Taryn Marie Harbert is a writer of short stories, and is currently working on her first novel, Because I am Sorry. She resides in Chandler, Arizona with her husband and the furry companionship of three dogs and two cats. Taryn’s favorite writers include Joan Didion, Kurt Vonnegut, Carson McCullers, and Stephen King. This is her first publication.
A Short Story
By Taryn Marie Harbert
The blood woke me. I felt the wetness beneath my body as I rolled away from her. It was warm and I panicked, briefly wondering if I had wet the bed. I instinctively placed my hand onto the wet spot. Aside from its warmth, it was thick. I knew immediately it wasn’t urine. I pulled my hands from the cloak of Sarah’s bed sheet, and despite the shallow light from the night sky, I could faintly make out the dark liquid that blemished my hands. I turned my hand over in astonishment. Awake now, I realized I could smell it. It smelt of copper and something else. It smelt of Sarah, the smell that stained my body when I entered the deepest parts of her. But the smell was bittered with her blood. Something was wrong.
I rose from the bed and ran to the door to turn on the light. Sarah groaned and emphatically pulled the sheets over her face. She grumbled something inaudible beneath them. I ran to the bed, pulling the sheets away. I saw the blood pool around her bottom as if she had birthed something. I looked at her with concern.
“Sarah, are you okay?” It was a dumb thing to ask. Clearly she was not, but in my shock I could think of nothing else to say. She pulled the corner of the sheet from her eyes, looking at me exasperatedly.
“Of course, I am,” she said, pulling her body to a seated position. “What-” her words hung in the air, unspoken and unnecessary. She pulled her left hand up to see the red smear of something gone awry between her legs. She followed the red to the sopping bed sheets. Her brows lifted, her jaw agape. Her face filled with dismay and a very sudden, very tremendous sadness that I did not quite understand. A sound came from her, as her mouth hung open. It was a squeal, similar to the kind a door hinge makes that needs to be oiled. I stood there waiting. I don’t know what for, I guess I thought she would be able to explain what had happened. In the end I found out she knew all along, but was too crazed by her sadness to do so.
“We need to get you to a hospital,” I said. When she didn’t move, I went to my side of the bed, pulled my shirt and pants on, slipped my sneakers on, then pulled her bathrobe from the corner banister of the bed. I pulled the bed sheets still gathered around her waist, and swung her legs outside of the bed. I pulled her by her waist and she stood. She continued to hold her hand out, following my guidance like a robot. Staring at the blood with that infuriating sadness. When I synched the robe around her waist, I noticed something else in the bed – a dark, small mass. It looked of flesh that bore such a dark shade of crimson red it could have been mistaken for something black. In a moment I understood what had happened. And as I guided her through her house and into her car I began to understand the kindling of her disparity. She had been pregnant, and the remains of that pregnancy which had once been a stirring of life inside of her, was as much my flesh as it was hers, now lay upon the stained sheets like something to be jettisoned. I don’t know why she didn’t tell me. And I didn’t know what was more disconcerting: her inconsolable fright, or my relief.
They said it was a common. It was nothing to be embarrassed of. It had passed from her body in the night while we slept. As if unsure she had heard them or understood, they again emphasized how common these things were. They said she should rest. And in a few months, she could try again.
She was silent on the car ride home. I rested my palm on her leg to bring comfort to her as we drove, but I don’t think she realized I was even there. She continued to stare out the window, unphased and unaware. I sat her down on the couch while I left to change the bed sheets and when I came back she had fallen asleep. I carried her into the bedroom, wrapping her up.
She never wept, not that I ever saw. What she did was worse. She never said a thing about it. She spent her sorrow in a quiet way. Sarah, who says nothing over dinner. Sarah, who doesn’t shower. Sarah, who shuffles the food around on her plate with a fork until it is cold. Sarah, who stays in bed until five in the afternoon. Sarah, who doesn’t answer questions. Sarah, who looks at you without really seeing you.
There was a haunting in her womb. The vessel from which women are able to birth a life beyond their own. A place for seeds to grow. There was something foul there. Her soil did not understand how to grasp. The roots pulled themselves from her earth like a plague.
When a man feels inept, it is a matter of mending a situation. A man who had lost his job. Who had lost his family. A man who can’t provide. These are things that can be mended with time and with effort. Fallen men can easily be put back together. But when a woman, whose one wish in this world was to have a child, is unable to do so, there are no words that bring her back from that. There is no phase that can remedy the frail house of a woman, who has betrayed her true nature. She believed it was her purpose. It was the one thing she couldn’t have in this world and yet it was the only thing she wanted. I tried to love her. But I couldn’t fix that. There are things love cannot fix. I could not heal her. In the end, it killed me too.
One day, I stripped her down naked and put her in the shower. I turned the water on, and as it hit her bare body she did not move. I waited to see if she might come around, and when she didn’t I did the only thing I could think to do – I joined her. I shed my clothes and stepped into the shower with her, adjusting the water that had gone cold. I moved slowly around her, as if to show her I meant no harm. I took a wash cloth, lathered it with soap, and I began to wash her. She was a statue of herself. I moved around her body gently, and when I was done, I quickly cleaned myself. It was then that I noticed the red at my feet. The water running a tinted pink and red current that moved around the pads of our feet. I saw the red float into the drain. I looked at her, seeing the red that fell from between her legs. She was bleeding, and I, being a man who knew nothing of the female body and all its ways, fell short of words.
She moved, the first movement she had made of her own accord in weeks. She placed her hand between her legs where the blood continued its slow stream. When she pulled her hand away, red with the pomegranate blood of her body, she began to weep. Soon her weeping turned to a wail and I did the only thing I thought I could do to console her; I held her. She wrapped her arms around my body and clawed her fingers into my back. I let her. I held her tighter. Her body bucked forward and back with her violent sobs. I heard her voice, the sound was affirmation of life. It came from her parted lips like a savior. We could begin again. Here was a place I could help her heal. Her sound being the only affirmation of life that I needed. To hear her was to know she was still capable of living. Not yet buried in the sorrow of her miscarriage. Which as it turned out, had been her fourth one.
A woman’s body is a story of blood. We all come from it, floating down the river of a woman’s crimson tide until our lungs open and we burst into the world. For men, it is a blood we do not understand. It is the secret of women. Their penance brought to them from the stories of Eve. It came in a river plaguing adolescent limbs. The body shedding within itself in self-preservation. A fever of the pelvis, unraveling in a delicate cycle, unwinding itself.
This is how women shall repent for their sins
It comes in a red velvet ribbon, sewn from within them. Like clockwork, she had shed her own crucifixion; bleeding for the children she could not have.
Still, the river ran through her.
What had killed her, sent her into her silent madness, was when the blood didn’t come. When even her penance had refused her. A resilient silence echoed from her womb. Her quiet battle; every day she stepped into the bathroom praying for it to come. For weeks she waited, a prisoner of her menstrual clock. Revived not from the one who seeded her, but from the relief she felt, when the crimson tide finally did come.
Bleed, she begged in her silent brooding, bleed.
I imagine women who weep at the sight of it – the red stain on their panties.
Another reminder that she cannot give him children.
Is she not the martyr of bearing? She said it was not the first time. Her body a bud for fertility, which had spit out four bodies before they could begin their flounder. Life intending to remind her every few weeks, of the penance she would be forced to pay, for the life she would never be able to create.
We remained close, but were never together after that. I had seen the undercarriage of her story and while I loved her anyway, I knew it was time to walk away. Love is an astounding experience, but I wonder if, too often, if it takes more than it gives.