Margaret was, all things considered, relatively old when she told everyone that the time had come for her to go down to the river. Most women went down before they saw fifty moons. Margaret had seen her hundredth. It was for this reason that the villagers had thought she could read the blood.

Margaret could actually not read the blood. She pretended that she did, though, because the village did not have a blood reader and the last blood reader’s house had been vacant for three thousand moons but was a beautiful house with a small garden, and Margaret was tired of living with her mother. There was a massive wardrobe upstairs and a nice back porch with a wicker swing and an icebox and cable television already installed. Margaret moved right in. The new blood reader. But she couldn’t keep it up forever, and when many of her predictions started to come up wrong, she realized the game was drawing to a close.

First, Farmer Johnson’s cabbages did not, in fact, grow well in the south fields, as she had told him they would. Susan and Mark were not well-paired for marriage, as she had assured them on their wedding day, for Mark slept with a tree nymph only one moon before their child was due and Susan then throttled him to death with a strand of barbed wire off of Mr. Scranton’s cattle fence. Worst of all, the raids from the Big Blacks started two moons earlier than she predicted. This was maybe understandable once or twice, but when she was off three seasons in a row, the villagers started to grow angry. Big Blacks were not, generally speaking, an easy hazard to deal with. They had arms stronger than titanium train pistons and thick muscled legs that let them run faster than a horse. When they came running down from the hills, screaming like hyenas, Tommy Lawrence would ring the bell and all the villagers, even Old Garfield, had to come out and line up with their spears and drive them off. Three seasons with no warning of a Big Blacks raid was bad. It was even worse than before, when they hadn’t had a blood reader at all. Better no warning than a false hope, the villagers had said.

So Margaret decided that it was time to go down to the river. Of course, Margaret, at this point, had had her blood and did not really need to go down to the river, but she had to have an excuse to the other villagers to explain why she could no longer read the blood. So she went down to the river to cleanse herself. She turned off her cable television and made sure to lock the back door and then she got in her new automobile (all the blood readers got one, fresh from the dispensary in the city).

Margaret made sure to drive through the village and wave to all the notables, then she stopped in front of the Judge’s house and went inside.

“Judge,” she said. “I’ve had my blood and it is time for me to go down to the river. I won’t be able to read the blood anymore after this, so if there is anything you wish to ask of me, ask it now.”

The Judge was a monstrously fat man, with small, beady eyes, and he used these to stare at her now.

“Margaret,” he said. “You weren’t of any use as a blood reader to begin with. I’ve done some calculations,” he held up a calculator, “and I think you’ve just been guessing the whole time. You were only sixty-four percent accurate in your readings, save for that one spell four moons ago when you read that Tommy Lawrence would lose his weekly fight with Collins four weeks in a row, but I coulda predicted that myself, the damned fool can’t see out of his left eye anymore!”

The Judge shook his meaty fist in the air, and Margaret stepped back a step.

“I’ve got half a mind to take that fancy automobile and that fancy house and put your head into the icebox and freeze it like a popsicle,” he rumbled.

“Judge,” said Margaret. “I wish you knew how hard it is to read blood. Getting ideas out of the blood is like trying to wrestle down a hog covered in baby oil. I’m going down to the river, and after that it won’t matter whether I could’ve read the blood or not.”

“Anyway, how could you have been a blood reader in the first place if you’re having your blood now?” the Judge asked. “Blood readers are readers for life, they never get their blood!”

Margaret shrugged, then put her chin in her fist like she was thinking hard. Then she looked up. “I guess that means I never was one, just a normie who bloomed late.”

The Judge leaned forwards, spittle hanging from his bottom lip.

Margaret held up her hands in defense. “I didn’t know that until now! I just bloomed so late I thought I was one. You all did! You all thought I was!”

The Judge bellowed in rage, grabbing at her with his big sweaty hands, but she slipped free of his grasp and ran to her automobile. He came roaring outside like a wild boar and picked up a great big rock sitting next to the front stoop, which he raised over his head. The Judge hurled the boulder at her, and it bounced off the hood of her automobile, denting it. Margaret peeled out of the Judge’s driveway and headed to the river. That dent would cost some money to repair. She would have to make money, now that she wasn’t going to be a fake blood reader anymore.

She reached the river at dusk, and the Happy Mommas were there waiting for her. They rubbed their hands on their aprons and filed out of their little blue hut, acting like they’d just been making cookies. They’d been drinking scotch, like usual. Margaret could smell it on their breath.

“We’ve made you some cookies,” they said to Margaret.

“I’m not hungry Mommas,” she said. “I’ve come down to cleanse myself. I’ve bled, you see.”

Margaret lay down on the ground and spread her legs, showing them below.

“Finally!” they said. “It’s been a long time coming Margaret! One hundred and eight moons?”

“One hundred and seven.”

“Excellent!” they said. “Judge’ll be coming now that he knows you aren’t a blood reader, then.”

Margaret nodded.

“Okay Margaret,” the Happy Mommas said. “In the river you go!”

The Happy Mommas stood on the shore and watched as Margaret, stripped of her clothes, jumped into the river. The current was strong and swift on that day, and the Judge arrived just as Margaret was swept downstream, yelling and hollering.

She was carried forty leagues south to Bledsoe. Margaret came out of the river naked right in front of the Mayor of Bledsoe, who was picking apples with his entourage.

“I’m a blood reader from the north,” she said.

The Mayor of Bledsoe saw her naked body and found it pleasing, and he married her. She was happy with him. He owned a shiny new automobile with no roof (to feel the sun, you see), and the icebox in his house was very large and his television was in color and they would sit on the wicker swing on the back porch each night and watch the sunset.


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