Leni Zumas print version
On the day after my appointment, I am starting to bleed and the river is swelling up over its banks. Water so high it drowns the cypress trunks. Only the branches can breathe. Swamp trash hurls up onto the sand -- limbs, logs, bones, paper -- tiny shipwrecks along the shore. Floods are common here, but this is a bad one. Conner is on a job in another county so I am alone in our house in the crazy rain.
I am standing by the sink washing off one dirty towel after another. As fast as I can stuff them under my dress, they get soaked. Itís been happening all morning and I think about calling Doctor Kane. At my appointment he told me he cared about those less fortunate.
He said, "Your people live in misery and squalor. Iím just doing what I can to help."
His face was flour. His hands were sponge. He held the instruments gently. My sister said the same thing after her exam -- that it hadnít hurt, barely at all. My friends from the gas company, from the bar, also like the doctor. Thereís never been a free clinic like his. Iím not sure if it is free for white girls, but if one of them was broke he might give her a check up, too.
I am watching the road from the window. Ambulances pass, and some fire trucks. Itís been raining for a week with no sign of halt. I wonder if the house could wash away. The blood is trickling down to my ankles getting my socks wet.
I am calling the good doctor. "Doctor, there is blood all up over my floor."
"An abnormally heavy cycle," says he. "You girlsíve got a lot of blood in you, Iíve noticed."
The good doctor is hanging up on me.
It doesnít hurt, exactly-just a warm, sliding feel, like somebody leaving for good.
Stains on my legs. I throw the soaked towels out to bleed in the yard.
By afternoon I am crunched in a swaddling bed on the couch. Every scrap of cloth in the house is tied around my seeping body. The space behind my forehead has been carved away.
I call my sister. Isnít home -- couple of friends in town. Not home. I am starting to forget everyoneís number. I tell the operator I need an ambulance. She says there arenít any -- what with all the drown victims.
"Call your local clinic," she advises. She is hanging up on me.
Next, I consider the cops. People like us donít call the police. The police have a bad track record. They arrest our boys for the white boysí mischief, bruise and beat confessions from us, stop our cars on the highway and haul us in for DUI because we, as a race, are all alcoholics.
I try to speak into the receiver, but itís snaking out of my hands. "Yes, please, thereís been something done to me." I am being put on hold.
I explain about the good doctor. The police officer is laughing.
"Talk about your ungrateful savages," he says before hanging up.
I am falling asleep. The television, turned up as far as it will go, cannot keep me awake. The couch is red all over, and I think Conner will have to get a new couch after Iím gone.
When I wake up in a freezing white room, the rain has quit and a little shaft of sunlight is dipping through the window. I feel my stomach, my thighs-cold and papery. The skin shivers like itís going to collapse.
A woman walks in who is not a doctor. Sheís dressed in normal clothes. She asks if I know what has happened.
I say I donít have any blood left in me.
She says, "No, not exactly."
She says that I will never have a baby. She says a pernicious crime has been committed and asks if I am willing to be interviewed. She talks about other documented cases-a conspiracy of genocide.
"Twenty-three women sterilized and thatís only what we know of."
Itís hard to understand her-how she talks-sheís from a different place than here and her words come out so fast and flat, I ask her to slow down. The empty swimming space behind my eyes makes it tough to concentrate. I rest my hands on my stomach and donít feel like crying or anything else.
"Let me get this straight, he told you it was a routine gynecological?"
By the time I am ready to leave the hospital, the woman is done with her interviewing. She promises to call soon and says I might be required to testify in a court of law.
Conner comes with the car. He holds my shoulders and keeps his lips pressed tight together. He has brought a bag of sandwiches, but Iím not hungry. He says he understands and I tell him heíd better be prepared to understand a lot more than that.
Our yard is a shriveled sea of towels, sheets and dishrags. We dump them in an iron barrel and light a match. We burn the couch, too. For a long time after these things are gone, the smell of hot blood and scorched cotton hangs in the air.
* * *