There wasn’t much blood at first. A smear, creamy and pink; then another. Then a vial of it drawn black from the pale blue place on my arm. Then it was the color of Valentine candy, smudged on the plastic condom covering a terrifyingly long transvaginal wand. Another dark vial, another smear but redder, and then the phone rang.
The midwife only said what I already knew, but hearing the word miscarriage felt like being disemboweled with a steak knife. Keith saw my look, took the phone. I fell across the bed, keening and pulling my hair like some caricature of biblical women, desperate to claw my way out of my skin.
That night we opened a bottle of wine we’d been saving for after, and drank it slowly on the couch. We went to bed early with our cats and our dead embryo.
In the morning there was a thick red stain on my pink pajama pants. I didn’t stop bleeding for twelve days.
Keith made the necessary phone calls to family and friends. He called the friendly dive bar where I worked as a nude dancer, and shouted over their jukebox that I wouldn’t be coming in for a while.
My brother was visiting us from out of state. At 18 he had no idea what to do with all this hysteria and so busied himself with long frequent walks to Dairy Queen.
Meanwhile, I bled out my being into thick pads that swished when I waddled around. I ignored my makeup. I stopped cooking. I wasn’t allowed to soak in the bath due to a risk of infection, so I took only perfunctory showers and let all my body hair grow wild. I could smell myself even after a shower, a dead bleeding dying stench compounded by rotten, sulfuric farts. I reveled in that stench, my mind full of Sylvia Plath poems and Nine Inch Nails lyrics and words like axe-wound and gash. I wanted to collect the black-red clotty mess that kept oozing out of me; I wanted to paint with it, on canvas, paintings of foul caverns full of dead things ringed with rotting seaweed.
Keith smoothed my hair and found me in my eyes. “You go wherever you need to go with this,” he said. “Don’t worry about upsetting me. Just go as deep and dark as you need to. But I need you back in five days, okay?”
It was exactly what I needed. Tethered to him on the surface, I gratefully dropped into a deep black trench inside my heart. I looked there for a place to bury my baby.
Soon I found that place and began a slow, hard swim to the surface. But disoriented in the dark, I lost myself. I had loved cooking and sex the way people love their children; now they were gone with my child. Without them, I was a puffy stranger. Rotting meat. What was I for?
The idea of having sex seemed horrifying, and the idea of enjoying it was ludicrous. Stripping was even worse. I’d become a stripper years before, when no other legal occupation could contain my ravenous libido, and it had become more a lifestyle than a job. It had taught me to love my body in all its phases, even to welcome my blood. But that was different blood. That blood had been a promise of life, a reassurance that I was full with the Divine Feminine. This was the congealed blood of dead things.
I stood naked before the mirror in our bedroom and couldn’t find a dancer there anymore. I only saw carrion: death-bloat belly, widened non-mother hips, face pale and hollow as rotted bone. Surely I would never again drag my stinking corpse onstage to bare my dark, dripping maw for strangers. I was thirty years old. I was done.
But after a few days, I missed it.
I grew so lonely and scared without myself that I suggested we all go to the strip club. Not the one where I worked, but I hoped I could find myself there anyway. My brother didn’t know I was a stripper, and he had never seen a naked woman before. There was a juice bar in town that catered to the 18-20 crowd, and we went there on Monday night. I sat farting in my baggiest jeans, leaking rusty goo into a pad as thick as a phone-book, while lithe teenagers opened their legs to reveal clean delicate ribbons of baby-pink. It’s a Girl!
My brother was transported. He fell into a blonde his age called Lily. That was my stage name too, but he couldn’t have known and I didn’t tell him. I was also besotted with her. I didn’t tell him that either.
We watched Lily from a table near the stage just behind a fat man in a hunting cap. She wore her body like a fine new dress and showed us all its details with a shy, proud smile. I farted again: week-old eggs in a Juarez toilet. First my brother noticed, then Keith; we all exchanged looks and glared at the man in the hunting cap, and when the smell failed to dissipate, we moved away from him to another seat. Lily didn’t go near him either.
The next dancer was a brunette with a big ass and a bigger smile. Some kid at the tip rail said something to her that we couldn’t hear; she made a retort that made all his friends laugh and throw dollars down. My husband was smitten. She bounced her big ass around while Keith stood at the rack, throwing dollar after dollar after dollar on it, both of them laughing together. He looked five years younger – like when we’d met and laughed like that. I ached with joy to watch him laugh, and with sorrow at knowing I’d never laugh like that again, naked and lovely, unsullied.
For Lily’s next stage set, I joined my brother at the tip rail and piled my money in front of him. She slid off the stage into his lap, her bright new breasts on his glasses, and giggled into the strobe light. After the set, I bought him a dance, handing Lily the cash for one song. He came back six songs later, putting away his ATM card with a stoned grin, glasses blurry and crooked on his face.
Visiting the Live Nude Girls was like going back for a high-school reunion. Once I’d belonged, and now I didn’t, but now others did and life went on. I had been pretty and soft like that, I had made men laugh like boys, I had drained their bank accounts with the power of my pink. It was a comfort to see that it still happened, that the world hadn’t changed. I had only gotten left behind.
I left my husband and brother at the tip rail and went to the bathroom to change my pad. There wasn’t a trash can in the stall, so I took the nasty one outside the stall and tossed it in the big can next to the sink. Lily came out of the other stall with a tampon wrapped in toilet paper and tossed that in too.
“You know what they say about us women,” she said. “You can’t trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn’t die.”
“If you can’t trust that kind of resilience,” I asked, “who can you trust?”
She nodded, thinking it over.
She offered a fist. I bumped it with mine.
“Lily solidarity,” she said.
I left the bathroom and stepped back out into the club. Everything was drenched with thick red light and the musk of sweat and sex. I couldn’t smell my stink over the musk. As I headed back to our table, I felt like I was walking in heels through the pulsing music. I fell into the middle chair.
“Hey, boys.” I kissed Keith on the cheek and squeezed my brother’s shoulder. “Who wants to go buy me a drink?”