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Natural Bodies by Gemma Elliott

I had never been particularly interested in my period until three events occurred in the same week: I

got dumped, I lost my job, and I bought a menstrual cup in a burst of uncharacteristic environmental

friendliness. It took a while to get the hang of the insertion (which method to use; flower-fold, half-

fold…?) and the removal but I had time. After hours studying YouTube videos and sticking an

exploratory hand up my vagina I had it down. Through the week-long menstruation I became more

and more curious about exactly how much I was bleeding each day, making sure to check the little

volume marks on the side each time I emptied the cup carefully down the loo. I was getting used to

the shifts in colour and in texture. I briefly worried that the clots were little unfulfilled babies that I

had unknowingly miscarried; the last trace of my ex-boyfriend, I concluded, whether or not they

were real. The period petered out to nothing, and so I made sure to follow the step-by-step

instructions for sterilising the cup, which involved boiling it on the hob. We only had three pots in

the flat, but this was vitally important, so I sacrificed the least non-stick one to the menstruation

goddesses and stuck a post-it note – 'PERIOD POT' – on it to warn my flatmate to avoid.


Twenty-nine days later and I was still unemployed and still single, although I had bookmarked

several job postings and I had swiped right on several men but not made any moves on either front.

The period tracker app I half-heartedly use alerted me that I was about to start bleeding once more,

and almost instantly I got that tell-tale ache in my lower back. The one that seems to come from

nowhere and everywhere, an unearthly pain. The menstrual cup is not particularly fussy about

whether you're actually bleeding or not when you stick it up there so I used it like a plug to stopper

the forthcoming tide and got on with my day of lounging and worrying. At bed time, when I was sure

my flatmate had gone to bed and wouldn't accidentally witness any of this, I squatted in the

bathroom and Kegelled the silicone cup out of my vagina and into my hand, making sure to break

the seal with a pointed finger. Squelch. Pulling it out, perfectly upright lest anything tip out, I found

not the expected 20ml of womb gunk but a single white feather. I have a goose-down cushion on the


sofa, so I supposed one could have got stuck to my hand when I was putting it in and taking it out?

And I guess it was possible that my period could be late? Maybe the fictional baby hadn't miscarried

after all. I rinsed the cup out and plopped it back up for overnight protection.

The next morning though, the cup was filled to the brim with these feathers, brilliant white,

perfectly fluffy with not a hint of vaginal discharge on them. I left the cup out this time and

proceeded to scroll through internet forums about odd stuff people find up their fannies or put

there themselves. The world is a weird place. There were lots of doctors with vaginal horror stories,

and a few people with feather fetishes, but no intersection of the two. No virgin befeathering. I had

been prone all day, with Netflix in the background to distract me and nothing to eat or drink, so the

first time I got up was hours later and I felt the feathers tickle their way out of me to gather in my

sensible black period-proof underwear. I scooped them into the toilet, making sure they all flushed

away, and forced myself to sleep. In the morning there weren't any feathers, nor any menstrual

blood, just a single white egg, snug against my crotch. I guess I had been pregnant after all.


. . .


She has always had long hair and she has always shed a lot of it. It sticks to clothes and soft

furnishings and clogs up the vacuum cleaner. It is kind of like having a dog, only lonelier. It's not that

she's a hugely hairy woman (although of course she has been depilating and plucking and bleaching

and whatnot for decades now) but rather that she moults constantly, without somehow going bald.

A previous partner had bought a lint remover to smooth over his suits before going to work,

unsticking every trace of her from him. She used to do that too, sometimes, defluff her clothes, but

now she just doesn't go out very often and lets the hair attach itself on to her wherever it likes. In

the summer months she hangs her washed clothes out in the shared garden to dry, and that’s when

the hair can actually be useful by fluttering into the wind to be repurposed into a bird's nest.

Hopefully.


She has a favourite armchair, where she reads her favourite novels. Sometimes she runs her hands

through her hair as an act of comfort in this chair, and so its soft fabric often has a coating of her all

over it. One afternoon, at a tense point in a mystery novel, she notices a course hair sticking straight

up out of the chair's upholstery. It's uncomfortable and a little jagged so she pulls but it doesn't

budge. Tweezers don't do the job either, not even the expensive ones you can send back to America

for a free of charge sharpening service that can usually grasp even the finest of unwanted chin tufts,

so she simply repositions a cushion and adjusts how she sits. The next day there are more hairs,

almost growing from the chair. They're definitely her hairs though, identical in texture and colour,

with the scent of her favourite argan oil conditioner. None can be pulled out, so she trims them,

carefully, with nail scissors, making sure not to snip the worn fabric of the chair. But that just makes

the ends rough and scratchy and she throws a blanket over the chair to hide them. Still the hairs

spike through, like unshaven legs through tights in the winter.


Within days the chair has hair to the ground, bouncing and curling and in need of taming. Just like

hers. Stroking the chair gives her similar comfort to when her mother would do the same to her as a

child to ease her into sleep. Brushing it might evoke more of her mother, she decides, the good

memories from before it became her father's job to roughly braid her hair for school, and so she

starts to style the chair. Using a detangling brush, the one without a handle that makes her feel a

little equestrian, she sorts and separates, smooths and softens. She rubs hair oil through the lengths,

she trims the split ends, she makes a pet of this beast.


Originally published by The Babel Tower Notice Board 2020


Gemma Elliott (she/her) lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and works in local government. She has most recently published short fiction in Neon, Crow & Cross Keys, and Truffle Magazine. Gemma can be found on Twitter @drgemmaelliott.

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