Short Story
                 It’s Only Pretty When It’s Fresh
                                                 
By Katja Steinebrunner


 I’m not sure she knows what she’s doing, the poor girl.  It’s a part of life that
should not be thrown out or lessened and once she gets to my age, she’ll be
sorry to see it go.  I wish that Mother Nature would let me hold onto such a
gift, but all things pass.  Only I really do wish that my daughter would
appreciate it more.

 I’m sure she realizes that the Pill will not make it go away.  That is even
worse, watching that blessing ease, something that should only be a sign of
old age.  My daughter – she doesn’t see it as a gift, something I don’t quite
understand.  How can she not see the beauty in it?  When she hit puberty,
she was horrified and dismayed.  Then again, she also had the worst cramps
I’ve ever seen in a woman but still…

 It was the day after I turned 14 that Mother Nature gave me the gift, all in a
rush with no warning, in the evening while I was showering.  I will admit that I
was a little startled and at first it was more of a horrified fascination, as, thick,
red and diluting quickly in the water, blood slid and dripped and dribbled
down my thighs and swirled so prettily down the drain.  But soon, within the
week, I saw it as a gift, something beautiful and personal from Nature to me.

 The second time I bled, I discovered something: the ugly, crusty blot, dried
onto formerly white underwear and staining white sheets to a dirty coppery
brown.  It was hideous.  But when I sat down to pee, it was beautiful – never
brown, always red but many reds.  There were always many reds - the light,
the scarlet, the reds so dark they were almost black – and always the reds
swirled into the toilet bowl or down the shower drain.  But always they stained
things ugly plain brown as well.  How such beautiful reds could turn into such
ugly browns, I have never understood, but somehow they do.

 My daughter is coming over today.  She says she’s been on the Pill for
months, says it’s been wonderful.  There’s so much less blood, she says, so
much less hassle.  How can she murder such a lovely, colorful miracle, is my
question.

 She arrives a little late in a small sporty car that is red, dark red, like my first
bleeding when I was 14 and standing in the shower, marveling at Nature’s
beauty as it slid down my legs and down the shower drain into oblivion.  I ask
how she is and her husband and is she bleeding now?  Good, good and why
yes, she says, but she can barely tell and would you believe it, cramps so
light she managed to sit in bed and read. I just nod and say, Oh how great,
my daughter, that’s great and much less of a hassle yes?  Oh yes, she
replies, all cheer despite the fact that she is casually throwing away Mother
Nature’s gift to her.  Oh yes, she says, it’s a beautiful thing, Mother, truly.  But
my daughter does not comprehend beauty in the thinning red mixing with
soap and water.

 My daughter heads to the bathroom (to change, she says).  I stay in the
kitchen and shudder, thinking all about the brown that can and does stain the
world.  That’s the thing: blood is only pretty when it’s fresh, when it flows and
colors.  When it is dry, it can be mistaken as odd, now-dried mud or even as
shit, a faint stain on the back of the underwear.

 It is sunny outside, a bit windy but certainly warming up, coming into spring.  
Spring always reminds me of the bleeding – both are times of renewal, no?  I
watch, from the kitchen, as the wind shakes the trees, knocking leaves and
needles and debris into the pool.  At some point I will have to clean it – it
bothers me, seeing it this dirty.  My daughter is still in the bathroom.  What is
taking her so long, I do not know, especially since she is shunning Mother
Nature’s blessing, but perhaps only a few moments have passed: my
perception of time has been a bit off lately, ever since I entered the
depressing period known as menopause.

 Oh how I had feared it my whole life! The horror of Mother Nature ripping
her gift from my hand, reclaiming that which she insists is hers.  And how I still
fear this dreaded time, even now that I have entered its grasps.  It is fading; I
bleed less and less, and not nearly as regularly.  I miss the flow of scarlet, the
oddly metallic smell, the way it ran down my legs as I stood in the shower,
sometimes thick and half-way solid, sometimes thin and almost translucent.  
And here is my daughter – my own flesh and, yes, blood – and she is trying
to get rid of that which I seek to keep.

 The anger fills me suddenly.  It’s always been there, in the background.  
How dare she.  This act of hers, her taking the Pill, it is offensive.  It is almost
crude but most of all cruel.  That she would flaunt her gift and her ability to
make it go away or almost go away while I struggle to keep it from leaving
me.  Once Mother Nature takes her gift back, I know I’ll never have it again.

 I do not know exactly what I am doing or how or even exactly why.  I also am
not sure why my daughter has been so long in the bathroom but no matter.  
As though going through motions, as though following instructions, I gather
things from around the house and bring them outside.  The wind pulls at my
hair and I curse the sky’s grayness, the terrible lack of color but gray is better
than brown (ugly, crusty, a stain on the pure).

 I pull out the net and drag it across the surface of the pool, which shimmers
and ripples in a quivering dance for the wind.  Quickly, I catch the leaves and
cleanse the pool.  It is as I am finishing that, by some odd miracle, some
strange coincidence, that my daughter walks over to me as I put the net back
and note with pleasure the lack of leaves in the pool.  What are you doing
Mother, she says, it’s much too cold to swim.  She hasn’t noticed my pile yet.

 Soon after she had first started bleeding, my daughter began to take
softball.  She was good at it and seemed to enjoy it, so I encouraged her.  
Then, mid-season, she decided to quit.  She wouldn’t give me a reason;
perhaps she simply didn’t like it after all.  All of her softball stuff remained in
the garage, growing dusty.  Cobwebs had settled all over her bat, which hadn’
t hit a softball since she had quit but which still produced quite a thump when
it connected with the back of her head.

 I catch her as she falls; a lump is already forming.  I have realized already
that I am getting on in my years.  I am gray and wrinkled and have hit
menopause.  Somehow, though, I never noticed that my daughter was also
aging.  I see the gray hairs, the lines on her forehead, by her eyes, near her
mouth.  That, I suppose, is the way it is for people.  They, too, are only pretty
when they are fresh, when they are young.  As they age, they become
hideous and distorted.

 I begin to undress her.  Shoes, socks, shirt, pants, then bra and underwear.  
She lies naked on the concrete and I can see her age even more in the
sagging skin and extra weight.  If she looks old, how much worse must I be?  I
see the string.  A tampon.  With a grimace, I pull it out – it is barely visible, the
faint brownish stain – and toss it into the pool.  I still feel as if I am going
through motions or following unspoken instructions.  I manage to pull her jaw
apart enough to push part of the strip of linen between her teeth and then tie
it tightly around her head.  Then a blindfold.

 Only a knife remains.  It’s almost beautiful in a sterile, modern way.  Not
beautiful like the menstrual scarlet that used to run down my thighs, but still,
in its own way, beautiful.  I do not want brown.  There will be no brown, no
ugly stains on this gray concrete, on this world, on my white underwear and
bed sheets.  To keep away the brown I have the rippling wind-stirred waters
of the pool.  In water, blood can swirl so prettily.  It will dilute of course, but
first it will swirl.  I pull my daughter closer to the pool.

 Decisions now.  No more instinctual following of unspoken commands.  
Where to make the first cut?  The wrists?  The lower abdomen?  Perhaps the
ankles?  Or her thighs?  Her stomach, I decide, near the beginning of her
pubic hair, which curls and frizzes maniacally.  I make the cut and watch, as
fascinated as when I was 14 and had my first bleeding.  I turn my daughter so
the blood doesn’t hit the concrete – brown stains would not do.

 She stirs and experiences another reunion with the bat, which has hit more
things in one morning than in 10 years.  Now I cut her thighs, perhaps six
inches down from the hip.  The knife must be sharp; its blade slides with
ridiculous ease through both skin and muscle.  Now the wrists, now the
ankles, and now I sit and watch as the blood streams from her body, swirling
and flowing into the water.  Now she will appreciate Mother Nature’s blessing.  
She can see and feel the glory of the bleeding, the warm dripping comfort of
the gift.  Well, she cannot see, I realize.  She is blindfolded, but I have no wish
to move from this spot, no wish to stop watching the seemingly endless flow of
scarlet, so much more than I have ever experienced during any of my
bleedings.

 I can feel the jealousy building, but I shake it off.  It is true her bleedings
have been so much more than mine even when we were both younger, but
oh the cramps she experienced like no one else I know.  At least, though, at
least now she can understand Mother Nature’s gift.

 My daughters bleeding begins to slow, so I stand and stretch, head back
inside to the kitchen.  I leave the knife and my daughter.  I make dinner, go to
bed, continue my routine.  After 3 days, my daughter has begun to smell.  
She looks horrid and so do the cuts.  I suppose that that is another thing.  
When it comes to bodies and cuts, they’re only pretty when they’re fresh.
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Steinbrunner