who comes home from somewhere you know better than to ask about with a hollow look in his eye like the black holes where stars get swallowed up. He is the kind of father liable to set to pacing the house as soon as the mother has driven off to work third shift and the exhaust from her old black Ranger has settled into the dirt, the kind to wake up the house in the blue hour when darkness is just coming on and drag Charlie and her sister out of their first dreaming, tell them to bring along the things they love 'cause they might not never see them ever again. [End Page 64]


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Knoxville Girl, Kristine Potter, 2016. All images from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture 2023). © Kristine Potter.

[End Page 65]

The last time it was their mama driving on the third or fourth day of him gone off somewhere and Charlie must have been carried out to the car in her sleep. She woke in the middle of the night to car doors slamming and lights from the parking lot streaming through the gap in the curtain on her mama and sister's sleep-faces beside her, in a king-size bed with sheets washed hard and stiff as boards. The television was on home shopping, silent, and when Charlie stood up she stepped barefoot on a dried curl of an ancient fingernail stuck in the motel carpet from who knows how long ago. She froze, staring hard at the No Vacancy neon shining on the bright jaggedy carpet patterns, thinking about how you could never clean out all those strangers' lives, how they were right here beside her in this room, always, inside those fibers, inside the asphalt and soil underneath.


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Impasse at Sodom's Creek, 2017.

In the morning she and Audra had cleaned out the complimentary powdered doughnuts by the reception desk and swum circles in the kidney-shaped pool in their underwear watching their mama twist her hair around her finger inside the smudgy window of a pay phone booth. She'd taught them at the rec center on summer mornings when they were little still and she was tired [End Page 66] out and the father was home sleeping: how to backstroke and float, how to swim below the surface, how to breathe. Don't you worry, she'd said. Then she leaned in and whispered to them each a secret before she let go.


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Blood Creek, 2019.

They jumped out as...

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