The Red Line


I’m bleeding. I’m actually gushing. Panic sets in. I feel the adrenaline shoot into my nervous system from my right and left side like double fired sidearms. I realize how much farther I must go before I can change my underwear or at least my pad. I switched purses this morning last minute, and now the extra pad I so desperately need is safely in the purse at the bottom of my bedroom closet. 

My period usually starts out a lot slower than this. Never all at once, or so fast. I wasn’t prepared, which is very unlike me. It’s July and I’m on the Red Line. Some people understand what that means without any explanation. I’m heading to a job interview that could change my life, my husband’s life, my children’s. There are the usual train zombies but an unusual, oppressive heat. It’s been ninety degrees all week. I’m sick of the sunshine. Today is no exception. My expensive outfit and blowout have long since wilted, my makeup is melting. I’m waving the white flag before the battle even begins. No, I have to get to this interview. I mentally urge the train on and watch the doors between cars, expecting something to happen, except it doesn’t. I keep thinking of the Walking Dead and wonder what it is about trains that always makes me think of that show and catastrophe. 

To get to Cambridge, I have to go through all stops, the whole way. I ponder if I can superwoman jump out at South Station, grab a pad from the station bathroom and jump back on the Alewife line and still arrive on time. 

I do it. I get off at South Station and beeline it to ladies’ room which smells of humid marijuana and human sweat. The tampon and pad machine is empty. Fuck. I sit and let myself breathe for a moment on the toilet in the tiny metal stall. I can feel the thick gelatinous clots just sliding out of me, there’s no end to them. I look back into the toilet bowl and it’s a crime scene. I desperately try and clean up with wads and wads of toilet paper. I wonder to myself how I can still be alive and upright with this much blood just pouring out of me. I imagine one of those old-fashioned glass milk bottles like we used to get delivered to my house when I was little, but full of blood and I’m not sure why. I can see through the lock hole another woman who is braiding her dark thick hair in a hurry and speaking in an African language into her precariously balanced phone on the sink, which is on speaker. Whatever she is saying back to the person on the other end, I can tell she is having none of it. Better not ask her, I tell myself, she seems like she has her own shit going on today. I do what I can with the soaked-through pad and run back to the Red Line to grab the next train. 

I get to the interview with fifteen minutes to spare. I run for public bathroom number three of the day, hoping it is stocked like I keep the women’s bathroom at my current job. I do it as a courtesy for my students. A basket full of tampons and pads, breath mints, body spray and dental floss, a small comfort in someone’s day. Nope. Another empty machine. I feel the anger inject into my veins. I try AGAIN to clean myself up as much as I can. The blood has flooded into the thigh folds of my 147-dollar new black pants, and I am so beyond thankful that I wore the black pants instead of the white this morning. It was a very close call. Both sides of my hands are covered in blood, and I’m delicately dancing with a free roll of toilet paper, so I do not show up in my elegant white shirt covered in blood smears, looking like I just knifed someone on the train. A group of giggling college students enters the bathroom. I think to ask them, but for some reason, I just can’t, it’s exhausting to even think about. They are all wearing super short denim shorts and tank tops as if it was a uniform. There is no way any of them are carrying a tampon. There's not enough fabric to hide a pad anywhere. I hold the door for an overheated young mom on her way into the ladies’ room, two sleeping one-year-olds in a double stroller being carefully wedged through a too-small doorway. Their barefoot little feet peeking out from under a blanket. Only after the door closes do I visualize her open diaper bag. I seriously think about turning back and asking her for one. But I don’t. Am I the type of person to rob a young mom of her last diaper with twins? Turns out I’m not. 

I sit through coffee with a man who is no joke, seven feet tall in an outdoor café with white metal furniture. I cross my legs and smile trying to hide the discomfort. I can only see his outline against the glare of the sun. He asks if I am up for a short walk and a tour. Sure, is all I can fake, I’m deep into my acting reserves. He is extremely nice, but the tour ends up being 11K steps by my watch’s calculation. One of his strides equals three of mine. 

Next, I’m sitting on a silky beige cushion on the rooftop deck restaurant of the Charles Hotel in Boston. We are having lunch outside in the heat for some reason instead of inside, with gorgeous air conditioning freezes the place. I’m facing an alpha female, my potential future boss. I’ve never had a lunch interview before. Eating in front of potential employers has got to be high up there on the intimidation tactics of interviews. I’m starving but I sit like a stone, not moving or shifting. Holding myself together. I feel the blood spout every ten minutes or so and pray that whatever is left of the absorption in my pad will prevent it from ruining the cushion I’m sitting on. A bee lands on my chicken club. She watches in horror and seems surprised by the fact that I don’t jump and swat at it. Fuck you, bee, is all I can think. I take two bites, I don’t eat the side the bee landed on because there’s silent judgment to see if I will eat the infected part. There are no pads in the hotel bathroom, even though my lemonade cost twelve dollars. 

It's Friday afternoon, the train home is flooded with too much human suffering. I know I am absorbing it. No one can bear to look at each other. Most just want to get home after a long week of work and take their armor off. I tip my head back against the window and let my sunglasses fall onto my face. I close my eyes and join the avoidance. It’s ridiculously hot. My hair, skin and clothes are drenched in sweat. I taste and smell my own salt and metal. I cradle my uterus with my right hand and guard my backpack with my left. I let the train rock me into a semi-conscious stifling trance. 

Eight hours after I left my house this morning and still wearing the same pad, I am finally safe in my own home bathroom. I strip everything off, clothes, underwear, makeup, and jewelry. I cup the cold, crisp water from my faucet and suck it down. I flood my face with it and throw it over my shoulders, let it roll down my back and in-between my breasts. There’s a loud knock on the door. I hear and see the doorknob turn from the other side, but I locked it. It’s one of my teenage boys. Mom, I need you in the garage. Can you come please? Mom............... you ok? You coming? 

I sigh and pat my face with a soft, clean towel. Yup, give me one minute. I wait to hear the heavy footsteps retreat. I can tell he hesitates. I throw a navy-blue towel on the newly tiled floor and kneel to wipe the blood from the white grout from where I was standing in front of the sink. It will stain permanently if I leave it. I sit back against the sharp coolness of the bathroom door. The cold steel makes my arm hair stand straight up. I close my eyes for one second and breathe in the cool air. Then I stretch to wipe the blood off my thighs and feet. I mentally remind myself to write thank you emails later. I write the letters TY in blue pen on my thumbflesh and head to the garage.


Julie Alden Cullinane is a poet, writer, artist, and mom from Boston, Ma. She battles ADHD every single day and tries to channel it creatively. Her poetry has been published in Chapter House and Red Wolf Periodical. She has several forthcoming poetry and short story publications set for May 2023 release. She currently works in academia while pursuing admittance to a Ph.D. program and/or creative writing teaching opportunities. Besides writing, she loves being a mom to her two boys and dog and is hoping to someday escape to the woods to live and write away from society and any loud noises.