about the author

Melissa Pheterson received her BA from Cornell University and her MA in journalism from New York University. Currently, she is a freelance writer of health and lifestyle content for local and national media. For a recurring feature on restaurants, she invites chefs into her home to guide her through the re-creation of a meal featured on their menu, despite her fear of knives and heat. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local synagogue’s museum of Judaica. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Bacopa Literary Review, The Healing Muse, Jelly Bucket, JewishStoryWriting.com, Jerusalem Post, Louisville Review, Oklahoma Review, Talking River, Wild Violet, numerous Gannett News Service publications, on the Web sites Salon.com and iVillage.com, and in the anthology Have I Got a Guy for You. She received two honorable mentions for magazine articles from Writer’s Digest.

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Labor Day

Melissa Pheterson

She had provoked fate, finally, by wearing white pants to a red-eye. It was Labor Day Monday, and the flight back to New York was delayed just as her period decided to arrive. After five days of nuzzling with her friend’s baby boy, eight months of waiting patiently to bleed so she could time her cycle, and two years of marriage, Erica’s body jolted to life while waiting to pass through the metal detectors in Seattle’s airport.

“Brian,” she said, shifting her carry-on to hide the bloom on her underwear. “Brian, I’m bleeding.” Her voice and hands trembled.

“Does that mean—”

He gave her a jerky high five. “That’s great. But sh-h, they won’t let us on the plane if you talk about blood. Do you have a what’s-it-called?”

“I’ll buy something.”

“It’s midnight. Do you see any stores open? You’re as oblivious as your dad.” He squirmed under the weight of his laptop case: a burden, she thought, just like her. His voice wanted to rise, she knew; it chafed hoarsely against his whisper.

“Maybe we should, you know, stay,” she said. Her eyes dropped to the carpet, a confetti pattern of orange and red exploding onto waves of blue. She traced the confetti with her eyes.

“And call Nicole to come back and pick us up? And after you threw up in her car?”

Brian, in college, had insisted on reserving a seat for his backpack, lest it collect too much floor dust.

“I always throw up at my time of the month,” she said, amazed her insides still knew what to do after the self-denial that had surely tampered with, disabled, or destroyed them. “And we don’t need to bother Nicole. We could leave, get a cab, check into a hotel.”

That won’t look suspicious.” He took her bag and plopped it onto the conveyor belt as she squeezed her thighs together, biting her lip. Every hair on her neck stood up. “Please, please, please,” she mouthed.

“Stop looking so nervous. We’ll get kicked off the flight.”

“Oh, no-o-o-o,” she breathed, drawing out the “no” because she could not, for the life of her, snap or hiss. “And you’ll get kicked out of Princeton.”

“I’m back in school for our family. The family you want to start.” His yell was condensed under his breath as he handed her the bag.

Erica felt wetness spread in her pants and felt queasy again. She was going to spout from every orifice, a hazard to security, the laughingstock of the plane. Each time she heard a loudspeaker sputtering to life, she thought for sure it would say: “Will Erica Finley please find a tampon? We can charge your father’s credit card if your husband can’t afford it.”

Her father’s love was so fierce that it wouldn’t be fair to the karmic balance of the world if she didn’t suffer, at least a little bit. So she shuffled on board with legs glued together, stuffed the airline’s coarse blue blanket onto her lap, and applied her left temple to the frigid glass pane, a shock of cool that felt good.

Brian, now relaxed in his seat, stroked her hair. “Babe, I just wanted to get us home. I didn’t want the TSA harassing you. They’re morons.”

She meant to squeeze his hand, but squeezed her legs instead.

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