Mad Woman in the Attic, a Short Story
Mad Woman in the Attic, a Short Story
“Cannot you love me a bit and talk to me? I’m getting old and ill. I will die very soon.”
Mridula whispered to her husband in a pleading tone.
“What should I say?”
His cold voice chilled her blood as if an ice blade had pierced her heart apart. In his dark face, there was not a single ray of love or sympathy… even any trace of pity. She gasped for breath. Her hazy
eyes observed the steps he took to mound the stairs leading to his room. His room, his house, his life, his decision. How easy it was for him to live the life he chose. She could not remember the time when she lived her life….she only can remember her childhood days and the days at her school. And her home. Where is her home? They say after marriage a woman’s home is with her husband. But is this the home? She tried to search for a few happy memories, memories of love and feelings. But she didn’t find the face she wished to be happy with. How much she got him? He was so busy with his relatives, relatives’ relatives, students…and there were so many things in his life…his life…she never found her own. As if she was never there…never in his life. She was in the kitchen, in the bed, at the laundry, in the garden, cleaning, making food, serving, and washing. She was their bearing children, caring and rearing them up. It was a long time since he took her to the doctor. They didn’t believe her….her husband and her son.
Something was gnawing her brain…and the crab-walking. They laughed, taunted, threw furtive glances and tried to make her understand her insanity. They didn’t believe it. Whenever she closed her eyes memories haunted her…memories of loveless days…as if she was drilling and drifting under the voices… familiar but cold…icy cold. Sometimes she started laughing… laughing for hours…and then crying. Medicine could not do any miracle. There was no hand on her shoulder or no voice to soothe her. They were busy. Busy, busy, busy…always. The food started burning, the clothes got burnt under the iron heat, the garden remained untilted and the house in disarray. People started talking. Everyone knew she was mad…mad woman in the room. There was no attic and there was no cook or maid so she could take her exile in the attic where the yellow wallpaper peeled her sorrows out of the wall.
“Love me, talk to me” she whispered.
The wind heard her, the searing asphalt road, the dazzling sun, stormy eyes of a nimbus cloud listened to her. But he didn’t. She heard his voice, over the phone, narrating her insanity to everyone he knew or didn’t know. He was narrating his pathetic life being a husband of such a woman. He was talking, laughing and gossiping with everyone but not with her. She demanded…‘talk to me.’
‘What should I talk about with you, Mridula?’ ‘About everything….the books you are writing, the people you are meeting, the life you are living. About the weather, sudden heat surge in Mid-Asian countries, declaration of wars, Putin’s new policies or the wife of Barak Obama. Anything you will tell about I’m here to listen.’
‘I’ve no time. I’m busy.’ He brushed her aside and enters his room. He remained there till noon, night, early morning… except for eating or taking bath or some jobs of his own. He came and ate and talked over the phone. he wrote and got tired of writing and talked over the phone for hours, he talked garrulously…. narrating repeatedly his life… so hard with a mad woman and his success story to become a writer even in the face of such adversity. He was great…so great.. didn’t they understand?
“Give me medicine. More medicine. I need to sleep. Words talk inside me. I want to stop them. Bad bad words, burning words.”
And she slept for hours after hours as if she wished to forget everything. She didn’t want to open her eyes and visit the world….it was so suffocating…no air, no love. It was better to sleep….goddess of oblivion. She didn’t want to remember…if there was something like an eraser that could erase her memories.
Her son had a son. It was grand news. Didn’t she feel happy? They married on their own. They laughed and mocked and she worked and worked for them. She did her chores and sleep….sleep… sleep. She felt her head burning…even in cold winter…she felt her hands getting detached from her and her legs were heavy like an elephant’s. Medicine after medicine heaped and her vision got blurry, and her brain started refusing to act properly. She heard less, talked more, laughed and babbled.
Still, she whispered, ‘Love me. Talk with me. I’m tired of talking with myself.’ She tried to shout, ‘Come down, come down from your tower of books and fame. Look at the ground. Look at me…I’m in pain…my time is near.’
‘You have time to talk with others for hours and over the phone but not with me.’ She demanded. Her eyes blazing. His silence is more humiliating. She slept.
She went to her son to their baby. The little one could not talk but make sounds…funny boy, darling. But they taunted and teased her and then fought with each other. They talked over the phone but not with her. They quarrelled but did not talk.
And she whispered, ‘Stop your quarrel…why cannot you talk lovingly?’
They got angry. ‘Don’t poke your nose. Only do what you are told to do.”
She could not sleep. She had to make food for her daughter-in-law, wash her clothes, arrange her tiffin, and then she took care of the baby…the baby… always gargling and babbling…She relished those sounds and tried to imitate the baby boy. They called her mad and took the baby away.
She felt sleepy …if she could sleep here….it is a prison house….no garden, no balcony…only one small room where she could not sleep and forgot…the scars, the laughter, the humiliation, the loveless daily drudgery.
“She is a mental patient.” She cooked well, kept the house clean, and looked after the household matters and when her bruised heart got so heavy to carry on…she whispered,
” Love me.” They quarrelled. Their language slashed each other and they were busy with themselves. And the baby laughed and cried. And they bid her goodbye and searched for a babysitter.
And she came back from son to husband. Then she went to sleep.
The psychiatrist told her to talk more and more… “Don’t suppress the thoughts, speak out.”
She murmured, “To whom to whom?”
‘My husband is a writer… author…he wrote books on women…women who suffered, women who are suppressed and humiliated under the patriarchy. He has no time for me.’ She wished to tell.
His proud face glowed as he talked and talked but not with her. She was the madwoman in the house.
She talked with the garden, talked with the bedsheet, pillow cover, table and utensils.
“Do you miss me?”.
The newly appointed cook was good and the maid. They were as fast as a jet plane. And there was nothing to complain about.
He was busy publishing more and more books and had no one to disturb him.
“Do you miss me?” She dared not to ask him.
She could sleep at least here. No one would order her to do anything. She could sleep and sleep swallowing two medicines at a time. No one will wait for her to wake… And if she slept forever no one will be there to wake her.
They would come and console her husband, ” How you had to live and struggle and to do such great jobs.”
Then they must look at her sleeping body…whimpering in death, “Love me…love me…talk with me.”
No one spoke to her. She was for no use. She had no use for her son or her husband. They stopped facing her and started behaving more viciously. Their stern looks allowed her blood to congeal. They talked and talked more over the phone…her son, her husband.
She tried to sleep ..one two three pills at a time. There they applauded his success. She could hear their scream.
He had published four books on generous women in India and they sold well. How he described their sufferings and struggle, their oppression and humiliation in society, in the family! People talked about his books. People talked about him.
The house was crowded with photographers and publishers. His smiling face was on the paper, on the dazzling screen.
She looked and couldn’t recognise it. He could smile and talk. They celebrated his glory.
They didn’t look at her. As if she was invisible. They talked among themselves, discussed and laughed.
“I’m here, I’m here.” She whispered. They pretended blindness. She was a discarded soul…no use. One two three four five six…she turns over the bottle on her skinny palm and swallows. The gulping noise mixes with the noise of watch…tok…tok…tok.
He was not in his room. There was a ceremony to attend. She heard as he talked over the phone. He had been nominated the best woman writer of the decade for his writings on the lives of women. She tiptoed into his room. He had gone to receive his prize. Only the smell of his cologne was there, wafting in her trespassing sighs. There were the books…stacked perfectly…arranged ….she took one after another and looked at the pages. Something broiled within her…tingling sensation burst into laughter…she started laughing….as she read on…her laughter increased….what hypocrisy…the women in the pages of books looked at her.
“Go away mad woman, don’t scare us, don’t taint our glory with your dirty fingers. Go to sleep.”
She stacked all the books around her and made a bed…pyre. Then she sparkled the matchstick and throw them one after another.
“Go to sleep go to sleep”, The women of the book screamed out, “You mad woman go to sleep.”
The books started burning. She smelt the burnt paper and smiled peacefully. Now she could sleep.
She exclaimed, “Come women, let’s all sleep together. You and I. we all are mad women in this attic, in this room, in this world
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.