Mama says real women bleed. Between their legs just as much as the blood being pushed through their veins. She says real women wear tampons. Pads for emergencies. Both when their allergies get bad and they gotta sneeze. Mama says real women get caught foolin’ but doesn’t say what “foolin’” means. Only that Aunt Tessa got caught and got the belt and, when she bends over, folks can still see grandad’s buckle stamped on her legs. Mama says real women work, like her and Aunt Tessa, before any foolin’ happens. That real women know how to treat a man so he’ll cover up, though she doesn’t say what that means either. Real women aren’t afraid of the pain and, mama says, there’ll be pain at first but I’ll get used to it. Some women like the pain while some, like Aunt Tessa, never learn to. I ask mama if that’s what foolin’ means and she says no. Says that foolin’ is what got me my cousins, Rochelle and Azriel. What she means is Aunt Tessa likes to love real women. Not like loving mama and me and her babies. But the women she takes to the back of our trailer, letting them trace grandad’s belt buckle brandings with their tongues. Mama says that, now I’m a real woman, I can ask them to do that to me too. I ask who “them” are. She says whoever I want. As long as, if they’re men, they cover up so no foolin’ happens. I ask if I have to see “them” like she does and she says no. Then she says yes. Just not as often. Real women make sacrifices and she tells me sacrifices are food and clothes and this trailer and these babies and, since I’m a real woman now, I have to help with all of that. Real women know how to keep quiet like Aunt Tessa leading another real woman to her room. Like mama holding hands with two men and leading them to her room. A man comes up behind me, rests his hand on my shoulder. He says something I guess real women like, but I can’t figure out what his words mean. He offers me money, like I’m a real woman. I listen for my mama, my Aunt Tessa, try to hear what real women sound like, then remember real women get real quiet behind closed doors. I unzip my pants, but I don’t pull them down. Peek inside my underwear, make sure the man can’t see. Check if I’m still bleeding, like real women do.
K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her flash has been published in a variety of places, including Good River Review, HAD, Waxwing, Bending Genres, and No Contact and have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Her story, “Soba,” was included in the 2020 Best of the Net anthology and her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at kbcarle.com or on Twitter @kbcarle.
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