Rachel waddled down the dirt path to the port-a-potty and flung the door open. The smell slapped her in the face and escaped with such force she actually stepped out of its way. Trying to ignore the tears she could feel welling in her eyes, she perched tentatively on the urine-soaked seat and locked the door in front of her. The sun shining through the turquoise plastic gave everything a bit of a green glow so that even her tanned, downy legs looked alien.
The thing Rachel hated the most about summer camp was the portable toilets. Last year, one of the geeky kids, Michael, got trapped inside one by a group of boys, and remained imprisoned as they tipped the whole thing over sideways. Legend has it, poor Michael nearly choked on a turd and the blue liquid in the water dyed his skin and he stayed that shade for weeks.
Rachel shuddered as she recalled the tale of Michael, and focused her attention back to the matter at hand. She took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and pulled down her shorts and underwear. She stayed that way for a second, eyes clenched tight and praying. She knew that this could be the exact moment when she changed from being a child to being a woman and she wanted to remain a child so badly.
‘Shit.’ Rachel stared down at the mess of gore in the crotch of her panties and fought back the urge to scream. She had never seen more blood than a grazed knee could produce and this was a gruesome scene. Even the lace along the borders of the leg-holes was crimson.
‘Mom was right, she’s always fucking right,’ she said to herself as she packed her underwear with layers and layers of horribly cheap toilet paper. Just before Rachel left for the summer, her mom approached her with what, at the time Rachel assumed were pillows for her teddy bears, but upon closer inspection were giant sanitary towels.
‘You might need these this year, honey. I got my period around your age.’
‘Ew, mom, I’m fine. I won’t need them.’ Rachel pushed her mom’s offering away as she rolled her eyes. But now, stuck in the Camp Pisim version of hell, she was cursing her own foolishness.
Finally confident that the toilet paper piled in her underpants would stay put, Rachel opened the toilet door and was assaulted by the full fury of the sun. She stumbled out of the plastic stink-box covered in sweat, gratefully gulping down big portions of fresh air as she made her way to the nurse’s office.
The nurse wasn’t someone Rachel ever had cause to meet. In her three previous summers at Camp Pisim, she’d never had so much as a headache. Now, she had to go shake this woman’s hand and ask her for menstrual advice at the same time. Rachel’s face flushed at the thought as she stepped inside the shockingly cool room which caused goose bumps to emerge all over her bare arms and legs.
A round woman with red hair and a huge smile hurried towards Rachel. ‘You OK, honey? You look kinda pale.’ She placed the back of her hand gently on Rachel’s clammy forehead. ‘Oh dear, I could cook a hotdog on you,’ she led Rachel to a white folding chair and motioned for her to sit down.
Rachel could feel the tears in her eyes again as she shook her head. ‘I can’t sit down, Ma’am, there’s ah…something in my shorts.’ One tear freed itself from her eye and lazily rolled down her plump cheek. She tried to catch it before the nurse saw, but she wasn’t fast enough.
‘Oh! I think I understand, of course.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘Come with me.’ The nurse took Rachel’s hand and led her to a room in the back of the office with an examination table, a sink, a large scale, and lots of glass jars filled with cotton balls and tongue depressors.
‘What’s your name, sweetie?’ The nurse produced a sucker from her pocket which momentarily distracted Rachel from the humiliation of the situation.
Rachel unwrapped the green candy and without making eye contact replied, ‘my name’s Rachel Cohen. I’m really sorry, but I don’t know what to do.’
‘Don’t you worry, hon,’ the nurse’s smile remained fixed on her face. ‘It happens to us all. We’ll get you sorted out in no time.’
By day three Rachel was starting to get the hang of things. The pads her mom sent overnight express from home were huge, but both the nurse and her mom assured her that she could participate in all the usual camp activities, even swimming.
The nurse advised she wear a pair of boxer shorts over her swimsuit to hide the indiscreet bulge, but due to the conservative nature of the camp, it wasn’t unusual for the boys to wear t-shirts and the girls to wear shorts while swimming in the lake.
Rachel got changed into her new swimsuit and after sticking a monstrous pad to the inside, pulled on a pair of the boxer shorts she usually slept in. After checking herself out in the mirror, she concluded that with the shorts on, no one could tell what was underneath. So, she strode out to the beach and jumped into the water.
One of the boys started a game of Marco Polo and everyone swam frantically away from the elected Marco, who was blindly trying to catch all the surrounding Polos. By the time it was Rachel’s turn to be the seeker, she’d all but forgotten about the water-logged mattress between her legs.
She thrashed around the lake, lunging and grasping at slippery limbs and grabbing fistfulls of air. A cacaphony of giggles filled her ears, until suddenly everything went quiet. ’Marco,’ Rachel called into the silence and then someone screamed.
Rachel opened her eyes to see everyone pointing at something, shouting and trying to get away from it. From where she was standing she could just identify her dislodged sanitary towel, floating towards them, bobbing about like a bloated corpse on the surface of the lake.