j e n n i e y    t a l l m a n

Truths about Suicidal Women

 

They keep stacks of small terry cloth towels by the sink for use around mealtimes. They are ingenious really, in their simplicity. Wet, they keep her childrenís fingers and mouths cleaner than a dry napkin ever could. Not to mention, they are just the right size for small hands. Still though, it is depressing: the mere idea of something so routine as wetting the cloths every mealtime, handing them to her children, of their expectation of the warm cloths, their compliance, of washing them, drying them, and keeping a steady supply.


Suicidal women have boring husbands. Janeís husband is also responsible for the maintenance of the cloths. No matter how stale or sticky they become, he never questions the damn things. He is a short man with eyes set too far apart on his head who works in military intelligence. We are sitting around their table waiting for our camomile tea to cool when I ask him what it is that he does, exactly. He says: I Could Tell You But Then Iíd Have To Kill You. It is a tired thing to say—a ridiculous cliché, but it serves its purpose. I still donít know what he does, exactly. I suspect, however, that it is hardly as exciting as he wishes.


Suicidal women donít worry about puppet violence. My youngest kid hits Janeís kid on the head using a bright green dragon puppet. The dragon is on my kidís hand, so the line between hitting her kid with a toy and hitting her kid with his fist is thin. I become overly upset, but Jane stays totally calm. I wish I could just laugh it off, saying: Oh Dear, I Suppose We Better Head Home Soon. Instead I blush and fidget and say: I Think He Must Need More Food.


A person might feel jealous around a suicidal woman because she doesnít seem to worry about things as much as other people. Jane maintains a sense of calm, a bleariness. My own child seems dull compared to Janeís. After her 5-year-old flawlessly plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the violin, I find myself stupidly praising my oldest childís physical prowess: Look At Him Jump! Look At Him Run! Look At Him Climb!


My oldest child is critical of Jane and her nice home—her bathroom that smells like lavender, her basement where the extra gloves and shoes are kept. He is suspicious of the chili and its too many vegetables that are still crunchy. But the child who wears the dragon puppet is accepting of all these things. It is probably because Jane hugs him when he arrives and dotes on his blond hair and big green eyes. Jane and I sit down for tea, always herbal, to talk about whatever is on our minds. When the children come around, blowing horns or riding plastic toys or showing off their Lego creations, we stop our conversation to wait patiently for their exit.


Suicidal women keep the magic markers and paints above the refrigerator. Jane prepares snacks of raw nuts, sugarless cookies, and peaches sliced thin and sprinkled with cinnamon. She makes beeswax candles in the living room. Sometimes she plays the piano. Jane is numb and slow and thoughtful, as though every moment matters, so, the little terry cloth towels arenít really all that exceptional.


Suicidal women are easy to talk to. I tell Jane that I did not like one of my own children until he turned two years old. She agrees, nodding her head. Jane puts her hand on my knee and tells me that she was born in South Africa to white missionaries, like that explains everything.


A person might miss a suicidal woman when she is gone, but she may have never really been there in the first place. When my child with the dragon puppet asks about Jane, I might pretend that she never existed or maybe I will change the subject. But it is also possible that sometimes I slice the peaches thin and sprinkle them with cinnamon, look into the price of violins, and cut old towels into small squares and stack them by the kitchen sink.


At mealtimes I hand the cloths to my children, telling them to wipe their fingers. The oldest yells at me: Why Do We Have To Use These Stupid Towels? You Are Trying To Make Us Be Like That Woman! But my dragon son wants me to remember that Jane never did get mad at him when he hit her son with the puppet. He wants to remind me that I am the one that got mad.


So, I take the cloths back to the kitchen. I rinse them, squeeze the water from them, and stack them neatly together. Sometimes I hang them on the line to watch them dry. Sometimes I rip them to a million shreds and try to feed them down the garbage disposal—surprised that such little towels can make such a big mess—as the sink stops up with their pulpy fibers and the water runs onto the floor.

 

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JENNIEY TALLMAN lives in St Paul MN with her husband and 3 sons. She has writing in The Collagist, Slice Magazine, Annalemma, and The Summerset Review. She shares things at jennieytallman.com.


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