"Why you looking so red-faced? You saw Mrs. Jeremiah?" Next morning, I was thinking about Mrs. Jeremiah and all that she had said when I overheard Mrs. Maingot talking to Aunt Tassi. Apparently, Joan's friend had come. "Thirteen is early," I heard her say, "but when the curse come early, what are you to do." Looking out where the two women were speaking on the steps, I wondered who this friend was and why she was a curse. At the window I said, "I wish we could have visitors. This place is always so dead." The two women turned and looked at me, and then they looked at each other and burst out laughing. "Oh Lord," Mrs. Maingot said, and threw up her skinny arms. "Celia really is a strange child! Where she came from, Tassi?" Aunt Tassi looked at her as if to say, Yes, yes, I know just what you mean.

It was only later when I heard Angela Hernandez telling someone how the blood poured out of Joan like it came from a bucket that I realized Joan's friend was in fact her period. All that afternoon I wondered, If Mrs. Jeremiah is right, when will that happen to me? So said so done: three days later I woke with pain in my stomach. It was a new hot ache that wrapped itself around my lower back and middle. When Aunt Tassi came in and told me to dress for school, I said I was sick and showed her my bloated stomach and the brown patch on the sheet which looked like I had spilled cocoa. I must have looked unwell because, just as Mrs. Jeremiah said she would, Aunt Tassi said I could stay home from school today, but only today because I would have to "get accustomed to that pain like all women do in the world." When she said this a chill rushed through my body; Aunt Tassi didn't seem to notice. Sitting on the edge of my bed, she said that I must now be careful because I would be able to have children and before I knew it men would be coming around and I must know to push them away.

"Just now you having a baby and you're still a baby yourself."

"Like my mother."

"Yes, just like your mother."

"And like you too."

"Yes, just like me."

Aunt Tassi got up and went into her room and came back carrying a piece of white thin cloth. She folded it once, twice, three times, until the cloth was a fat little rectangle. She told me to put this in my panties to catch the blood. When it was full, not too full, because it would start to smell bad like an old piece of iron, I must put it to soak in the outside sink and hang it up on the line under the house.

Reprinted from Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange © 2009 by Amanda Smyth. Published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. $14.00

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