Blanche and Orla don’t notice Laoise crying at first; they are engaged in lively debate about how much vodka a tampon can hold. They are standing guard on the pavement to allow Laoise to crouch between the bins and insert her menstrual cup; she’s wearing culottes the colour of pale rosé and the queue for the bar toilets was too long. I’ve always assumed that was the main reason you did Pilates, Blanche said to Laoise on their way outside. To give you the core strength to squat behind a bin and not get blood on your shoes.
Orla is convinced that one high-absorbency tampon equals one shot of spirit. Blanche is overruling her; according to Google, it’s only ten millilitres, maximum. Aye, it’s bound to be less for blood, Orla argues, because blood is, famously, thicker than water. Blanche points out that that much liquid would make a tampon lose its structural integrity. When they were given the Talk at school, Mrs Molloy told the class that they should never flush a tampon down the toilet because it would expand and block the drain. She demonstrated by dunking a Lil-Let in a glass of water and watching it swell like a blooming chrysanthemum in a Chinese flower tea. By the end of the lesson, tiny wisps of cotton had begun to detach and fragment. You could still go swimming with a tampon in, they were told; but Laoise never wanted to. She imagined it mushrooming inside her, jellyfish-like in the water, before disintegrating; she dreaded finding soggy tufts in her underwear for days afterwards, like the woman in the eighteenth century who claimed to have given birth to rabbits. Laoise couldn’t remember her name. They learned about her in History around the same time as they studied Queen Anne, who had seventeen pregnancies over seventeen years and no living children at the end of it. Imagine the absolute state of you after that, Orla had said at the time. You’d only have to sneeze too hard and a lung would drop out.
It was Orla who brought up the subject of vodka tampons in the first place; was that something people genuinely did when we were at school, she asked, or was it just an urban myth? Supposedly if you soaked a tampon in vodka and put it up you, it got you drunk faster and it meant your parents couldn’t smell it on your breath; but they couldn’t think of anyone they knew who’d actually done it, and then Blanche speculated that it would be a lot of trouble for very little actual booze, and that led to the controversy about the shots-to-tampons conversion rate. How much blood does a mooncup hold? wonders Blanche, turning to Laoise. Laoise is sitting on her haunches with her scarlet-spotted knickers down. She is crying. They are tears of relief; the kind of relief she felt when she was sixteen and got her period after that one time she wasn’t sure her boyfriend had pulled out quickly enough. Not the kind of relief she’s supposed to feel at thirty-one when she and her husband are meant to be trying for a baby.
Orla manages to source a sanitary towel from a group of people smoking outside the bar. This woman is clearly too tense for a mooncup, she says to Blanche, as though they are two doctors observing an anaesthetised patient. Laoise fits the pad and pulls up her trousers.
We didn’t know you two were trying, says Blanche.
Laoise hasn’t wanted to tell people. It is not the same as saying she’s going vegan or considering buying a Fitbit; announcing they were trying to have a baby seemed very final, not something she could go back on. Her husband, by contrast, tells anyone who’ll listen, like a child declaring Santa’s bringing me a PlayStation for Christmas, while Laoise smiles weakly beside him like a parent who doesn’t know how to tell him Santa can’t afford a PlayStation this year.
What do you need? Blanche asks. Do you need us to take you home?
Laoise remembers when Blanche had a scare in their final year at Queen’s, how the three of them sat around the kitchen table as if at a government Cobra meeting and worked out a plan together for getting the ferry to Liverpool. She longs for that kind of urgent strategizing now, wishes they could help her navigate her way out of the situation as a committee.
Do you want a drink? suggests Orla. Water? Or something stronger, if you need it.
I’m not supposed to be drinking, Laoise mumbles, digging around for a tissue. Her phone glows in the depths of her bag; five missed calls.
If you drink while you’re breastfeeding, Orla queries no-one in particular, does the baby build up a tolerance to it?
Orla, says Blanche, has someone dipped your tampon in ketamine?
I’m just curious, shrugs Orla. If I ever have a kid, I don’t want to raise a lightweight.
Laoise is laughing. Her phone starts to ring again silently. Let’s go back inside, she decides.
Orla produces a hip-flask of Ciroc, and they take turns doing shots from Laoise’s unused mooncup.
Gráinne O’Hare is originally from Belfast and is currently an English Literature PhD candidate in eighteenth-century studies at Newcastle University. She has written reviews for Criticks on the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) website, and became BSECS Criticks Media Editor in February 2020. Her fiction has been featured by Another North and in the forthcoming issue of Aigne. She can be found on Twitter at @spacedolphin__.