This morning, the world is vast. The horrid yellow wallpaper, with or without faces lurking, twisting, changing, is peeling. And she is utterly trapped by a convention and a wall of barred glass windows. Beyond them, mist rises from the low, rolling moors and high elms, hangs in the air as a sheer curtain, veiling but not masking the landscape. Below her, there are the familial sounds of breakfast being prepared, cups rattling, kettle whistling, bacon thick and fatty as it can only ever be in the country sizzling in the pan.
Her head is clear as the world after a rainfall; she is sane and sober and yet the scraps of wallpaper litter the floor and padlocks still bar her exit. Over the sounds of breakfast cooking, footsteps bustling in and out, John’s important work pacing to and fro in freedom beneath her feet which are, at this moment, soberly planted against the floor as she sits, ever the lady, ruler-straight in the bed –
Waiting – over all of this she hears the unmistakable, foreboding rumble of carriage wheels traveling a clear path. The waiting droops out of her, the practiced piano-perfect posture slouches slightly closer to despair, the hope that someone from downstairs might turn the key in the lock and swing open the door, bearing a steaming cup of coffee, strong and bitter, to set her spirit straight, to send her down the narrow stairs again after, away from this cursed, colorless prison, dissipate with the mist as the sun rises higher in the sky – a taunt.
She rises to meet it. The ever-stationary bed creaks beneath her, as she is sure it must when she tosses her nights through wakeful dreams, but her footsteps carry the practiced art of a woman silent and scored, and she makes no further noise as she steps up to the sill and peers out. The carriage, this particular carriage, is one that has haunted her nightmares since she was first introduced to its threat – as an imaginative and nervous child in a similar hereditary estate long crumbled into dust and decay with the moving of her mother to the city, her father remarried overseas, no brothers or sisters to speak of and her – here.
John says she must not entertain the idea, that the carriage might come for her this time. Her nervous disposition might latch on to it. John says. John says.
Sunlight and the fairy-glow of morning mist, the sparkle of the dew-drops still drying, the broken greenhouses in the back catching odd, glistening rainbows of light, have propelled the room slightly more towards the inhabitable disposition. Even so, she eyes warily the torn, peeled scraps of what remain, enough space between them for the stooping figure to skulk to the foreground and climb through the paneling and paper to reach her at last, if she does not escape this room soon.
The winding road outside is bright, brisk, alight with the fresh glow of a summer morning – the walls lurk sinister behind her and she wonders, again, what kind of family, what kind of child, had stood at this barred glass before her, craned for a glimpse of the world below, battled with the creeping shadows and dark corners that the sunlight could not quite reach. John says these things are only nervous, imaginative thoughts. They will tire her. John says.
John, who broke down the door last night and who must have replaced it this morning – she must admit, if only to herself, that she does not remember. The night hides at the edge of her memory, peering out at odd angles to throw her a crumb’s worth of remembrance, a flash of her crawling footsteps over John’s still body, the ache of her teeth on the corner, of that vicious and immoveable bed frame, the endless rip-rip-rip of the wallpaper, freeing the slinking, creeping creatures behind it, the click of the key, distant, as it fell to the carriage path beneath the leaves – they are memories out of order and at odds with herself as she knows herself, and yet–
And yet, the wallpaper is in shreds on the ground, the bed frame has been gnawed, her clothes are worn twisted as though she dressed in a scuffle. The inhabitants of the downstairs world, John, Jennie, the baby, whoever else might have arrived as she slept, though she feels more as though she has not slept at all but simply awoken from a trance, avoid her entirely. And yet, the empty walls leer at her and a shadow peeks in at the east window. The voices rise downstairs and she hears, in unmistakable clarity, the slam of a carriage door and the dusty footsteps on the path to the regal front door, standing proud with its secrets behind its arms and over its threshold, a space neither in nor out that she has occupied often over these nearly three months.
Last night, she knows she did not want to leave, that the woman, the women, her companions shaking the paper and with it the horrible, closed walls, had begged her to stay in their freeing madness, but today she is once again painfully aware of what a prison she finds herself in. She is not tired. It is unusual these days that she is not, at least, in the glare of the morning sun, which has been tiring her where the moonlight had invigorated her search and her wakefulness. She is not tired and, coming to the realization in the way of pliable suggestions and sneaking suspicions, no one graced the steps to bring her either breakfast or any of those frighteningly large, white pills or nasty, odorous tonics John had prescribed her over the course of that summer. John says. John says.
This realization carries with it a vulnerable, feral instinct, a twisting plot forming deep in her consciousness, urged into haste by the childhood fear of the waiting, dreadful chariot out in the lane and the over-the-shoulder sensation of being observed, cased, and studied by the monsters that masqueraded as women or by the women trapped and transformed into monsters. It was an instinct she had not felt since she was small, knobby-kneed, falling out of trees and being scolded for it. She had missed it like a dear, old thing passed over; now, she listened to it as she had listened moments ago to the waking sounds of this cursed, sunlit house.
John said. John said. The instinct said. She stood at the window on the east wall and scrabbled at the bars, breaking brittle nails, finding them too expertly installed to budge. And so she waited, crouched beside the door, clawed nails broken sharp, limbs taut in a way that hinged in memory but had been unused for some time, huddled over and still like a piece of the room herself, pasted dreadful to the cherry-wood walls.
Listening, waiting, she was finally rewarded with dour footsteps on the stairs, the heavy tred of two men trailed by the light, floating figure of Jennie, still in apron, baby on her hip as though her were her own, as he had been for some time – so distant a remembrance, so faint a connection to this tiny, foreign creature that often set her nerves running. There were no nerves now, as the voices halted and whispered, consulted with one another, as the once-lost key turned in the heavy lock and as, clear-headed and bright-eyed and sober, she sprang at the leader of the party, a strange, dark-suited, pale ghost of a man, claws flashing, teeth glinting wild and rabid as the sun streamed through the barred and now bloody windows.
Solitary strength, once subdued, prevailed on the threshold of the room, and at the top of the steep attic steps, at the breadth of a now, finally, quiet house and a paperless room. She crept, hunched, twisted, a gnarled and victorious thing, down the stairs and out the front door to the gardens and broken greenhouses, where she lay waiting, stooped in the dew grass beneath the sun, staring at the manor as a shadow beneath its looming, captive domain.
Monica Robinson is a queer experimental poet and artist, mixing mediums to create fresh works of exploratory literature. She is eternally haunted by the rural Midwestern landscape in which she grew up, and she has been writing her brand of the weird and the wild ever since. Monica is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and EARTH IS FULL; GO BACK HOME, and is in the grueling process of querying her first novella. You can find and support her during this terrible process at www.mrobinsonwrites.com, on Instagram: @corvus.et.liber, on Twitter: @mxnicarobinson, and on Hive: hive.blog/mrobinsonwrites.