Series in Cerise: Vignettes on Menses

by Padideh Aghanoury

“Just use a tampon,” said Lindsay, my high school swim coach after I told her I couldn’t practice. My mom…won’t let me. She’s Muslim, I explained, hopeless that this suburban white woman could possibly relate. I was the only person from a Muslim family on the team. I quit swimming by senior year.
Act like a woman, my mother demanded when I wrestled with my brother or yelled in the yard. Dress like a woman, my classmates teased as I came to school dressed in board shorts and band T-shirts. You’re a woman now, my dad said comfortingly as I groaned and clutched my abdomen, my cyst-ridden ovaries twisting into themselves like a sponge being wrung, congealed blood and tissue and potential life squirting out of my body, choking back nausea as I quickly learned the art of swallowing six Advil at a time. 
Each month I dug through the trash to tuck away soiled pads to spare my brothers the bloody horrors that splattered the pantiliners. My mother would point out that I smelled, that it was improper to show any sign, even in the trash, of one’s bloodshed, and what about my poor brothers? They couldn’t stomach the smell, they couldn’t stomach the sight of blood! My mother believed men should be spared knowing what having a vagina really means. I guess it ruins the illusion.

by Amanda E.K.

An upturned cup of blood into the bowl. Bright red or dark. Filtering through water like food coloring, spilling into canvas-worthy shapes. Take a picture? Don’t be silly, that’s obscene. Stare into the bowl to see the Rorschach shift. Flush away. Wash hands and cup. Reinsert. Wash hands. Dry.

. . .

Monthly Bleed as Metaphor for Releasing What No Longer Serves: 
Shed: malice and mistrust / fear of loss, fear of death / resentment / jealousy, envy, insecurity / self-loathing and self-pity / panic about the future / sensitivity to rejection / rage, aggression, agitation / grudges, gripes and griefs / secrets & shame / bad habits / wanting what you cannot have / self-denial / avoidance of responsibilities / selfishness and pride / self-defeat & self-destruction / self-deprecation / indulgence and restriction / false stories that we tell ourselves
Then: Cry if you need to cry, no shame. Scream if you need to scream. Throw punches at the bed. Then here’s what you do next: Forgive yourself. You’re learning and you’re growing.
Release. Release. Release.

. . .

Rivulets running down my thighs. Kaleidoscopic swirls between my feet and trailing down the drain. The blood that’s meant to cradle life, washes off my skin like so much dirt. I catch some in my hands and spread it on my cheeks and arms and chest. What a lovely color. Red like poppies. Red, the hue of life.

. . .

She buckles, her pelvis in knots. A moan escapes her lips despite herself. Not one for self-pity. (The doctors say it’s normal. It’s common to miss work from cramps.) Not pills, not pleasure nor heat packs can dissipate this pain. The word that no doctor voices—the word that would make so much sense: endometriosis. 

. . .

In the theater, a rush of warmth between your thighs. Not arousal from the love scene on the stage. A tablespoon of freshly shed and pooling blood. The play has only just begun. No replacements in your purse. For two more hours: you are a grown woman, in public, sitting in your blood. 

by Shelby Yaffe

My mother doesn’t know that my menses is synced with the rhythm of the moon, doesn’t know that I regard my blood as holy, would not approve of the rituals that I steep myself within.
I was twelve years old—the heat of late summer crawling along my skin as I discovered that I’d become a woman in one miraculous rush of blood. My hands shook with some kind of ecstasy as the witch within me awoke, rose up from my small body to wash the sticky red from my hands in calm silence.
That night, my mother took me to go bowling. “Get in the car,” she said. “We’re going to do something fun.” She’d decided that this was the best initiation ritual: a pitcher of Dr. Pepper, soft pretzels so salty they burned our lips, and a game that I loved but never won. I felt seen and special in the spotlight of her singular attention. I was aware, and still am, how lucky I was to have my body’s changes celebrated instead of swept beneath the rug, shushed, shamed. And though my rituals are now my own, it was my mother who first welcomed me into womanhood as though it was a home.

by Addison Herron-Wheeler

*This is an excerpt from “The Ceremony,” a story from Addison’s forthcoming collection, Respirator

I didn’t want to become a woman. To have to iron, clean my dresses, give up my dolls, start looking for someone to court. I didn’t feel like doing any of those things, but I thought that when I first bled, somehow I’d suddenly want all of it.
“This part of the Ceremony is secret,” whispered Elize, the Ceremony Director, when I met her at the end of a long, blue hallway filled with the sound of a thousand voices.
I knew that I was about to be privy to something only the women had seen. Not the girls, the women. I felt a dampness between my legs that meant it was already time to change the garment. No one had told me that the blood actually came out like bleeding, like a wound. Or maybe, I wondered, the fear and excitement made it come out more. Maybe this was part of The Ceremony.
I pushed open the door before me, and screamed.
The walls were smeared with blood. The stench was awful, but the images on the walls were worse. Women being burned alive in front of laughing men and women. Women having their privates cut. I squirmed and turned away. 
“These are our mothers, and this is in memory of what they had to suffer,” said Elize. “We come here to remember, to let their pain become our pain. Use your blood, take your rag, and wipe it on the wall as a sign that you understand.”
To the shame of my foremothers, I didn’t complete the ritual. I couldn’t breathe. I swayed, losing balance, losing sense. I fell to the ground before Elize could catch me. 
The other women gossiped that Elize didn’t like children—why she did the Ceremonies, and it showed on her face. Clearly, I was still a child, not ready to be wise to the ways of the old world and accept that we can save ourselves through some ritual act. 

Padideh Aghanoury is a freelance writer, visual artist and DJ. She was born and raised in Denver and graduated from the University of Colorado, Denver in 2018 with a BA in Writing. When she’s not writing about music, she enjoys painting and dancing to disco records. 

Amanda is a writing instructor and a longstanding member of the Knife Brothers writing group. Her work has been featured on the Denver Orbit podcast and on Mortified Live. She has stories in Suspect Press, Birdy, Jersey Devil Press, the Punch Drunk Press Poetry anthology, and Green Briar Review. She’s currently working on a memoir about her sexual development while growing up in evangelical purity culture. Follow her on instagram @amanda.ek.writer

Shelby Yaffe is a queer author, poet, and singer-songwriter living in Denver. She will always read third at events and she will write a poem for your girlfriend (if you pay her). Her short fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several magazines, blogs, and anthologies. You can find her and all her published work at

Addison Herron-Wheeler is editor of OUT FRONT, web editor of New Noise, and author of Wicked Woman: Women in Metal from the 1960s to Now. Her short story collection, Respirator, is forthcoming from Spaceboy Books.

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