Excerpt from Janeology by Karen Harrington
In almost every generation, nevertheless, there happened to be some one descendant of the family gifted with a portion of the hard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably distinguished the original founder.
The House of Seven Gables
Here’s what I remember about that day. What I can’t forget about that day. It was hot and humid. My sweat-soaked shirt clung to my skin under the oppressive June heat. There are dozens of photos showing me like that. Dozens more of me as I was led away by an officer, my tie flapping up as I stumbled over the plastic toys in our front yard.
And then they led me to the jail where I found myself with Jane. We were alone in a cold room and I kept plucking the shirt material from my chest, still overcome by heat and shock.
There were no attorneys then. Funny, it’s hard now to remember my life before attorneys. That day, we were just two people sitting in a room waiting to have a conversation. You would never know that hours before Jane had turned on the kitchen faucet, filled the sink with water and killed our son Simon. And then she attempted the same with little Sarah, who God knows must have been terrified as she watched her mother do this to her brother before being chased through the house until she, too, was caught and submerged. But I learned that later.
If I had known those details when I went to the jail, maybe I would have been raging, maybe violent. Who knows the appropriate response to having a wife who kills? That day, I felt stuck, nervous and hesitant at meeting my own wife. I was forty-one years old and should have been in control of my emotions as I entered the holding room, but as I felt the thick door click closed against my back, I had the urge to turn and run.
Jane looked normal. Or perhaps normal for Jane. She wore no reaction of any kind to seeing me. Her body was relaxed, her legs crossed. She greeted me with a light, dry voice, saying my name in her usual fashion by drawing out the vowel.
The intimacy of it made me ill.
“Tom, are you okay? I wondered when you would get here,” she said, standing.
“Jane, sit down.”
She backed away and slipped back into the plastic chair. We looked at each other for a long moment. I searched her blue eyes for traces of murder, believing I should see something black that belied her beauty. Some flipped switch. Something red or black. I thought perhaps I saw less white in her eyes, but that might have been a trick of the room’s flickering fluorescent light. The only visible difference was what she had on: a county-issue orange jumpsuit. The orange reflected off her face, giving her a sun-kissed glow, like she might have spent a day at the beach instead of within the cement-grey walls of a jail. Even her hair was still in its trademark perky ponytail with wisps of dark blonde highlights framing her face.
“Are we going home?”
My mouth was dry. I licked my lips. I heard ringing in my ears.
“We’re not going home. You’re not going home.”
“I guess I know that. They said you would say that.”
“Why Jane? Tell me. What’s going on because I can’t figure this out? Tell me what happened.”
She was devastatingly casual.
“I had too much. I was done being a mother, you know.”
“No. I don’t know. Why couldn’t you tell me? Ask for help?” I said, clawing for air. “Sarah is still alive. Did you know that? She is holding on.”
Sarah had a thin pulse when paramedics arrived and was critical now, and I was desperate to be with her.
“Jane? Do you know what you did?”
I stood and looked away from her, bracing myself against the wall. Anger welled up inside me and I was glad because it was finally an emotion I could recognize. My hands wanted to encircle her throat, but I forced them into my pockets. This couldn’t be my wife. The woman I loved. Love.
The ringing in my ears got louder. I heard the sound of something breaking, like a piece of cold chalk snapping in two. A bone giving way. My heart dividing, part of it tearing away at a fault line, a tear which began when the dean had appeared in my classroom doorway.
“Don’t argue, Tom,” he had said. “There’s been an accident.”
“Please go to your home with this officer.”
The man in blue stood at my door and would not meet my gaze, shuffling his feet and staring at his shoes. Finally he took me by the elbow while the dean entered my classroom.
Jane was tapping the floor with her foot now. I looked at the black and white clock on the jail-room wall. Ten after nine. My life seemed about to dissolve into something unrecognizable. Her voice, her careless words. I was done being a mother.
“Are we going home now, Tom?”
“Because I didn’t take my pills yesterday. There was a doctor in here earlier and he wanted me to get them. Will you bring them to me?”
“When was the last time you took them, Jane?”
“I don’t know. Maybe last week. The day the ice-cream maker came, I think.”
My mind tumbled. How could she think of an ice-cream maker when she had destroyed both our lives? And then, because I couldn’t think of another thing to say, I got up and left.