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It was the winter that I had spent bleeding, attuned to no particular rhythm. Sometimes my period would come on twice in one month, or last for four weeks instead of one. Or, in between spells of bleeding, I would find rust- colored specks in my underwear, or else what seemed like rivers of blood, dark and sticky as blackberry jam. Mostly, it hurt only a little, a pain I could store in the back of my mind and ignore. Sometimes when I was on my feet all day I would feel woozy and cold, and when I went home at night I’d lie awake for a long time, wondering as I turned from my back to my stomach whether there was some position that might keep me from waking up with blood staining my sheets, like a marriage bed visited by an incubus. I took iron supplements. Eventually, I went to a doctor.
At this time, I was working in a store that sold expensive perfume, where I knew I had been hired mostly for the way I looked, tall and dark and pretty in that way that seems fragile. All day I caught glimpses of myself in the mirror, straight and ephemeral as the first black bud of a crocus. When women came into my shop I made myself into the shadow of their younger selves, black-clad, admiring, and with men I was something between a daughter and a lover and a decorative vase. There’s something about being ornamental that inspires trust. My body was a kind of magic trick that I was playing on the world—here are the high firm breasts, the teardrop face, bird’swing hands, eyelashes lying like a fringe of silk against a marble cheek. I often had the sensation that I was looking out through an armored mask. Fucking, even, through a layer of some kind of slick and nicely cool and slightly stiff plastic, and [End Page 142] if I could figure out how to shuck it off I’d be able to get at the inner truth of things.
Obviously, fucking with decorum is a little bit difficult if you never know when you’re going to start bleeding. I dealt with this, mostly, by pretending it wasn’t happening. I usually carried a disposable menstrual cup with me, in case I started bleeding at work, and it served me equally well on dates. If it was properly inserted, men could rarely tell that it was there, and any residual blood could just as easily have been the result of vigorous sex—which might make someone feel virile or guilty, depending on the sort of person he was. I was mostly seeing men I didn’t intend to see more than twice, so my partner’s reaction rarely bothered me.
Even when Roman, the first night I slept with him, snagged the edge of the cup with his finger—it was a particularly bloody day—and released a gout of blood that looked fairly fatal and immediately soaked into one of his pillows, whatever reserves of embarrassment I ought to have felt remained inaccessible. I cleaned up in the bathroom, and when I came back I sat down beside the bloodstain with my legs curled under me and said that I hoped he had a spare set of sheets. He was lying where I’d left him, contemplating the stain as if it were a contemporary painting that he couldn’t quite figure out the appeal of. He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Any other surprises up your sleeve?”
I thought, My sleeve?
I said, “Not at the moment.” His hands were streaked red. The next time I saw him, he kissed me on the cheek and said, “Good evening, Lady Macbeth.”
I had read Shakespeare in school and acted a bit in college productions—although never in Macbeth, the drama department favoring comedies, or the tragedies that had a romantic arc, Hamlet and Othello, never Macbeth or Lear. I had assumed that what made Lady Macbeth unnatural was her coldness, her dryness, the fact...