HAPPY FIRST BIRTHDAY WRITING GROUP!

Karen, Monica, Maryam and I have been meeting for a year! I am so very thankful for my writing group. We're meeting at my place this afternoon (and I've not written anything yet...) - it's a cosy, foggy fall day, the fire burning, the girls' pumpkins sat atop the stoop (we don't actually have a stoop, it just worked nicely in that particular sentence...) awaiting carving, the straw witch who lost her cat dangling on the door...

A toast to our writing group! Here's to many years more! And, in honour of our year anniversary, here is the first story I worked on in the group (copyright Megan Ann Jones Ady, October 2008!!)

LIPSTICK MOON

By Megan Ann Jones Ady

She stretched her fingers beneath her underpants to the niche where firm, dry skin turned into the soft moisture of the inside edges of her body. The light brown blood on her finger tips glistened momentarily in the moonlight. It felt warm and thin. She smeared some over her bronzed tummy, entranced by the sensation of her smooth skin. She slowly traced a spiral pattern around her navel. "This is me," she whispered. "Woman." She sat like that, hidden within herself, stroking her tummy, for a long, lingering moment.

As she slowly stretched out her legs, which tingled from pins-and-needles, she turned and saw through the unzipped tent door the rising red moon hovering above the horizon, huge, round and splendid. Dipped in blood, like her own body. Stained, something to be hidden and forgotten. But the bleeding moon tonight seemed so exuberant and unashamed, celebrating herself. Karmia’s right foot moved in and then out of the triangular patch of moonlight shining in through the open tent door. Chipped red nail polish glistened on her toes, seeming surreal and other worldly. Her sleeping bag felt itchy against her thighs as she moved. She pulled her shapeless goatswool sweater over her head, slid her embroidered blue bag onto her shoulder and set off downhill to the public restroom.

Petrin Park was beautiful. She strode pensively beneath a bronze bower of trees, kicking the fallen leaves. The air there was cool and musty and soft against her skin. Dappled moonlight danced on the path before her. She dug her toes into the soft earth as she walked. Needing a rest, she leaned against a tree trunk. She let her head fall back against the tree and gazed at the shadowy, slowly swaying branches high above, mesmerized. A sticky, moist moment of ooze on her inner thigh ended her reverie. She dug into her bag, feeling with her long fingers for a tampon. She felt the familiar, smooth cover of the book she intended to read whilst in Prague, the coolness of her water-bottle, the smooth curves of lipstick – and no tampons. Karmia grimaced and clenched her teeth. Where could tampons be attained in Prague this late on an autumnal evening, she wondered?

The moon was still there. She breathed slowly in, watching it, and out again. She arranged a little pad of yellow leaves whose edges were tinged with red to catch the blood. She recalled, randomly in that moment, the peculiar swirling grain of her wooden desk in history class. She remembered the gentle, lyrical voice of her teacher, Ms. Carmine, explaining how Australian women living in that region hundreds of years ago would paint the upper half of their body with red ochre and grease to show people they were menstruating. It was sacred and dangerous and called humanity into consciousness, Ms. Carmine had explained. Fragmented memories learned from that class pounced into Karmia’s mind. Jivaro women of Peru and Ecuador wearing a long stick in their lips when they started having periods. Mongolian women shaping their hair into horns, using metal and wood. Henna on skin. Thin lines scratched with flint or thorns around a woman’s lips, rubbed with red clay. Mouths painted with menstrual blood. She was those women. She imagined herself at first light on the day after she stopped bleeding, carried tenderly by a group of women who knew her well, not letting her body touch the earth, to the river, where they bathed her and oiled her and dyed and decorated her to celebrate her return from seclusion. She tried to imagine the faces of these women. Old high school friends? Her highly successful mother? Sophisticated Aunt Mabel? Her team back at work? None of them knew her well. She felt a sad shiver of loneliness as the troupe of nameless, faceless imaginary women carried her down to the river.

She felt inside her bag for the lipstick and pulled off the lid. She lifted her sweater and pressed the lipstick into the skin between her breasts, stroking boldly down and up, the stick moist and waxy on her skin. Placing the lipstick on a yellow leaf, she rubbed redness into her breasts, her tummy, her back, her neck, her shoulders, her ears, her face. “I am woman!” she whispered into the night. She put the lipstick away, picked up her bag and began walking down to the river.

The moon was smaller now, and white, and perfectly round. The little shadows on her face looked like tears. Her reflection in the river jumped and changed shape as the water swirled and churned. Karmia took off her sweater and tank top, slid out of her soft cotton Indian skirt and stood on the bank in her underpants, willing herself to jump in. She imagined herself turning into liquid, becoming one with the water, flowing into the sea and being drawn with the tides towards the moon. She reached out her big toe to meet the river. The water was cold, and seemed suddenly distant, dangerous and frightening, dark, breathless layers lurking beneath the sparkling surface. She pulled her top back over her head, wriggled into her skirt and found consolation in the warmth her sweater had kept safe for her. She glanced tentatively back at the moon as she found her way up to the bridge, wondering if this distant mysterious orb felt any of the consoling emotions towards her she had been imagining. A small gush of blood oozed out onto her leg as she walked. She thought tampon thoughts, with frustration. She felt lonesome as she crossed the bridge which had been so crowded during the day. Its stones felt smooth and cold underfoot. The light from a lamp seemed strangely orange in contrast with the moon’s silvery gleaming. She curled up like a cat beneath the lamppost and opened up the crisp pages of Phantastes, the book she had intended to read in Prague.

She read how Cosmo lived alone, never a visitor crossing “the threshold of his lodging in the top of one of the highest houses in the old town.” She looked up. Silhouettes of the angular horizon of roof-tops were faintly visible on the other side of the river. She wondered whether she was seeing the very house George MacDonald had used as model for his imaginings. She had spent much of her life with her nose in a book, relishing the sacred kingdoms created by words. Although the ground was cold and hard, she read on, in the intermingling of lamplight and moonlight.

“Karmia!” Keean called. She looked up. “You’re red! Karmia, are you OK?” The pale familiar face of which she was often so fond seemed an invasion of her silent world.

“I’m OK.” He smelt of cigarette smoke. He had been to see a band in a basement bar. His gray eyes had become sad when she told him she wasn’t coming with him. “I’ve got my period and no tampons,” she said. He looked shocked.

“Is that blood?” She shook her head. “What is it then?”

“Lipstick.”

“Guess your aim is a bit off tonight?”

“Not funny. Could you please get me a tampon Keean?” She had been noticing since they began traveling together how their conversations too easily became staccato and merely functional.

“Didn’t see any shops open. Want to come back to the bar and ask somebody there for one?”

“In Czech? I only know hello and thank you.”

“There were German girls there who spoke English.” She frowned and stood up. Her time alone with the moon and her book seemed sacred now that it was being interrupted. They walked together in silence along the quaint, narrow cobbled streets of Prague.

The below ground bar felt warm after the cool night air. She smelled the distinct, hopsy smell of beer, and momentarily felt connected to pubs and parties and fireside card games in other chapters of her life. A man wearing a muscle shirt with a large tattoo of a skull and cross-bones on his upper arm turned towards them as they descended the stairs, pointing and laughing. The bar was crowded, and Karmia looked down to avoid making eye contact with its inhabitants, who all seemed to be turning towards her. Keean put his arm around her. “Potty?” she whispered. “Didn’t go,” he replied. The muscle shirt man touched her face, smiled and said something she didn’t understand. Keean translated: “The Lady in red is here.” Karmia disengaged herself from Keean’s arm, ignored the man and edged towards a hopeful alcove, where she nearly collided with a petite waitress in a purple woolen mini-skirt bearing a drink-laden tray. Her legs were particularly beautifully formed, and clad in golden fish-net stockings. Karmia glanced at her face. She had merry eyes which were crinkling into a grin. Connecting with another woman, even awkwardly and randomly, felt comforting. “Do you have a tampon, perchance?” Karmia asked. She appeared either not to have heard, or not to have understood, and pushed Karmia out of the way with her free hand. She bumped into a barstool with little buttock-shaped indentations carved into its seat, and sat down. She curled her bare feet around the railing at the bottom of the bar. They were very sore, and glad she had stopped standing on them. On her right, long, shiny, neatly cut brunette hair brushed against her arm. She tapped its owner’s shoulder. A large, rectangular face adorned with scarlet rouge and lipstick turned to face her, very close. “Do you speak English?” Karmia asked. “Yes,” replied a deep, gravelly English accent. “Have you a tampon?” The scarlet lips pulled back into an open-mouthed smile. “I wish! Haven’t got quite that far yet. But I’m on the waiting list!” One blue eye winked at her. Another face appeared behind the first, and a manicured pink nail dove into a plastic green scaly purse. “I have!” exclaimed a slightly lower voice of similar accent. Karmia felt something pushed into her hand. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she yelled.

The bathroom tiles felt cool underfoot as she clasped the applicator tampon, neat, white and sterile. Sitting on the toilet seat, she tore open the wrapper and angled the dry cotton against her wet skin. A small blood clot fell into the toilet, shifting the water and fragmenting its reflection of her smooth body lines. She pressed the applicator inside herself and out again, without touching her body. She didn’t look at the toilet paper she used. She felt distant and removed from herself, as if the tampon were a buffer between her body and her life. At the sink, she washed the lipstick off her face and neck, and looked in the mirror at her new, pale self. The patches of lipstick which wouldn’t come off reminded her of the tears on the moon’s face.

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