Rumpus Original Fiction: Black Bottom Swamp Bottle Woman


Maybe you hear what they say. That you are the Black bottom woman. The Black swamp woman. The Black hearted, Black breasted, Black bottle woman. Maybe that suits you just fine because, maybe, you deserve those names. Just like they, the people who come to your swamp and flick your lantern twice before leaving their bottles for you to clean, maybe they believe labeling and understanding mean the same thing.

Maybe, before you became the Black bottom, swamp bottle, Black woman, you were just a Black woman. In a boat. In the swamp. Holding hands with a Black man who never asked you to marry him. Because, maybe, he was already married. Maybe he didn’t love you enough to marry you or, maybe, he did, and that’s why he never asked. Maybe you never thought much about marriage because, maybe, you only thought about bottles. Talked to the Black man in the swamp on his boat about bottles. How to fill them, seal them, discard them.

Maybe the Black man didn’t understand. Maybe he did and believed he could bear the weight of bottling and sealing. Maybe you find him in your bottling room. His eyes in Coke bottles. His lungs in water bottles. His heart beating in a bottle of pennies and his lips still talking in a model ship bottle, his secrets raising the sails.

Maybe your mama warns you about bottling and becoming the Black bottom swamp bottle woman. How there will always be someone who believes they know, but can’t say for sure what it is that they know. Maybe, for your mama, that was a woman who sailed into the swamp on a canoe. Maybe your mama tells you how she borrowed the finger bone of this woman, soaked it in vinegar and jam and corn liquor. Let it sit in a bottle of castor oil and made you. And, maybe, this woman built ships in bottles until she made a ship that couldn’t be bottled and, maybe, she asked your mama to join her and, maybe, your mama knew what she’d grow into without that woman. So, she left you to grow into that woman instead. Left you in the swamp with sunflowers and a series of be goods written on paper straw wrappers all slipped into bottles. Left you to listen for the people and their bottles filled with their secrets and memories and wants they don’t want just like, maybe, you never wanted to be unwanted by the mama who made you. You, the Black bottom swamp bottle woman.



Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her flash has been published in a variety of places including Good River Review, HAD, Waxwing, Bending Genres, No Contact, and elsewhere. K.B.’s stories have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, and her story, “Soba,” was included in the 2020 Best of the Net anthology. Her story, “A Lethal Woman,” will be included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found online at or on Twitter @kbcarle. More from this author →