Lovely When You Talk to Me
My wife has been trying to kill herself. "Honey," I say and turn to her. We're in bed. I shake her shoulder. Blood has dried onto the sheets. The stains look like little shrunken faces.
"What?" She says, shrugging me off.
"There's blood all over the place. That's what." I'd bandaged her badly. The surgical tape had peeled off the various gauze pads patching up her wrists. Long gray cat hairs were stopping the tape from sticking.
"That's your own fault," she scrunches her face deeper into the pillow and pulls the sheet over her head. A dried spot of blood that looks a little like Abraham Lincoln sinks into the socket of her eye. "Leave me alone," she says. I watch the sheet move over her mouth as she talks. "Go do something. Go away. Go walk the dog."
"I don't want to," I tell her, but I've already thrown off my half of the spotted sheet.
"Do it anyway," she says. I look at the outline of her face, the protrusion of her nose and lips and wonder if I can get away with kissing her. I want to kiss her, lie on top of her and push myself into her, tear a hole through the sheet. She wouldn't have to look at me. "Don't even think about it," my wife says. Sometimes I think she must be able to hear me thinking. "If you think about it, I'll kill myself and make you watch."
"Lovely," I say. "You're absolutely lovely when you talk to me like that." I say and sit back down on the bed.
"You think this is easy for me? Is that what you think?" She wants to know.
"I never said that," I point out.
"Well, it's not." She swipes the sheet off her face. Little specks of blood and sweat decorate her forehead. I could lick her. "If it were easy, I'd be dead by now."
I look at the ceiling for something to do. Paint chips have been falling onto the bed when we sleep. It needs repainting. It needs something.
"Are you even listening to me?" She snaps.
"No," I say. "I'm not." I keep my eyes on a part of the ceiling where a large patch of paint has already fallen away. "I'm tired of listening."
"Are you really?" She asks. She's curious. I can hear it in her voice, a touch of attention.
"No, I just wish you'd stop chopping yourself up. I'm getting sick of it." The tinny smell of her blood, like aluminum, stinks up the room. I think of it when I'm outside, when I'm at work, when I'm walking the dog. It is inescapable, the rank odor of my wife coming apart, her pieces.
I go to the bathroom for a piss, then join her back in bed.
"I don't hate you," she tells me, but both of us know she's lying.
"Are you going to work today?" I ask. I want her out of the house. I don't want to be near her. She doesn't make any money. She's been a real estate agent for a year now, and still hasn't made a sale.
"I'm going," she says, but doesn't move.
"Maybe you'd be happier if you had another job. You could get a different job. A better job." I suggest.
"I don't want a better job. I like my job. It's the only thing that gets me away from you."
"That's not very nice." I tell her.
Our son, Mark, started high school last year. Before that she was a housewife. A regular wife. A somewhat normal person. She didn't want to kill herself. She'd never even tried. The first time she tried, she used gas. She had her head in the oven and everything. After that I threw out all the Sylvia Plath books in the house. Even my own.
"I'm not a very nice person," My wife informs me.
"You are, though," I say. "You just don't remember. I think you must have been a nice person at some point."
"Why would you ever think a thing like that? Are you ever going to walk that dog or do I have to do it?" She sits up in bed and gives me a glare.
"Mark's old enough. He can walk the dog. Why do I have to do everything?" I fold my own pillow under my head. It's Saturday. I don't have to work. I have a regular job. A job that pays me for working. I manage people. That's what I do. Monday through Friday I manage.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," she says, standing. "I'll do it. I can't stand these ridiculous conversations.
I let her get dressed, brush her teeth and pin up her hair before I slip on my shoes, call the dog and walk him myself.
When I get back she is sitting at the kitchen table eating an orange. I smell the juice and the rind as I walk in the door. She's reading yesterday's paper. Today's is under my arm.
"Is Mark still sleeping?" I ask her.
She nods at the article she's reading.
"Maybe a counselor, or something, a psycho- psychiatrist or whatever, could help you."
"I don't think so," she says. She doesn't waver.
I smell coffee. "Did you make coffee?" I walk into the kitchen and look into the pot. She's saved an inch of it for me to drink.
"Don't you see the coffee cup in front of me? What are you, stupid?"
I pour myself a cup that doesn't fill. "Maybe you should talk to someone about this," I suggest.
"About what?" She says, folding yesterday's paper and unfolding today's.
"About how you're feeling." I sit down across from her. She's taken the bandages off her wrists. I try not to stare, but I can't help myself.
"What do you know about feelings?" She spits like oil bouncing around a frying pan. Her wrists are glossy with ointment and don't look as bad as they had last night.
"Maybe you should try harder next time," I say when she catches me looking. "Push the blade in harder."
She smiles for the first time all week. "That's funny, Shane. Very funny. It's so rare that you actually amuse me."
I shrug and pick up the Real Estate section. She never reads it.
"What are you thinking about?" she asks me.
"Dinner," I say and get up from the table. It's not even noon.
"Don't try to piss me off," she calls after me. "It won't work. This has nothing to do with you."
I walk into the bedroom away from her. I could tie her up, dress her, bathe her, feed her, keep her handcuffed to the bed, but it would be too much work. I don't want to take care of her. She can take care of herself. That's not my job.
"You could try anti-depressants," I say and walk back into the kitchen. "A lot of girls at the office are on them."
"Did they go on they before or after they started working with you?" She smacks her cup down on the table for emphasis and the coffee spills. Neither of us move to clean it. The coffee seeps toward the Real Estate Section and gets absorbed, for the most part.
"Why do you have to be so rude?" I set my coffee cup down in the sink. The clip in her hair is coming undone.
"I'm not rude and I certainly don't need anti-depressants. I'm not depressed. I just want to be dead. Why is that so hard for you to understand?"
My first year in college I had a thing. I guess I could call it something else, but I'd rather call it a thing. It wasn't an affair, really, but a thing with another guy. My wife doesn't know. I've never told her. Two weeks ago I saw him at the library, this guy that I knew in college. I had Mark with me. He looked good, this guy. Different, but good."
"Hey, Shane. How you doing?" His hand clamped down hard on my arm.
I looked at the stacks and thought about my wife, the tin stink of her blood. "I'm married now," I said, but I hadn't meant for it to come out that way. I don't know what I'd meant.
He opened his mouth into a hearty laugh. "No kidding!" His hand squeezed my arm even harder. "That your kid?" he asked, pointing to Mark.
Mark stuck his finger up his nose and wiped the snot on the spine of a book. "No," I say, talking just above a whisper. "Mine's around here somewhere." I pretended to look around for my kid, hoping Mark hadn't heard me.
"I was just about to dip into the men's room. Wanna join me? We had some times, didn't we?" He punched my elbow with his fist, then smacked my ass hard. Mark looked at us and notcied.
"What are you doing?" Mark asked, suddenly sounding as disgusted with me as my wife usually does.
"Beat it kid," my friend said to Mark.
"You beat it," Mark said and walked off.
"Come on," my friend said, nudging me again. "When's the last time you even had the chance to turn down a blow job?"
I smiled. "Nice seeing you," I said, then followed Mark down the aisle.
- - -
"I rented a video," says my wife.
"Yeah? What video?" I ask.
She looks at the side of the box and says, "Some porn thing." I look at her. "You know, sex," she says and hands me the tape. "Put it in."
"At the movies with the boy next door."
"Oh," I say, still sitting on the sofa holding the tape in my hand.
"Are you going to put it in or not? Do I have to do everything for you? Are you completely incapable of functioning?" She leans over and tries to grab the tape out of my hand, but I hold on tight.
"I'll do it. I'll do it." I say. "I'll put it on." She never lets me do anything. I shuffle in my seat like I'm going to get up.
"This homeless guy came in on my floor time today and wanted an apartment. He said his price range was two million dollars."
"Yeah?" I say looking at her. "So?"
"So I showed him a two million dollar apartment on Park. I had nothing better to do. Do you want to order a pizza? I'm starved."
"Okay," I tell her and go into the kitchen to make the call. My wife follows me. "Thirty minutes or less," I say after hanging up.
"Is that what they told you?" She asks, suspicious.
"It's what they always say." I look at my watch. "I do love you," I tell her.
"You think I care?" She asks and walks into the living room.
I want to call my friend from college, the man in the library. I want to call him and beg him to rescue me, as if he could. I want to beg him to give me that blow job. I sit on the sofa, making sure I'm a safe distance away from my wife.
"Put on the video," she tells me.
"The pizza man is coming," I remind her.
"The pizza man. The pizza man. You are so sexist. You know that? It wouldn't even occur to you that there could be a pizza woman," she shouts at me.
"I've never had a pizza woman. I've lived in New York City my entire life and have never once had a pizza woman. I can assure you. Therefore, I think it's perfectly reasonable for me to say pizza man."
"You've got problems." She looks at me hard, then picks up her nail file. "Put on the tape."
"You hate me. Why do you hate me?" I want to know. I'm ready to know. I need to know. She looks at me and says nothing. "You know, I'm gay," I tell her.
"Good," she says. "So am I."
"No, you're not. Don't be ridiculous."
"I am. I've fucked Sally Finkelstein with a strap-on."
"You have not. " It's not possible, I tell myself. "Sally? My Sally? Sally at the office?" I don't think I can picture it.
"She's not your Sally," my wife says. She grabs the tape out of my hand and shoves it in.
"If you were really fucking Sally Finkelstein why would you want to die?" I ask her.
"Why don't you mind your own business?" She says and sits down next to me.
"You are my business." I suppose she's going to tell me I'm sexist for saying that. Maybe I am sexist. I think most men naturally are and so are most women, in some respects.
"I'm not your business. I'm your wife. Are you catching on yet? You bastard." She narrows her eyes when she looks at me.
"You're scaring me," I say before I can stop the words from spilling out of my mouth.
"I'm scaring myself," she says.
"Maybe you could change your mind," I suggest. On the TV, two men are taking off each other's clothes.
"About what?" She asks.
"This whole suicide thing. Maybe you should reconsider."
The door buzzes. When I open it, there is a man with a pizza. A man. I am so happy to see a man at the door. I double his top. My wife comes over to look for herself. She sees me grinning.
"Don't fool yourself," she says. "It could still happen. Anything's possible."
I put the pizza box on the sofa between us. She props it open and takes out a slice. "What about Mark?" I ask her. She's got to at least consider Mark.
"He's out. He'll eat out." She folds her slice and squashes it into her mouth.
One of the men on the video is wearing nipple clamps. I've never seen nipple clamps. I wouldn't want to be wearing them. "How long are we going to be watching this?" I ask her. "Can it be over soon?"
"How can it be?" She puts her half-eaten slice back into the box.
"I don't know. Can't you just wake up one morning and not want to die?" "
"Why? Is that what you want? I don't think it is. I think you're just saying that."
"You see? There you go again being awful to me." I puck up her unfinished slice and take a bite of it. A mistake.
"That's mine," she says, angry.
"What exactly have I done that is so awful?" I stand up and throw the slice back into the box. It occurs to me that this suicide stuff could be contagious. I shouldn't have eaten her pizza, put my mouth where hers had been. "Really," I say. "I'd like to know, once and for all, what the hell it is I've done to get you so damn pissed off?"
"I really don't appreciate you speaking to me that way," she says.
I want to kill her. I want to strangle her. I want to watch her insides burst out of her body. I can't stand her much longer.
"You hate me," she says. "Don't think I don't know that."
I look at the television and wonder if these two guys are ever going to start something.
- - -
I am waiting for her to do it. This time, I'm not going to stop her. She can hack at herself all night for all I care, as long as it's over. As long as she's dead in the morning.
On Monday, when I get home from the office she is making macaroni and cheese for Mark. She is pouring the non-fat milk over the noodles, slicing off a fat hunk of butter. I sit down at the table. I am waiting for something to happen.
"We have to talk," my wife tells me. She shakes the packet of orange powdered cheese into the bowl. "I'm changing my mind."
"You were right," she says. "I've been awful."
"In what way?" I ask. She must be playing some kind of trick. I don't trust her.
"I've decided I don't want to kill myself." She stirs the ingredients together with a long wooden spoon. "The whole thing is silly. We should just forget it ever happened. That would be nice, don't you think? If we could just pretend it never happened? Any of it. Alright?"
"Are you out of your mind?" I say, exploding. "How can you do this to me? Do you have any idea, any clue at all what you've been putting me through?"
"Well, it's over now. Isn't it?" She fishes through the drawer for some silverware.
I think I am going to kill her. I think I am going to murder my own wife. Right this very moment. The stupid bitch. I am seething. I can't think straight. Even what's left of my hair is on fire. I am going to clamp my fists around her skinny white neck and squeeze until the blood drains from her face and pools into dark mouthfuls. Maybe I hate her.
"I'm going to the bathroom," I say. I need to calm down.
I thought I was prepared for anything that could happen, but I wasn't prepared for her to live. I open the medicine cabinet and begin taking out bottles. Excedrin. I take a small handful, then another bigger one, stuffing them into my mouth. I pop out half a month's worth of birth control pills and take those as well. Cough syrup with Codeine. I drink what's left of the bottle. Levaquin. Whatever that is. There are seven of them that I swallow. Dulcolax. Viagra. Ibuprofen. Tylenol PM. Valium. I put everything into my mouth. I need to fill myself up. Then I fill Mark's cup with water, the one he uses for brushing his teeth. It's dusty, but it doesn't bother me. I drink, then sit on the edge of the bathtub and wait. My head is doing its own sort of spinning. Mark's footsteps pass by. Sirens swallow up the noise outside the bathroom window. Ambulances, fire trucks. I can never tell the difference between them.
"Honey," I say, but I can't get my voice any louder than a moth. "Francine," I scream. I never say my wife's name. Not even when we're fighting. Not even in bed.
"What is it?" she asks, rushing in. The tiles on the floor are heaving toward me.
"I think I'm going to be sick," is what I say. It's all I can think of to say to her.
About the author:
Monako Tanaki was raised in suburban California and fled to New York City as soon as she was old enough to buy her own cigarettes. Monako attended Hunter College, studied English and theatre design with heavily medicated professors, and graduated to become a real estate agent. She is hard at work on her first novel Soil and continues to live in NYC with her two offspring, a cat named Basil Faulty and a rabbit named Shag.