Dirty Red Questions by Kathryn McMahon

Dirty Red Questions

When I am ten, my uterus sits away from the rest of me, making demands. Asking questions.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy I have one, it’s just that sometimes I’m not. When my belly bloats, when my body isn’t mine for a few days a month. Well, it’s mine, but I bow to it literally. Roll right up into the fetal shape I was not long ago. Will I bleed and bleed until I rust?

I try, and fail, to ignore my uterus.

I don’t know why anyone ever thought a uterus could float beneath a body’s skin ceiling. If mine did, what sights it would see! It would sit in my throat and judge the world, squeeze my vocal cords and shout unspeakable things. Since it can’t wander, but wants to, maybe it has invisible fallopian tubes that aren’t tubes but tentacles reaching out. A teuthidian kidnapper and me, held hostage to stinging suckers in my knees and lower back, in my shoulders and digestive tract. In the commercials, blue liquid pours over a pristine pad. Not blood, but a detergent, as if a womb is for dispensing spare cleaning products. Who has blue blood? Octopods. Maybe off-screen there is an octopus with her arms cut off, bleeding blue pulp. Either that or a human in a room without oxygen struggling to breathe.

I make suspicion of myself into a habit.

I never wear white even when I am not menstruating. White is an invitation for stains and smudges. For yellowed armpits when exertion is to be pretended against. In that story, men perspire, horses sweat. Women bleach. Women dance. Women sigh through clouds of white tampons and white pads — until underwear plays victim to secret crime scenes. In that story, uteruses are serial killers on a monthly rampage. It’s not a mystery; it’s an inside job. A cover-up by cult leaders. Don’t expose the dirty red truth. Make believe that a round belly exists only to bestow potential on others — until the contents spring loose and the attacker strikes again.

I don’t believe in that story even though I forget and tell it to myself.

In college, I have a friend who is trans. He was born with a uterus. People think he’s such a caring boyfriend when he is simply out buying tampons for himself. He wants to bear his own kids. I think of seahorse fathers when I think of him.

But how do you know you even want kids?

I get my first craving for motherhood when I am twenty-five. The desire to reproduce becomes a drug. A pragmatic bisexual, for a few years I only date men with useless nipples. These are not relationships, but experiments. Trial and error. Alone, I puff out my belly and rub it, desperate, but not too desperate, to fill it with something besides food. Behold, my phantom pregnancy, my haunted uterus. Wanted: a future ghost.

Ten years later, the effects of the drug have faded.

I sit on the toilet and there in my underwear is a jewel. A ruby. What is this a heist of; an egg? I bring it to the doctor. A cyst. When I ovulate, my right side ticks. How do you say biological clock in Latin? My ovaries sit like almonds under my skin. If you have them, you can feel them, though we are never taught to search for these long-lost twins who still somehow communicate in code. Little origin stories of chance and circumstance who hold covert meetings with the moon, though they are often late to their own appointments.

My uterus is now a pressure cooker. Should I fill it?

I taste an answer flavored with the umami of age. I steam into a monster of want and I want a delicate neck and chubby, chubby thighs and toes to nibble. I feed this want into my stories. Holding the bowl of my stomach, my wife and I conspire. One at a time, we will both carry our children, but she is two years younger than me, so I get to go first. If I can. No, no what-ifs allowed — for now. Standing on the threshold of the unknown, I pull her to me and kiss her, press my forehead to hers. We dreamspeak of men whose only want is to be used for one precious thing. What will it cost them? Us? It’s not just the money. What rights will we need to protect? What choices will we sign away? What will it take to make our child safe? What will it take to keep my stories flowing? Under a blue sky, hot as blood, I ask, what must I trade for my firstborn?


Dirty Red Questions


Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared here in Jellyfish Review and in places such as Syntax and Salt, Wyvern Lit, Cease, Cows, (b)OINK, The Baltimore Review, Split Lip, and Necessary Fiction, as well as in two anthologies: Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up to No Good (Upper Rubber Boot, 2018) and Pirates & Ghosts (Flame Tree’s Gothic Fantasy series, 2017). More of her writing can be found at darkandsparklystories.com. She tweets as @katoscope.


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Image: Danny Silada