Words || Jodie Ramodien
A long black hair had appeared on her chin. With silver tweezers Gina yanked it out and examined it. It was springy and tough, unlike the indiscernible soft hairs that covered the rest of her face. Like a dark rash other hair had began to spread across her body over the months, growing more thickly on her forearms, under her armpits, and on her legs. A stab of pain under the flesh of her stomach caused her to drop the tweezers in the sink. Deep breaths, she murmured to herself. Accompanied with the appearance of the hair was a strange pain that had started in her abdomen. It would strike at unexpected moments, crescendo into hot agony, and disappear without a trace. Its confusing infrequency and short interludes had led her to the decision not to see a doctor, not yet anyway.
That familiar pain started to spit in her stomach now. She clutched the porcelain sink, almost expecting it to crack. Her nails, long and elegant like talons, scratching the surface. After several minutes the pain dissipated. Shoulders hunched, she shuffled out of the bathroom and into her room. Her mum had ironed her uniform and placed it on the bed. Pulling the fabric on roughly, she readied herself for school.
“It changes you, the stuff that happens there, everyone comes back different.”
Aisha yelled over the noise of the school quadrangle at lunch. She said the words with a carefree grin and a flick of her artificially straightened black hair. Confidently knowledgeable of things she knew nothing of.
“Different how?” Gina laughed.
“Take Susanne for example,” Aisha began, “remember Susanne before camp?”
Before-camp-Susanne had an uninspiring appearance; a flat chest and a face full of acne.
Gina raised a brow and glanced down at the barren wasteland that was her own non-existent breasts, “what’s your point?”
“Well, now her skin deserves its own Neutrogena commercial,” she gave an exaggerated sigh, “my point is, this camp will change us, for the better.”
Gina chuckled. “Is Samir excited?”
“Excited is an understatement, I was thinking, you and Samir can swap tents, I’ll spend the night with Samir and you can share with Ben.”
“Oh.” A puff of air escaped her. She hadn’t considered that. Ben. Her boyfriend. It still felt weird to say. Ben was one of those people who was just—a lot. He was what she liked to call ‘astronomically inclined,’ and was a little extra about science in general. In his spare time he read books written by Stephen Hawking and spouted out Neil Degrasse Tyson quotes like; “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Right now he was walking toward them with such fast paced fury that it made his neck fat jiggle. He shoved the glowing surface of his cracked iPhone into their faces. Some sort of peer-reviewed article was open on the screen.
“Ah Ben, what am I looking at?” Gina asked.
“It’s called ‘the Lunar effect,’” he began quickly.
Aisha put her hand up, “hold up, take a breath, what’s this now?”
Ben took in an exaggerated breath, “According to—”
Their laughter interrupted him. Any lengthy argument that they had with Ben began with the words ‘according to.’ According to Carl Sagan, according to Alan Turing, according to science!
He continued, “According to this article on the night of the full moon shit gets crazy, just like, generally, people act weirder than usual.”
“Bullshit,” scoffed Aisha.
“What does that have to do with anything anyway Ben?” asked Gina.
“The first night of camp is scheduled to be a full moon, who knows,” he paused with a weighted glance in Gina’s direction, “maybe something crazy will happen.”
She smiled, taking him in for a second, his shirt religiously tucked in as usual but his tie sat askew.
“Maybe,” she chuckled, “and yes to that thing you asked about Aisha,” about them swapping tents.
Throughout the conversation with them her stomach had been roiling. She started to get up while Ben demanded, “what thing did Aisha ask?”
“I’ll be back,” she yelled over her shoulder as she ran to the loo.
“What thing?” Ben yelled back.
A week later they were at camp. The images of bacchanalian debauchery and chaos that Aisha had placed in her mind were replaced by pimply teenagers standing together in small herds like deer. A camp counsellor with a patchy beard and blonde man-bun oversaw various activities like fencing, rock climbing, and abseiling. The most action she’d gotten so far was when Ben’s sweaty hand had held hers in a game of unravelling the human knot.
A soup of male pheromone, perspiration, and body spray, mixed in the air and seeped into every nook and cranny of the campgrounds. The ungodly heat of the midday sun intensified the smell to new heights. Yet its blistering rays were comforting. The sun had always been a watchful friend of hers, its gaze clear and benign, unlike the confusion and blindness of the night. Aisha and Ben kept giving her knowing grins as the shadows lengthened; Aisha having finally let him in on their tent swapping plans. The hours sifted through her fingers like sand, and before she knew it, it was night.
“Gather ‘round campers,” yelled camp counsellor Jerry.
Everyone moved a millimetre closer. The embers spit and crackled, the bitter musk of smoke filling the night air. Marshmallow-sticks fenced each other for a place in the fire.
Jerry held a weak flashlight under his goatee and began to tell the ritualistic camp horror story.
Gina’s attention wavered in and out.
“Once upon a time there was a girl… wandered out into the woods… he was mysterious and darkly handsome… he transformed… slavering black chops desperate for a taste of her innocent flesh… never heard from again… some say her ghost haunts these very campgrounds.”
A chorus of disbelieving grumbles followed, one kid yelling, “we don’t get wolves in New South Wales!”
Another camper offered a story that more or less began and ended in a similar fashion.
Gina mumbled to her friends about going to sleep early and slipped away. Unzipping the tent, she laid on the inflatable floor-liner, an impractical device as she could still clearly feel the sharp bite of rocks and sticks underneath her. The raucous screams of horror and laughter coming from the campfire eventually died down leaving only the sound of her heavy breaths.
Ben snuck into her tent. He rustled about loudly, stripping off his shirt and lying down beside her, jostling her slightly.
“Hey,” she murmured, to let him know she was awake. All day he’d been spouting facts about things. Did you know that kangaroos need their tails to stay balanced? Did you know that Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting? Did you know that too much nutmeg can be poisonous?
“I’ll poison you with nutmeg,” she grumbled under her breath.
“What was that?”
She usually found his behaviour endearing but tonight, she felt furious. Inexplicably furious because he was acting no different from usual. Now, everything he did was annoying. His loud breaths annoyed her.
Ben threw an arm around her and pulled her to his bare chest. Her face was pressed against little puffs of curling brown hair. Within minutes the cuddling became unbearable. The heat of the day lingered into the night, their hot breaths filling the small space, and their closely pressed sweaty bodies increasing the torment. Ben seemed not to mind. His hand had started at her knee and begun to journey upwards like a venturing scout. She slapped it away.
“I just want to sleep,” she whispered into the silence, “I have a stomach ache.”
“Right! Got it! Completely understand!” his voice burst loudly in her ear, and he quickly retreated to the furthermost corner of the tent.
It wasn’t a lie. She could feel deep in her gut the early whispers of pain. By some miracle she fell asleep before it hit its peak.
Gina awoke to pitch black and silence. Something was clawing at her stomach walls, a demon perhaps, growing inside her and slashing gleefully at her tender innards until they became a bloody mush. She drew her knees to her chest, rocking and rubbing her stomach in a repetitive motion. Her fists clenched so tight that red half-moon circles appeared on her palms. The blood caking under her nails.
Her clothes were pasted to her body with sweat, smothering her, she tore them off in a fury.
Remembering Ben, she reached out to reassure herself of his presence. Instead her fingers touched a sticky copper smelling substance, blood.
With shaky hands she unzipped the tent, pushed herself through the opening slit, and stumbled out into the night. Naked and covered in blood.
Running into the woods, leaves and branches whipped out at her, cutting her skin. Breathless, she arrived at a clearing and fell to her knees. The moon leered at her back, its white light illuminating the area.
“Gina,” a voice said from the darkness.
“Gina, what the fuck,” came the same voice, which she now realised was Ben. Though she didn’t turn to look, she knew he was clearly baffled by her nakedness.
“Stay away,” she cried out.
“What are you on about?”
“The moon is full, I won’t be able to control myself with you.”
“Oh, right,” he paused, “I’m totally on board, I’m just gonna take a quick piss—is that blood? Are you—”
He paused again for a long moment.
“Right, of course, I’ll grab you a girl.”
Minutes later Aisha appeared with some clothes and slapped a piece of cotton shaped like a bullet in her hand.
“Ben told me what happened. I got you girl,” she said with a wink.
Gina held the strange object up in the glowing moonlight, wondering how the hell she was supposed to insert the thing.
An hour later, Gina, Aisha, and Ben, sat in a triangle formation inside the tent. Aisha had discreetly taken care of the mess, which essentially meant scrunching up the sleeping bag and shoving it in its case. Gina’s mother would be in for an unpleasant surprise on laundry day.
Ben was the first to break the silence.
“You know Gina,” he began solemnly, “periods and the moon have a long standing historical connection. Your mistake was understandable, sought of…”
He whipped his phone out, turned the internet data on, and began expertly reading from Wikipedia.
“If you look at the etymology of the word, ‘menstruation’ is derived from the Latin word for month, which is also related to the Greek word ‘mene,’ meaning moon.”
“Are you trying to mansplain menstruation to me?” Gina cut in.
Aisha chuckled at the panicked glance Ben shot her, responding with, “You’re on your own. I want to see how this plays out.”
“Any more facts you’d like to tell me, Ben,” Gina spat out his name like a passive aggressive full-spot. She was sticky, sweaty, and wearing a glorified diaper.
He wasn’t the most socially intuitive guy, but even he sensed a trap. With the hesitancy of a delayed pause he risked uttering the fact: “Technically you can have sex on your period. It actually helps with the pa—”
An inflatable pillow smacked him in the face before he could get the last word out.
Note: This story is not sponsored by Libra.