"No Pain Whatsoever" opens with Myra smoothing her skirt and pushing Jack's hand away. She is in the back seat of a car, heading toward the hospital TB ward for a weekly visit with her husband. Jack is her boyfriend.
It wasn't that there was anything to be ashamed of - Irene and Marty knew all about Jack and everything; most of her friends did, and nobody blamed her (after all, wasn't it almost like being a widow?) - it was just that Jack ought to know better. Couldn't he at least have the decency to keep his hands to himself now, of all times?Tension builds as details slowly emerge. After deciding they will go out for drinks, Myra's friends drop her off at the hospital.
All the sheets and the hospital pajamas were dyed yellow, to distinguish them from uncontaminated linen in the hospital laundry, and this combined with the pale green of the walls made a sickly color scheme that Myra could never get used to.At last we are introduced to her husband, Harry. He has been in the hospital for an undetermined length of time, with no discharge plans in the foreseeable future.
When he bent forward to take the match the yellow pajamas gaped open and she saw his chest, unbelievably thin, partly caved-in on one side where the ribs were gone. She could just see the end of the ugly, newly healed scar from the last operation.Their visit is comprised of solely superficial conversation. It's obvious Harry has developed a new routine around the rhythm of hospital life. Clearly more anxious to delve into the new issue of Popular Science, he seems only vaguely interested in Myra's conversation. When Myra asks if it hurts, he responds,
"Not at all any more... I mean, as long as I don't go raising my arms too high or anything. When I do that it hurts, and sometimes I start to roll over on that side in my sleep, and that hurts too, but as long as I stay - you know - more or less in a normal position, why, there's no pain whatsoever."Myra has a brief breakdown after she leaves the ward, but recovers in time to join her friends for one final round of drinks.
This story, like the Yates novels I've read, is very real and slightly sad. Simon (Stuck in a Book) said it perfectly in his post yesterday: "... next time I feel like a bit of American sombreness, I'll turn to Yates."
It's interesting to note that Yates contracted TB and recovered after a brief convalescence. Using the resulting army disability pension, he moved to Europe in 1954, lived there for several years, and wrote stories. "No Pain Whatsoever" is from The Collected Stories of Richard Yates. I was not able to find it online.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.