Chapter Eight – Time After Time
Jay started bleeding when she was eleven. She panicked as children ought do when they start bleeding from orifices.
“It’s your period. It happens,” mom said, then gave her pads to stick in her panties. Information beyond that meager: “Don’t flush them down the toilet and don’t waste them because they’re expensive.”
Jay went to Natalie’s house for the summer shortly thereafter. Unsure and reluctant to tell anyone about this new predicament, she kept her silence. Her mom didn’t give her pads to take with her and didn’t tell her Aunt. Nat hadn’t started her period yet and Jay wasn’t gonna ask Aunt for pads; they barely had enough to live on with two more mouths to feed; Jay didn’t dare burden her with this. Natalie introduced Jay to tampons later when Jay started living with them full time. Since they didn’t have an indoor bathroom, Nat was unapologetic about changing them in their bedroom right in front of her much to Jay’s astonishment. They were the tampons without the applicators so she had to really push them in. Meanwhile, Jay looked on in awe and curiosity. She found such casual boldness refreshing and galvanizing compared to her mom’s puritanicalism who, when asked about tampons, gave Jay such a scathing look that suggested Jay asked her if she was a whore. She got the impression from her mom that a period was something to be embarrassed and ashamed about; that something was wrong with her; that they shouldn’t really talk about it unless they absolutely had to—like sex. There were no discussions in school about this curse as her mom called it. Not when Jay started. Apparently, she was an early bleeder so there wasn’t really anyone to talk to about it.
In the ensuing years, she learned very little about women’s body and their periods. There was a discussion on those antiquated contraptions that awkwardly hold pads sans undies—a gadget so bizarre looking Jay thought they put it on all wrong. The entire subject was sharply dismissed and any knowledge she collected was on her own. Since there was no internet, the info she got was scant and unreliable. Later, when she started the red wave at Nat’s house the following summer, she used her clean new socks as pads and dropped them in the outhouse afterward. Sixteen separate socks did her for the entire summer. Towards the end, she went without on her feet. She mostly wore cheap Kmart flip-flops or went barefoot anyways. She was a light bleeder starting out so nothing embarrassing happened when she went unprotected while swimming. It was a dirty brown creek after all and not a pool—she assumed there were far worse things floating in it.
Jay concealed her so-called curse and lied about losing all her socks when she got home, which earned her the typical rebuke from her mom.
Her mom was the quintessential passive aggressive, emotionally manipulative, narcissistic parent that started all of her sentences with I this and I that, which ultimately ended with her blaming Jay and her baby brother for how awful a person she was. They lived in a constant state of confusion over her mom’s nonsensical behavior and those odd lectures that made them feel like constant shit—that they could never make right her being so awful. Jay eventually wised up to her machinations once mature enough to realize how fucked up they all were—that and therapy. She didn’t know if her baby brother ever did. They weren’t exactly a close family.
Natalie—never a prude around her—wasn’t impulsive, capricious, or as rebellious as Jay was. Reserved, Natalie’s edges shifted underneath the guise of limits—cautionary aspects of her personality that Jay found fascinating and somewhat envied, but ultimately, far too tame. It didn’t surprise her when much later Nat became so… domesticated—a kind of soulless indoctrinated domestication that disgusted her; an automaton loyal to the patriarchy and submerged in an oppressive religious Christian subset like cult that gave women little freedoms and treated them like doormats—much more so than the typical. Jay only saw this later—afterward, so, she admits, she was probably biased from her anger and emotion where nuance failed to form more empathetic logic. She thought Natalie pure and authentic before that. Events happened and Jay never looked at Natalie the same again. She still didn’t.
The first betrayals are always the hardest and most damaging, especially when you’re already broken.
Jay used to keep an old Polaroid photo—the one with the hard backs—from the early seventies of Jay and Nat in diapers playing together in one of those plastic pools at her Maw-Maw’s house. That photo hurt Jay for the longest time. Yet, she continued displaying it. She almost burned it so many times, but ultimately decided to keep it around to remind herself—a memorial to what she went through and lost. One of those never again tokens. The practice of looking, remembering and the ceaseless never again mantra; a shibboleth she regularly failed in practice—like so many of her other relationships. She shrugged off the resilience of picking herself off the floor after so many failures, dismissing and categorizing it in the it me pile of so what.
With that memory came a host of others. They flashed in front of her purposely like she was programmed to relive them in detail repeatedly in real time with all the feels—the love, trust, reverence—the betrayal. Natalie was her best friend and cousin and they had shared everything.
How many relationships had Jay based on that? How many of those relationships ended in betrayal?
The memories of those shared experiences leaked all over Jay’s nice clean contempt and disdain. Then and now, those memories, and the emotions surrounding them, challenged her. She wondered if this experiment was meant to change them or her? It wasn’t about her though. It never was. It was about all of them, and their humanity that filtered out as they got older—that left them as shells of who they formerly were and are.
Or not. Wasn’t it? Right now, Jay didn’t really care.
Natalie expressed little emotion. Jay tried not to observe her too closely, but curious, Jay watched her. It’s not every day that someone drops a twist like the one she just delivered. Besides the gaping hole that pronounced itself when Jay first told them, Natalie didn’t emote so much as a whine nor whimper upon learning what Jay so unceremoniously and matter-of-factly dropped at their feet. Nat wasn’t stunned. Apathetic, she scrubbed any and all affect.
It was creepy.
Jay wondered if there was a flaw in Nat’s creation? Then again, she was a woman—they were socially programmed to de-emote on a regular basis. She dismissed it and admitted the only flaw was the one driving them to hide those emotions in the first place.
Tinta and Bian showed little surprise when Jay walked through the gate with her deplorable posse. Her posse, however, toddled through hesitantly then stood staring shocked—all except Nat.
The command deck was what Jay described as modernized steampunk—modernized being relative in light of the current date versus the origin date and locations. Slick black and dark grey surroundings while pale orange, blue, and pink lights bounced around the air expressly like programmed miniaturized drones. If one looked closely, the lights were symbols and controls purposely designed to navigate the ship and any necessary tech needed.
“I’m taking them to the observation deck and introducing them to Niko’s documentaries,” Jay told Tinta and Bian. ”Follow me.” Jay started out of the room. When she didn’t hear them behind her, she stopped and turned: “If you want to know about the future—and the past, follow me,” she informed them annoyed that she had to repeat herself.
Jay walked out. They finally followed—Cody the first; the others trailed thereafter.
The observation deck was like an IMAX-sized window-type viewing screen. Earth loomed large and sat like a grey rundown building in front of them. Jay instructed Truth, the ship, to show the twenty-first century documentaries. She did nothing. Jay then decided to gift them with more dramatic exposition: “The building of hostility and burning of anger along with the rumbles of war drums beat hard as the hate and rhetoric escalated long ago. When the bodies of people we loved started falling, we rioted. Anarchy became the new protest and civil war fell in line behind it. Sit and watch and bleed,” she informed them almost gleefully, smirking wishing on them the angst of what they wrought. She turned to leave.
“Where are you going,” Cody demanded.
Was he mad or scared? Or both? Jay didn’t care. “Sit down, wait here. Don’t touch anything,” she ordered and walked out.
The nanite-infused mist sanitized Jay from all the twenty-first century crap that infected her in the last twenty-four hours more so than the armband that protected her while on planet. Several months ago—was it months?—Jay talked Niko into letting Bian transport a butt-load of water on board so they could turn up the mist on their shower system, which wasn’t really a shower. Not truly. More like a very light mist—and not even that. Bian used a nanite filtration system to clean the water of any contaminants. She realized she could configure a system whereby refilling and refiltering was automatic via quantum teleportation. Niko tried it and never went back. She stood for an hour under the mist appreciating the texture and nature of the water as it slid over her nude body. Jay found her there in the middle of a bare observation room—along with Tinta and Bian watching. The pale colors cast her soft and sculpted features as something majestic and ethereal. The expression of wonder on her face remained as the water traveled over her. The window behind her was a tad smaller than the observation deck, but still large enough to engulf the room with Earth as a backdrop. And there Niko stood at the center sheathed in an invisible pocket. A heavy mist cascaded from an unseen portal above and around her. Had it not been such a breathtaking sight, she would have normally found it bizarre to see someone naked taking a shower in the middle of an empty room in front of such a large window.
Jay declined the subsequent dry and walked through the room wet and nude enjoying the cleanliness and being drippy without all the polluted grossness. Truth, however, would not stand for such untidiness within her walls, so she vaporized Jay’s pollutants back to its enclosure to be filtered and used again. Niko arrived shortly thereafter. She barely glanced over Jay’s pale wet, rapidly drying body.
“You brought them on board,” she leveled at Jay matter-of-factly standing inches from her face.
Hands on hips, Jay replied curtly: “Yes.”
“I believe some in-their-face truths will turn them.” Jay expressed this somewhat hesitantly.
“Has in their-face truths ever worked before now,” she asked, flatly articulating what Jay pondered earlier and knew from prior experience.
She sighed a ‘no,’ answering honestly.
“You’re authenticity weakens you,” she declared blithely.
Dejected and defeated by this statement: “It’s the only thing I have left,” Jay told her. She saw a spark of hesitation within her before it quickly disappeared. “I don’t know what else to do,” Shoulders slumped: I’m tired,” she replied.
Niko laughed; the sound harsh and stoked of ire—an ironic burn: “So what.” Obviously stoned and ever-so-snarky, she let out another harsh laugh as Cody walked into the room, her eyes riding his body like a storm then settled back on Jay’s only a more subtle slower peruse.
Her body reacted.
Cody stopped abruptly, averting his eyes, when he realized Jay was nude. Those eyes landed on Niko. His body went tight like a wire. The visual exchange between them was new, but so was this—wasn’t it?
Jay wondered what machinations their goddess brought to pass. Had this been their first foray into this type of confrontation—or no? Had Niko gone this route before? How did it end? She searched her memories for insight and found only voids. She continued to watch Cody and Niko, their body language as thin as a pin head drawn and fixed ready to fire.
Jay—again somewhat hesitantly—tittered awkwardly: “We’ve done this before, haven’t we?
Her sneaky side-eye confirming, Niko walked out without a word.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins