Saturday morning at the Brady's. The sky is so clear, the sun so radiant that everyone squints when they go out after breakfast. Dad has set up the trampoline. It has been an endeavor, some of Friday afternoon and most of Saturday morning. A cup of coffee, half-eaten toast and a folded up newspaper near the upturned cardboard box. Finally, a little after noon, the trampoline is ready to go. Strong steel legs, tarp-colored blue rim to match the sky, and best of all a massive black surface to leap into the air from. Everyone has been waiting for this moment. They could barely eat their sandwiches at the long, wide wood veneer table that sat just behind the sliding glass door. They watched Dad and Greg work all morning, eating sandwiches of pimento loaf on wonder bread, smeared with mayonnaise. Drinking Grape Kool-Aid from Tupperware cups of olive green, orange, and again that piercing blue. The pimento loaf was a bright pink in thick slices, dotted with green and red spots. Everyone loved the piquant, fleshy taste. To Jan, it looked like the remains of a dead cat. No one noticed that she did not eat her sandwich except Peter, who took it and consumed it hungrily. Later he would come up behind her and pinch her hard in the side, and his breath would smell irrationally like spiced meat and something else unwashed.
Cindy and Bobby were the first to run out. Alice warned them pointlessly that jumping would make them sick so soon after lunch. They hopped on and jumped up and down, squealing. Bobby squealed more like a girl than Cindy, who was screaming about something imaginary that she had made up. Greg and Marcia had tried to be cool, laughing and smiling at the younger ones playing on the trampoline, but could only maintain this facade for so long. Pretty soon they were jumping up and down too, hollering. Peter jumped on and tried to push Greg off, who pushed him back. Jan looked on, sitting on the cement slab of the back porch. Her empty stomach was filled with a gray tide of nausea. "Come on, Jan! Join the fun!" screamed Marcia. Jan wondered how Marcia's hair could fly up in the air so regally, a golden tent that showered back onto her head without a strand out of place.
Jan got up, using the palms of her hands on the chilled cement like an elderly person getting up from a fall. The cuffs of her navy blue slacks were too short, her oddly thick ankles stuck out of the yellow canvas loafers awkwardly. Continuing to stare at her feet, Jan walked slowly to the trampoline. She stood by for about two and a half minutes before the rest of her siblings could stop jumping, After Marcia had called her forward they seemed to forget her again, jumping and squealing. Jan felt like punching Bobby in the stomach. The noises he was making were getting to her, coiling up like unforgiving wires in her mind ready to spark a fire. Greg held out a clammy palm, and soon Jan was up with the rest.
It was a sea of elbows and striped shirts and hot breath and hair that smelled like sweat and grass. Jan let the others lift her at first, their enthusiasm buoying her up. Her stomach twisted anxiously. Then she began to jump, at first as high as the others and then higher. The others began to become irritated at her arrhythmic jumping, as her high jumps brought most of the others back down to Earth. She could see over the brick walls now, over the brown roofing and blue kidney pools with their chlorine blue slides faded by the sun. Barking dogs, a red and white playhouse suspended on stilts instead of in a tree.
"Stop it Jan! Stoooop Jumping!" Cindy was irate.
Finally she felt a rough shove in the small of her back. It was Peter. Jan, out of breath, stopped jumping and abruptly jumped off.
"Screw you Jan!" he threw in pointlessly.
Wordlessly Jan walked back into the house, which was oddly empty. Her father might be in his den. Her mother was still in bed, no doubt suffering a massive hangover from last night's "couples' night" that was held at the home of one of her father's supervisors. Alice was nowhere to be found, which was fine with Jan. She was always strangely startled by Alice's oddly masculine apparition in blue and white, almost always in the kitchen and at odd times sitting down in the family room, flicking through the television and stubbing out Pall Malls in the green glass ashtray on the side table. Muttering to herself about something presented on the 5 o clock news. Jan did not like Alice's face, with its reddish nose, friendly grin, and slight mustache. An unattractive face with a curiously blunt chin, a grin so friendly it had surrendered all ego long ago, abandoned all selfish desires for valdiation and forever willing to hem someone else's prom dress, slice someone else's garish pimento loaf.
Jan walked into the bathroom off the family room. It smelled like Ajax and stale potpourri. She stared at her own face in the mirror, a little ruddy. Her eyes were too small. She turned on the water on full blast. A funny tearing sound escaped from her throat, a sob of utter despair. Her stomach threatened to tilt its contents completely.
Eventually the others tired of the trampoline. Bobby and Cindy were still jumping gleefully, but the others abandoned the activity before Saturday afternoon faded away. Peter wandered to a friend's house and Greg and Marcia ended up parked on the couch in front of the TV. Saturday's programming offered nothing but a grainy black and white film. They argued about the actor's real name in between discussing the respective plans each had for the evening, and who they would be with.
For the third time in the middle of this conversation, Marcia got up and pounded angrily on the wood paneled door, which made a hollow futile noise. "Jan, what in the fuck could you be doing in there? Putting on makeup for a date?" This last remark was said with intentional, mocking flippancy. Greg snickered derisively, either at Marcia's remark or simply at the bathroom battle between the two girls.
"Jan." Marcia said again. It was a taut tone, a tone that through the years Jan had obeyed. Jan move your clothes off of my bed. No Jan, the pink one is mine. That's mine Jan. That looks better on me Jan. Your little boy-friend down the street was looking at me, Jan, not you. Jan, let Cindy have a turn. Jan, you know what Mother thinks.
"Jan, damn it! I really have to go..." The last phrase was a wavering confession, the first thing uttered in real weakness and sincerity. Greg snickered again.
Suddenly the door flung open. It was too much for the others to process, initially. Jan's face was twisted in agony, her sleeves pushed up to her elbows. One wrist was slashed completely, a flap of skin tearing away to reveal a sizable, deep wound. Marcia screamed. Blood was flung with Jan's slightest movement. Sprinkling the suede couch, the butterscotch wallpaper, the clear and telling glass of Alice's ashtray. Screaming a scream that could only come from a dying animal, Jan took the injured wrist and smeared it across Marcia's face, leaving a thick trail of blood across her beautiful features.
* * *
Jan remained conscious the entire period of time that followed what she had done. An old, dull discarded razor blade of her father's lied in a pool of yellowish water in the basin that refused to drain. The white porcelain of the sink was smeared with blood. The mirror was speckled with it, as was the toilet. A thin ribbon of blood resided in the water there. The linoleum was decked with its drippings, the mottled brown ceramic bowl that held the potpourri was as well. It sickly sharp smell mingled with the powdery floral scent. It looked like a lot of blood, but later the doctors told Jan they were surprised at how little blood she had lost, considering the injury.
Marcia had fled, screaming blindly up the stairs. This had alerted everyone else in the house, and probably in other surrounding houses, that something was terribly wrong. Greg had acted quickly, finding a thick brown bath towel and wrapping it around Jan's wrist. His face was occasionally split by a terrorized grin that was most certainly a grimace. Someone called for an ambulance. Cindy and Bobby were kept outside by Alice, though Cindy was hysterical, tears streaking her shiny red face though she had no idea what had happened.
Jan's mother mirrored Cindy's hysterics. Looking weirdly frail in her bright yellow kimono-robe, she was clutched by her father in a position that made her seem like she was about to collapse on the floor. She would not look at Jan, yet kept saying, "My baby! My baby! Why!?" Her father's face was an impassive, grim mask, as if flesh-colored paper mache had been plastered over his real features. Peter simply stared on. His leg twitched. Jan avoided everyone's piercing stares, and closed her eyes pretending to be on the verge of fainting. With this defense, no one asked questions. It was as if she had become less real, a lurid story unfolding before their eyes, distanced by the personnel around her as they checked her pulse, her breathing, jammed a needle through her good arm. The pain was searing in her wrist, up the entire side of her body really, but it was somehow secondary. The ambulance ride was unreal, Jan's eyes stayed closed. It reminded her of a game that her and her siblings used to play in the back of the station wagon on the way home from anywhere, closing their eyes and not knowing where they were going, what intersection they would be at next.
Jan was at the hospital for two days, not for grave injury but for "psychiatric observation." She had heard this phrase on television before and it held a poignant gravity for her. Her mother brought her candy bars—Oh Henry! Her favorite—and a stack of magazines. Marcia would not visit. Her father came in but said nothing, sitting next to the dangling pouches and apparatus. His knees were parted, his elbows resting on them, staring into space as if contemplating a particularly difficult question. Marcia would not visit, though all of the kids were purposely kept away. Jan's grandmother would not visit either, yet by the evening a colorful vinyl tote filled with sewing amenities appeared at the foot of Jan's bed. The thought of knitting or crocheting was laughable, considering the heavy stitches and cement-like bandages that smothered Jan's good hand. Jan liked the magazines and candy though. It was if her trial was not self-imposed, but more like she had had her tonsils removed or an appendectomy. Poor Jan, it's not her fault, rang through her head, though these were words that no one actually said.
Jan's thoughts mainly wandered to Alice in the first hours she was in the hospital. Alice, on her knees in the bathroom, grim and almost chivalrous in her intent, brandishing a sponge and a bucket of bleach.