It Feels Like You Can’t Breathe

Carly’s short story inspired by Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is as disturbing as the original.  A brief explanation of her process follows the story.

It Feels Like You Can’t Breathe, by Carly Masters

There was a time when beds were comfortable.

There was a time when they had been soft and warm and inviting.

There was a time when they had been a luxurious sanctuary away from the outside world.

But, as the young woman laid on the off-white king-sized bed, she was no longer capable of holding the piece of furniture in such a high regard. How could she when it brought her such a horrible feeling? How could she, when the door to the bedroom was covered in such morbid scratches?

You did this to me,” it seemed to say.

The woman instinctively looked down at her fingernails; or, what was left of them, anyway. The mere sight of the bloody nubs inflicted a great deal of pain on its own, and the woman felt tears form in her eyes.

“It’s not my fault!” she screamed at the door. “He wouldn’t let me out!”

You did this,” the door repeated, ignoring her.

It was then, that the woman began to hear the scratching noise. No, it wasn’t scratching. It was more like someone was lightly tapping their fingers very quickly.

But, why would someone be doing that underneath the bed, she wondered.

That was when the moving brown specks with tiny little legs began to encase the bed. Ah, the cockroaches.

In her younger days, the woman would like to watch a single cockroach crawl about the ground. It was such a tiny creature, but it was durable. It would survive. It was beautiful.

But, when in large masses, anything became ugly. The creatures lost their individual beauty, and transformed into a revolting puddle of destruction. And, she knew it was her that they wanted to destroy. Why wouldn’t they? She’d become such a pathetic little thing. The world would be better off if she was removed from it.

But, she still wanted to live, as humans do; and so she screamed. She screamed because she had lost the ability to move. She screamed because the cockroaches had begun to take little bites out of her flesh, killing her slowly.

She screamed because she was trapped.

But, all dreams must come to an end (the bad ones too, even though they seem to last a lot longer than the good ones), and so the young woman woke up on the very bed she had just dreamed of; before subsequently jumping off of it out of sheer terror. After her heartbeat slowed to a healthier pace, she simply started to laugh bitterly.

She had that same dream every night. Yes, every night since…what was it, again? What was the event that had triggered the horrible nightmare?

The sound of a door slamming shut cleared away the cobwebs of forgetfulness that had taken root in her mind. Heavy footsteps soon followed, and the young woman’s heart started beating quickly again.

Oh, yeah. It had all started with him.

The tall fair-haired man walked into the bedroom, saw her sitting on the floor in the fetal position, and sighed.

“Agatha,” he began, his voice already filled with disdain, “I’m getting tired of coming home to the sight of you lounging around like a fool.”

“I know,” she replied in the quiet, half-hearted tone she’d become accustomed to using with him.

“You need to do something,” he told her. “I do everything around here! I pay the bills, I clean the house— “

“I can clean— “

Oh, please. You can’t even keep it presentable,” he hissed, irritated at being interrupted. “I just…I wanted to at least be able to come home to a nice meal, and eat with my lovely wife.”

His tone shifted in that moment and, for a second, the woman saw traces of the kind man she had married.

And, then he was replaced with the monster again.

But you don’t do ANYTHING,” he said, slamming his fist into the wall.

The woman flinched.

“I can go back to school,” she said, trying to appease him. “I can— “

You want to go back to school? So you can drop out again when you decide it’s too much? I’m not paying for that. I know you certainly can’t.”

And then, he just walked out of the room; the way a predator walked away from the mutilated body of its prey after it decided it had had enough to eat.

“I can order a pizza…” the woman offered, slowly following her husband into the kitchen.

“There you are, taking the easy way out.”

There was no love in his voice, she realized.

“Should I— “

“Well, it’s better than standing around and being useless.”

So, she ordered the pizza; which seemed to take forever to arrive. It didn’t help that the woman’s husband wouldn’t speak to her, or even look her in the eye as they waited. He just sat there, like she was the living embodiment of disappointment. These days, it seemed like he was hell-bent on making her suffer.

It’s not as if she didn’t want to help him. But, every time she tried to do something, he told her she was doing it wrong. What had started out as gentle guidance had soon turned into constant abusive criticism, and now he wouldn’t let her do anything important. No, he was tired of her messing everything up all the time.

Anytime she even brought of the concept of leaving him, he laughed in her face. Where would she go? How would she be able to support herself? Without him, she was homeless. Without him, she was nothing.

It felt like…

The sound of the doorbell ringing interrupted the woman’s thoughts. Without saying a word, her husband got up and walked towards the front door. The woman herself opened the cabinet that contained a stack of porcelain plates, and placed two of them on the round wooden dinner table.

Watching her husband carry in the large pizza triggered a series of bittersweet emotions in the woman. She remembered that they would eat pizza together every Friday night when they had first started dating. They would both be smiling and laughing. He would handle everything.

He always handled everything.

It feels like…

At this point, the woman was only vaguely aware that her husband had started choking on a slice of pizza. His violent coughing fit did little to disturb the surge of numbness that the woman was feeling.

Dozens of memories flashed through her mind. She saw herself crying in a restaurant bathroom because her husband had called her favorite dress “unflattering,” and then telling herself that it was fine. It was fine because he had told her that he loved her. He was the only man who had ever told her that he loved her.

She remembered being locked out of her husband’s study as he went over their finances. It was fine, though, she had told herself. She wasn’t very good with the taxes, anyway. Only, she was. She had done her own taxes for years, until he had told her that she wasn’t good at it.

In the end, it was her own fault. She had let this happen.

The woman turned to her husband, who had fallen onto the floor and was beginning to turn a peculiar shade of purple, and stared at him with glassy eyes.

“I know,” she told him calmly, “it feels like you can’t breathe, doesn’t it?”

End of short story portion.


How the Story is an Analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper”

When brainstorming for this creative project, my main goal was to take various elements of “The Yellow Wallpaper” that stood out to me and compose a story that served as an analysis without even mentioning the wallpaper itself. I wanted to focus on some of the feelings that the main character of “The Yellow Wallpaper” was experiencing, and portray those feelings in a more modern setting.

The beginning of my short story, the dream sequence, consists mainly of the underlying theme of imprisonment. Another theme that I wanted to incorporate into this part of the story (and throughout the entire story) was self-blame; something that, while not outright stated in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I thought was a message that Charlotte Perkins Gilman was implying through the story. As for the cockroach scene, I wanted the bugs slowly eating the main character alive to be symbolic of her deteriorating mind. Her husband’s comments damage her little-by-little, until she can no longer take the constant abuse. And, while the husband in “The Yellow Wallpaper” isn’t as blatantly abusive, in both stories the husband is extremely dismissive of the troubled wife. He is an arrogant individual and, while some part of him may truly care for his wife, he ends up destroying her. However, I viewed the loss of the woman’s sanity as a sort of triumph. In both stories, it allows her to finally break free from her controlling husband and gain power over him in some way. The main character of “The Yellow Wallpaper” “creeps” over her husband after he faints, and the main character of my story simply watches over her husband as he slowly dies.

In short, I regarded “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a feminist work that illustrates the dangers of a woman not being allowed to think for herself. But, what really drew me to the story was its eerie atmosphere. It was an unusual way for Perkins to get her point across to her audience, and I absolutely loved it. Composing “It Feels Like You Can’t Breathe” as an analysis of “The Yellow Wallpaper” was an enjoyable process.


Works Cited

Gilman, Charlotte P. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Canvas, 1892.

VHE7B20jg0cYcAbQwGcl4JtAIYXyD06&wrap=1. Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.

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