A Short Story

I am posting something a bit different today.  Yesterday’s post about The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has received some interest from one of my sisters. My sister, like me, is a book lover and a Literature graduate. She is also a Women’s Studies graduate with a  keen interest in women’s lives and writing.  After reading my post about The Yellow Wallpaper, she reminded me of a story that she wrote quite a while ago which, like Gilman’s story, illustrates a man’s attitude to a woman’s mental health. 

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The End of the Rainbow

I knew immediately that I had been diluted. I had expected it for a while and I had worried about how humiliatingly public it might be, but it had finally happened peacefully in my sleep.

The human body is normally 70% water. I think in general, women become more dilute over time but my estimate, as I lay there, was that I was now about 97% H2O. I couldn’t tell what the rest of me was, or which part of me had been displaced, but the outline of my body was wavy now, unstable and blurred where it merged with the delicate daisy print of my sheets. As I gingerly felt the bed with my hands, arms stretching out slowly as if fearing that the crocodile under my bed might bite them off suddenly, I was relieved to find it was dry. I had not spilled over. You heard such stories. I quickly pulled my arms back and folded them across my chest. I needed to think, so I lay quite still, as still as I could in the circumstances. But, water finds its own level, and any movement sent a tidal wave from my feet to my frown that made me feel quite funny. I recalled the impossibility of stepping in the bath without sound or splash, despite my best efforts as a child. Also, I remembered trying to make the bath water look like I had never washed in it. I had wanted to show him how clean I was in the hope that it might make him realise how dirty he was without my having to spell it out. It hadn’t worked.

So….what now? No one is ever prepared for dilution. We know it will happen, like the menopause, but no one talks about it. Like starting your periods. Or how awful motherhood can be. Of course, I knew intuitively that a woman who had not had children, unless of course she had been unable but desperate, could expect to suffer more. In that case, I guess I was in for a pretty rough ride.

I could never see the point. Never felt that thing you are meant to feel. Women like me are unnatural, sick, and God will punish me with a painful dilution. But a painful dilution is no reason to bring a child into this world. I still stick by that. Ouch; the pain has started quickly, in my feet; it’s the water trying to escape I suppose. The extremities.

Most who looked at me would say I looked fine. They obviously haven’t had their dilution, or else are men. My husband. A mathematician. Cambridge. Now Professor of something. Comes home late. Works at home all weekend. Fathered a son (not mine) and a daughter (not mine). I have learned to be so proud. He could have been a doctor or a psychiatrist, but he preferred numbers, rationality, black and white; not people and feelings and endless shades of grey.

As well as wet, I now felt grey. I had actually lost my colour long ago, but until now, I had always felt a colour. I had once been orange and red and yellow and I had fizzed like champagne. I went to Paris, to The Louvre. I had darkened first, to black, which had its comforts, I don’t mind black, but then I faded. Over time, you know. It just happened. Crept up on me really. The dilution left me Pale Platinum. Pale like the sky, just visible to me now. I would wait until the next cloud had passed.

There it went. ‘Don it’s time to get up,’ I nudged my husband, asleep at my side. He sat up without preamble, thin legs hanging over the side of the bed. He strode purposefully out of the room. He hadn’t noticed. I should get up now and make coffee. I heard him in the bathroom, water running in the basin. He came into the bedroom for clothes and socks. I mumbled that I had a headache. He grabbed his jacket, shoes. He said see you later have a nice day.

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