Long after everyone else had fallen asleep, I lay awake in bed with the covers tucked under my sides and pulled up over my chin. Faye and Winnie slept together on the trundle, backs to me and curled together like spoons.
Ripples of moonlight waved on the ceiling, reflecting off the surface of the bucket water right outside our window. I concentrated on the rhythm of the movements and tried to find order in the patterns.
I pretended I were a mermaid, deep underwater, and the lights were rays from a summer sun, guiding me up from the dark, cavernous depths. If I swam long enough and hard enough, I'd finally reach the surface and catch my first breath of fresh, sea-misted air.
A new kind of pain ate away at my insides. I'd never hurt down there so badly. Not even when Curtis Gilbreth kicked me square in the crotch with the sharp toe of his cowboy boot because I whipped him at keepsies and took his steelie shooter. When that happened, Mama said I needed stitches but I cried so hard she couldn't get me out of the house and into the car to go see Dr. Shaw.
This was worse. There was so much blood. So much I thought I might not wake up if I went to sleep. The only pair of panties that fit me right were now soaked and stained with blood and pee and stuffed up into a tear in the bottom of the boxspring, like Rachelle's butterfly.
I couldn't seem to get dry, either. I came home sweating and nauseated.
"What on God's green earth took you so long?" Mama fixed a hard, heavy eye on me.
I drifted through the door, dragging my feet across the rug. "I needa lay down," I said.
The pinch between her eyes relaxed a little; she bent over me and touched my forehead. "What's wrong, Madge, are you feelin' all right? You look flushed…you don't have a fever, though. Where are you hurtin'?"
I shook my head. "I'm not hurtin', I'm just tired, and I feel sick to my stomach."
"Well let's get you in the bathtub."
I lingered in the hall outside the bathroom while Mama drew my bath water. She paused and stared at me, probably trying to decide whether or not she should call Dr. Shaw.
"You gonna get undressed and get in?" she asked.
"Mm-hmm," I said. I tried to sound convincing. "I have to go Number Two first." She seemed satisfied.
It took me an eternity to peel off my clothes, like trying to pull off a BandAid from a bad, scabby scrape. Every muscle in my body ached, my bones wanted to fold the way they were when I was born.
It took even longer to get up the courage to sit down in the bath water, and when I finally did, it hurt as bad as I thought it would. Once I was in, though, I wanted to stay in, and I would have if Mama hadn't come to get me after everyone else was done with supper.
There in bed, the damp sheets clung to me under my quilt. Every now and then, when a sharp pain stabbed through me like a skewer through a shrimp, my spine went straight as a rod. The sheets shifted, and an fresh edge of wet cloth stuck to my skin.
I grit my teeth to keep from crying out. So far, I'd done well to keep my distance from the rest of the family, but if Mama worried too much and took me to Dr. Shaw after all…. I couldn't think about that.
So I watched the water on the ceiling and tried to find where I was at the beginning of the day. Then I'd sew together two edges of time where a stained piece of its fabric had been torn away.