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Iron Deficiency

I wonder how the body knows it’s ready to feed another life. Does it even get a choice to be ready?

Fiction | Flash Fiction
March 25, 2022

The following piece contains references to intimate partner violence and self-harm. Please take care while reading.

I am trying to bleed out my period. What are you, stupid? Lee says. I don’t listen to him. I don’t listen to people who eat the white membrane of pomelo because they’re too lazy to peel it off, or who chew through chicken bones because they’re soft enough after a few hours in the Instant Pot, or whose first thing they say when your animation debuts on YouTube is “I don’t think it works” and parts of it are “distracting” and “wrench” you out of the narrative. Strong words like that. In one ear and out the other. 

Menstruation requires iron, so an iron deficiency should stop it. If I lay my body out and cut a few slits and let some bits of me trickle away, I expect my underwear to stay nice, clean, dry, colorless next month. The science makes sense to me. Last week, Lee found some leeches in the river behind the neighborhood. He said they secrete hirudin to prevent blood from clotting, keep it flowing, and I thought it’d be nice to have something like that, get all of the blood to flow right out of me in one go. A onetime period sort of deal. Lee told me these leeches have jaws to pierce skin rather than push into it, and I wondered if this means it’ll hurt more. Lee was all that’s disgusting, they smell like seafood, let’s go back and watch The Office. I happened to like seafood. When I crouched down to pinpoint a leech willing to come home with me, Lee whacked the back of my head. Stop it, he said, pulling my jacket hood. I shrugged; there were other ways to lose blood. We abandoned the leeches. 

I stare at the back of Lee’s head. He’s watching K-pop videos. The singers look like high schoolers, their limbs like bendy straws draped in pale tissue paper, their faces curved and soft with just enough cheekbone that they look young but not chubby. I head to the shower, toss my clothing on the bed, stand under the showerhead as I turn the water on. I bite my tongue when the cold hits me. As the water warms, I scrape at my skin. Under the old cells are the new. I scoop out the softness from between my legs, grate down my hips with a nail filer, sand down my chest, fully exfoliated, more corn husk doll than woman. 

Lee says he likes my breasts. I’m not sure what there is to like. They’re not big enough to fill his palms, not small enough to forgo a bra, just masses of lobules and ducts and hollow sacs, and you’re supposed to feed babies through these linked networks of alveoli. I wonder what they’d look like, sliced at the cross-section, mammary glands in action. I wonder how the body knows it’s ready to feed another life. Does it even get a choice to be ready? What if it’d rather revert into its husk? In any case, I’m fairly certain Lee is lying. The K-pop idols and anime girls on his posters and computer wallpaper have no breasts, flat as the pool table Lee bought for over one thousand dollars and used only once. I think about slicing off my breasts with one of those expensive mutton roll slicers they use in hot pot restaurants: thin, individual cuts of meat falling and curling onto a plate, like freshly rolled wrapping paper. Lee spends more time looking at the no-breast girls than he does at me. 

I’m going on a walk, I tell Lee after showering. The glow of the screen lights his face. He looks like some kind of god. I take the long path to the river, winding between sycamores whose vibrant red leaves look black under the setting sun. The short path follows the sidewalk beside the main road, a path the kids take to the bus stop. I avoid crossing paths with kids, even though I know they shouldn’t be out right now. 

My sneakers squelch across the mud as I near the river. Water soaks the tips of my socks. I squat and shine my phone at the water. Soft, muscular, segmented bodies glisten under the LCD screen. The leeches resemble blobs, liquefied Pokémon Dittos, like someone had melted several earthworms together and let them sit under the sun to dry and harden into a single, lopsided mass. I already have bad circulation to my hands and feet, so plunging my hand into the freezing water doesn’t feel much different—maybe a slightly stronger numbing sensation. I pluck a leech with my index finger and thumb. It comes off the rocks easily, and I’m surprised how easily it can be displaced. I pluck four more leeches, cupping them in my hands, feeling them move against one another, against my palms and calluses. 

Lee is already asleep when I return. I hear his snores as I open the bedroom door slowly to prevent the door from creaking, although I’m not sure why because I already know he sleeps through all the times I get up in the middle of the night to stare in front of the bathroom mirror. I toss my jacket to the floor, pull off my pants, and climb under the covers next to him. I place one leech on each of my breasts, one at my navel, one on each of my hips. It starts with a needle prick and then their anesthetic kicks in and I watch them swell, doubling, tripling in size, undulating against my skin. Look at them go, I want to tell Lee. Slowly but surely sucking out a lifetime’s worth of periods. No more sore breasts or days without sex. Maybe all of my pubic hair will fall out too. Might take a few more leeches though. But he snores so loudly that he probably can’t even hear my whispers.