In The Closet
When you start needing a place to scream, you try most of the rooms in the house.
You start with the shower. At first, you take a weird pleasure in screaming behind the shower curtain. In college, you had a film major roommate, and the two of you would take over the dorm lounge on Saturday nights. While everyone else got their kicks with underage drinking, you two would watch old films. Psycho was the roommate’s favorite.
But Psycho has created its scars. Or perhaps too many accidents happen in the bathroom for it to be a good place to scream. One small howl—not even enough to make your throat ache—brings your son rushing in.
“Mommy? Mommy?” he says.
At least he cares, you think as you pull the shower curtain around yourself and stick your head out to assure him you’re not hurt.
“There’s a bake sale at school today,” he says. “Did you make cookies?”
“What bake sale?” you ask.
That night, you try screaming into your pillow. You’ve heard a lot about that, it’s downright clichéd. A marriage counselor even recommended it to you, once. One of the early ones your husband liked.
You scream for a minute, and for some reason, you think about a production of Othello you were in during high school. The girl playing Desdemona was a friend of yours, a shy girl who was reluctant to be on stage at all, but who gave that final scene everything she had.
You scream and try to recall the story at the same time—was Desdemona cheating? Or was that Othello? You know this much, Desdemona did not press the pillow to her own face as you are doing. In the middle of a satisfying scream, your husband’s snores stop abruptly. He asks if you could please go to sleep.
The pillow is now moist from your tongue and teeth and desperate, spitting breath. You turn it over and wonder what else will go in the laundry with the pillowcase in the morning.
You think you’ve really found it, the perfect place to scream: in the closed garage, inside the locked car, with the motor running to drown out the noise. But then your husband comes down to get his car out. He’s going to pick up the oldest child for soccer.
“Don’t pull a Sylvia Plath,” he jokes when he sees you there, red-faced from the screaming but suddenly silent in his company.
“A Sylvia Plath?”
“She killed herself with gas, didn’t she?”
Afterward, you will look this up and discover that Plath killed herself in an oven, not a minivan. Your husband had his symbols of femininity/available suicide methods mixed up. You consider telling him this, but the thought of his distracted replies makes you want to scream some more. Besides, you have to pick up the younger children for swimming. You don’t have time.
You wonder if the closet with the spare bedding would make a good screaming spot. You’ve always liked the way it smelled—like your brand-new house and the mixture of your husband’s cologne and your own perfume. And you think that the space might be cozy, in there with all those blankets. But, ultimately, you don’t give it a try. You have been avoiding that closet for weeks now, since finding the condoms you did not buy, the fluorescent lingerie you would have mocked if you had seen it in the store. You screamed when you found all that, and the oldest of your children ran to you at once. She is a sweet girl, a good girl, just entering puberty, just starting to agree to watch your rom-coms with you on weekday nights when her father is working late.
“What?” she said, there in that closet. And you hurried to hide what you had found, even though you couldn’t stop screaming. Soon, you gathered a crowd. One frightened child you had to lie to and put back in bed, one just old enough to be wary at your insistence that there was a spider, one who will almost certainly remember this later and blame you, as you now blame your mother, for failing to leave a man who deserves to be left.
No. Clearly, that closet won’t work for private screaming again.
Instead, you walk around your house—your perfect house—and remember when you used to scream outdoors, in the open. When your screams were to encourage the Red Sox or shoo a raccoon, when you were not afraid of what would come out if you opened your mouth in public. Those screams, as you recall them, were satisfying, but they weren’t necessary. If the Red Sox ignored your hollering, then they would not miss the school bus or forget their homework or skip out into the street and get hit by a car. And that raccoon? It could have your trash. It’s your marriage you now want to protect from the woman leaving behind her trashy laundry, the husband tipping over the metaphorical recycling bins of your life and threatening to scatter your secrets in the street.
And so you find your places to scream. The garage, like Plath, as you now think of it; the pillow, like Desdemona; and the shower, like that woman from Psycho whose name you can’t remember. Slowly, day by day, you become hoarse.
“What’s wrong, babe?” your husband asks when you finally lose your voice entirely.
You look at him, but you cannot reply.
And so your life, as you know it, does not end. Your husband drives to get the children from soccer, and you bake cookies for bake sales. He snores in bed beside you, and one day, someday, you open the closet with the spare bedding and smell again the mixture of your new house and his cologne and your perfume. And then you close the closet door and go on with your life.
Grace Elliott is a writer and editor living just outside New York. Her writing has appeared in Joyland, Electric Literature, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. She has attended the One Story Writers Conference, Aspen Summer Words, and Tin House’s Winter Novel Workshop.
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