Domestic Report

I am married to a man who covers murders. Specifically, he reports on the cases of men who murder women they know—their wives and exes, their girlfriends and lovers and their lovers’ sisters, who (as it turns out) are also their lovers.

My husband’s spiral notebook lies open next to my rice cooker. Spewing steam dampens the names of a dead woman’s loved ones who want to tell their stories, how they always knew he’d do it. Our twin preschoolers propel fire trucks around the kitchen while our first-grader plays Toy Story songs on the iPad that sits by my husband’s laptop. The screen shows a sketch of a body, arrows pointing to bullet wounds. Whee-oooh-whee-oooh, the boys screech on their way to their invented emergency. “You’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed,” croons Randy Newman. And I count six wounds before thinking to close the computer. Six isn’t a lot. I’ve seen upwards of fifty.

I climb the stairs to tell my husband, who left the kitchen to take an urgent call, that it’s dinnertime. Still on the phone, he mouths, Kentucky. I mouth back, Where did they find her? He mouths a whole sentence and I make out, just bones. I’d hoped Kentucky would be found alive. But they never are. Illinois was strangled and left to be run over by a westbound cargo train. Indiana, asphyxiated with a barbell on a basement weightlifting bench. One of the Carolinas, at the bottom of the stairs, bludgeoned. Dinner, I whisper, before stepping down the secret stairs.

The secret stairs are not our primary stairs, which climb our home’s half-levels, but rather an extra-long, extra-dark set that links the boys’ playroom to our bedroom door. I often reach the bottom of the secret stairs and imagine blood spatter. I wonder about women who die on stairs. Are they bludgeoned first and then pushed, or pushed and then bludgeoned? I wonder, if I were pushed first, how I might protect my head from thumping down the stairs, never mind from the man following with a crowbar.

Anyway, the rice is ready.

Over dinner, my husband tells our boys about the police stations and prisons he’s visited. He tells them he has to go away again, this time to Kentucky. Is the bad guy in jail? they ask, and he says, Yes, the bad guy is in jail. At least, he thinks it’s the bad guy, the one who used to love the dead woman, the one who may still love her, whose love might be what killed her.

Don’t do anything to land yourself in prison, I tell my husband as we sway in the kitchen, a loose dance amid dirty dishes and the still-hot rice cooker. Don’t worry, I’ve been in enough of them, he says.

I know all the ways you could kill me and dispose of my body, I tell him. He laughs and squeezes me and says, I know all the ways I’d get caught.

Our boys smile at us the way they always do when they catch us showing love. My body is porous against my husband’s. Next to a bullet or barbell or the seventeenth stair, I am but gossamer.

About the Author

Suzanne Farrell Smith

is the author of The Memory Sessions, a memoir about searching for lost childhood memory, and The Writing Shop, a teaching guidebook. She is widely published, has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and won a Pushcart Prize for her Brevity essay, “If You Find a Mouse on a Glue Trap.”

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