It was her first period for three months. Sitting on the lav with her knickers around her ankles and her knees falling apart, Mihaela saw the new slimness in her bare legs and grimaced. She thought of all the meals she’d missed since the promotion—the rushed breakfasts, the uneaten sandwiches, the insubstantial dinners—and how quickly it had become a matter of finding not the time but the inclination. Now she ate as irregularly and as little as she slept. No wonder her periods had stopped.
Dismissing the notification that she had seven new emails, Mihaela looked back over the blog she’d been reading. It started with a scan of a page from an ancient manuscript, the letterforms cramped and unfamiliar. Beneath, the blogger had provided a translation of the text. It was a spell; instructions for using menstrual blood in a divining ritual. Mihaela couldn’t remember exactly how she’d come across it and couldn’t say what drew her back to the same post time and again. She didn’t even believe in magic. Not since she’d been old enough to bleed.
There were only a handful of comments below the line and most of these were variations of ‘gross’ or ‘yuck’, which was also what Mihaela muttered aloud after reading one comment about feeding a lover menstrual blood as part of a binding spell—whatever that was. What Mihaela couldn’t see, however, was a comment from anyone who had tried it out for themselves. She supposed it didn’t matter. Even if someone said it worked, she doubted she’d believe them.
Another notification flashed onto the screen as more emails arrived. So much activity on a Sunday afternoon meant there had to be some kind of problem, but whatever it was would have to wait. She swiped the notification away, read back through the instructions one last time and then put down her phone on the edge of the sink. Spreading her labia open with the fingers of her left hand, she felt with thumb and finger for the nub of the menstrual cup lodged in her vagina. Pinched.
Broke the seal.
Slowly pulled out the cup. Kept it
level. Did not spill a single drop.
The small rubber cup was warm with her body heat and nearly full to the brim. Holding it up to the light, she could see that a thick layer of yellowish plasma had separated out from the blood beneath, which was itself a vibrant, cranberry red, far brighter than the dark clots smeared along the top rim. She rotated her wrist carefully so as to stir the blood counter-clockwise three times, and concentrated on what she wanted to ask. She tried to dredge up a sense of the mystical, of some kind of respect for the arcane power she so badly needed to channel, but couldn’t. She just felt foolish and nervous. Like when her first period came and she couldn’t work out whether sanitary towels had a front end or not. Or when she’d started using tampons and kept getting the insertion angle wrong no matter how many times she read through the leaflet. Or when she’d finally progressed to a menstrual cup and struggled to get the knack of the careful folding, sliding, pinching, pushing and balancing that was required to put it in and take it out without making a mess.
After completing the final turn, Mihaela lowered the cup to the glass bowl of water that sat level between her feet on the bathroom tiles. She gently tipped the contents of the cup into the bowl and concentrated on her question as the blood clouded the water, trying to silence the voice in her head that vacillated from worrying it wouldn’t work to sneering at her for even hoping it might.
Then, just like that, she saw it.
A characteristic billowing that exactly matched the description in the instructions.
Her heart sank.
It was the negative formation. It meant the answer to her question was ‘no’.
Reaching over to the sink, she rinsed her menstrual cup under the tap, deftly folded it in half and re-inserted it into her vagina. Then she pulled up her knickers and jeans, poured out the glass bowl into the lav and flushed away the remnants of the spell. It was just waste, she reminded herself, not prophecy. Magic didn’t dictate how blood moved through water—the laws of physics did. She knew that. She’d always known that. There was no sense being disappointed by getting an answer she didn’t like from a system she didn’t believe in.
Pumping soap from the dispenser, she wrung her hands together and worked the lather between her fingers and under her nails to clean away the last of the blood. If only it had worked like she wanted. The faintest sign or indication—however ambiguous, however ridiculous the form—would have been enough to give her the courage to send the resignation letter sitting in her drafts folder. She rinsed away the soap and fumbled for the peach hand towel. Perhaps she’d got the instructions wrong. Or perhaps she’d been mistaken in her interpretation. Either way, she could always try again when she next emptied the cup. Maybe then she’d get the answer she needed.
She grabbed her phone and stared blankly at the new notifications. Glancing up at the cabinet, she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror—saw how the rings beneath her eyes looked like bruises, how her hair hung in limp strands about her face—and knew, deep down, she already had the answer she wanted. All she had to do was give herself permission.
She looked back down at her phone. Then, before she could think it over for another second, she opened her drafts and hit ‘send’.
Turned off her phone and slid it into her back pocket.
Picked up the glass bowl and clutched it absently to her stomach.
Peered at the red sediment silted around the base.
Allowed herself a half-smile.
Began to dream of sleep.
Natasha C. Calder has a background in medieval literature and cyber security. She is a graduate of Clarion West 2018 and her work has previously appeared in The Stinging Fly. She also publishes a weekly cartoon about a small girl and a polar bear lkandisbjorn.com