Clemmie ran through the woods to the creek. Spider webs wrapped across her face, stickers tore at her ankles. But worst of all, thick nasty blood oozed down her legs. Her grandma told her it would come. She’d said, “Clemmie, you will one day be a woman and that day begins with the blood.”
Clemmie had asked, “What blood?”
“The blood what comes from your private parts, deep inside you. It’s been there waiting since you was borned, and when a girl’s body is ready, it comes pouring out. Then you are on the way to being a woman.”
“But I done want to be a woman. I like who I am.”
Grandma put her finger under Clemmie’s chin, tipped up her face, said, “I were the same way, but I couldn’t stop it and you won’t stop it. No girl can stop from being a woman.” She let go Clemmie’s chin. “I can see in your eyes that it’s about time for you.”
And Grandma was right. Just two weeks later, Clemmie woke up feeling fluffy headed, and her insides hurt, and she was crabby and ornery feeling. She’d stomped about her chores, and hardly eaten any of her breakfast. Then, when she was brushing down Beauty, she felt a strange feeling in her insides. An ache and a pull and then a release. Something ran down her leg. She’d run behind the bushes, pulled down her pants and drawers, and there it was. Bright red and nasty. Her woman blood come. She wanted to scream, but was afraid her daddy would come to see about her and know. Her momma was sewing, up for the first time in weeks, and Clemmie didn’t want to make her momma’s headache come back. Clemmie had pressed her fist to her mouth and bit down to keep from hollering, then she’d taken off for the woods and the water.
She wanted the creek to wash it all off. She wanted to let the cold clear water take it all away from her. She didn’t want it didn’t want it didn’t want it.
At the creek, Clemmie threw off her clothes and walked into the water. She sat on her favorite rock and watched as red mixed in with the brown of the boulder. Easing herself into the water, she cupped her hands and let the water wash away her shame on the rock. Then she laid back, her upper body resting against the rock, and let the water rush over her lower body. It gave her shivers, much like the shivers she got while watching Aaron’s muscles stretch and release. The water entered her and then went out, entered and went out. It made her feel better. She thought of Aaron again and something welled up inside her until she thought she’d go insane.
Clemmie closed her eyes, felt the sun touch her face and warm it. Her head, shoulders, and breasts were warm, and her lower body was at turns chilled and hot. She waited there until she felt clean again, but the tension wouldn’t release. Clemmie felt coiled up for something, so tight she couldn’t stand it. It was as if there was something she needed to do, but what it was she couldn’t figure out. She opened her eyes and stared up at the sky peeping through the branches of the trees. A fat white cloud passed over, slow and lazy. It eased Clemmie to look at the cloud, at the leaves waving, at the sounds of the birds. She eased and eased her mind until the pressure felt better. But Clemmie knew there was something there waiting, and she aimed to find out what it was.
When she stood, she felt the same hurt then release and the blood came again. It made her so mad she picked up a rock and threw it as hard as she could. Clemmie washed herself again and then hurried back to the grass to get dressed. She wadded up one of her mother’s handkerchief’s she used to wipe her sweat with and pressed it between her legs, then put her drawers and dungarees back on, then her shirt. She sat upon the grass, her wet hair dripping, and stared into the woods leading down to Aaron’s house.
Just yesterday, she’d made plans to go see him. His daddy had come up the week before and Clemmie listened while they talked about the tornado. Aaron’s daddy said it didn’t touch them, not one speck of dirt was moved over another speck of dirt. She waited, hidden behind the rhododendrons, until she was bored. Aaron’s daddy didn’t once mention Aaron. She’d taken her bath that night and scrubbed extra hard, especially at her blackened feet. Her momma fussed when she didn’t wear shoes, but she couldn’t stand them, they made her feet feel hot and sweaty. She’d washed her hair with soap, and then poured rosewater she’d made herself from root to tip, twice. All for nothing, for she couldn’t go round Aaron with her woman blood spurting all over the place.
Clemmie got up and searched through the woods for roots, something, anything that would make it go away, even though Grandma said it wouldn’t do a bit of good and she best be just accepting of it. Clemmie didn’t have to accept nothing she didn’t want to accept. She’d will it away, that’s what she’d do. The more she walked, the more she felt the ooze, and it was getting high on her nerves. She gave up searching and stomped back home.
Grandma was waiting for her, rocking on the porch, a bowl of beans she was snapping sitting on her lap. Clemmie went to her and stood in front of her. Clemmie said, “I don’t want to be no woman.”
Grandma said, “It ain’t so bad. I reckon you’ll get used to it.”
“What else I got to look forward to, being a woman and all, ‘sides this nasty?”
Grandma laughed, then said, “You’ll see.” She snapped a few beans. “They’s things for you under your piller. Things for tween you legs and things for the achy hurt. And I made some special tea.”
Clemmie shrugged, but she headed inside to go to her bedroom.
She turned to her Grandma. Her Grandma snapped a bean, said, “They’s things we got to talk about now, oncest you feel better. Things that you got to be mindful of and all.”
“Like what?” Clemmie remembered the pressure and her face flamed. She couldn’t ask her Grandma. Not about that.
“Like what I will tell you when you ain’t feeling so poor. Now, go take care of yourself and stop pestering me. I got beans to snap and taters to peel. You go do what you got to do, lay yourself down for a spell. I’ll check on you directly.”
“I done need to lay down. I’ll he’p peel them taters.”
Clemmie went to her bedroom. There on her table by the bed was a cup with dark liquid in it. Clemmie drank it down, making a face at the bitter taste. She picked up her pillow. There under the pillow were pieces of soft cotton toweling that Grandma had cut into rectangular squares and sewn together into thick pads. With the pads was a rolled piece of cotton. Clemmie unrolled it and inside were herbs and shaved roots to make more tea with. Clemmie sighed. Wasn’t nothing to do but what she had to do. She touched the pad, sighed again, and then went to the outhouse to fix herself up.
After, she buried the handkerchief, deep in the dirt, curling her lip at the nasty of it. With the pad pinned to her drawers, she felt as if she were riding a miniature saddle. It made her feel restless. But the tea helped. She began to feel a soft hazy feeling, as if that earlier cloud passed through her head. After she washed up, she joined Grandma on the porch, picked up the knife and a tater, and set to work.
Grandma asked, “Better now?”
“Good. We’ll talk in a few day, I ‘spect.”
Clemmie nodded again. Grandma nodded. They bent their heads to their work.