Red memory

I must have been six when my mother took me
with her one Saturday to market, when I first
witnessed how blood could run down her legs
like water from a spigot then thicken like paint,
congealing as it dried. It wasn’t till later
in life I understood where it began or why
she suffered so from unabated periods.
That day, lips pale and knuckles tightening
their hold on me, frantic, she flagged down
a passing jeepney and begged the driver
to take us home. A day later she was in
the hospital for a hysterectomy, a word
I heard my father say but did not understand
yet either. All I pieced together from talk
overheard was that her insides had been
scraped and parts tied up— with what?
I couldn’t imagine: twine? ribbon? yarn?
sewing thread? and that the doctor
had thoughtfully thrown in an appendectomy
for free. When we visited her they showed me
a sealed transparent vial of brown glass,
where the appendix floated like some dead
grey fingerling in a bit of liquid.
Her legs were clean below the plain
starched blue of the hospital gown:
they bore no trace of viscous crimson
branching toward the sidewalk, pooling
in her shoes. And I’ve never liked
the smell or color of red since then.

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