The Man Who Couldn't Stop Yawning

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Short Short Stories!
Short story in which a man can't stop yawning.

Submitted: October 05, 2016

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Submitted: October 05, 2016



The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Yawning


He wasn’t even tired when it happened. Nor had he just woken up. These are the two scenarios in which one would generally expect the impulse to occur. It was only one o’clock. He was in the supermarket choosing his lunch — torn between a cheese and pickle sandwich and a cheese and pickle baguette — when he started to yawn.

He thought nothing of it at first. Although slightly unexpected, he had always found yawning a fairly pleasurable experience. He stretched out his arms to make the most of the event on what had so far been a rather mundane Monday. Five or six seconds passed. He pulled his arms back into his sides. Nine or ten seconds passed. The yawn continued.

The shelf-stacker by the chiller cabinet had noticed his actions and proceeded to emit a yawn of her own. Hers was of the normal length and, yawn-free, she had moved on to the next aisle. He dropped a cheese sandwich into his basket. His original yawn had now reached twenty seconds. He covered his mouth with his hand. ‘This is strange,’ he thought, ‘this is an unusually long yawn I’m having’. 

He was relieved that the shelf-stacker had been able to continue stacking shelves unhindered. He had cause to remember the contagious nature of yawns and was thankful that it had been only the yawn as an entity which was infectious. He wouldn’t wish to inflict this particularly lengthy yawn of his on anyone.

He stood there yawning for about a minute, his basket of lunch in one hand, his open mouth in the other. One minute turned into two. He came to the conclusion that although the length of the yawn was unprecedented, he must be nearer the end of it than the beginning. If his theory was correct, eating lunch this lunchtime was still not out of the question. He decided to go to the checkout. 

As he scanned his sandwich in the self-service section, he hoped against hope that he wouldn’t have to contend with any unexpected items in the bagging area. Coming face to face with the checkout assistant was the last thing he needed. Standing there yawning at them while they rectified any technical faults would have been highly inappropriate. Thankfully, his lunch was bought without incident and he left the supermarket in the usual fashion — apart from the constant yawning, obviously.



It soon became apparent that his predicament was worsening. What, just a few minutes ago, had been a relief and a release from the day’s monotony, had developed a new characteristic. He now found he had an intermittent need to stretch out his arms for prolonged periods — another unwelcome symptom of his condition. And a condition was what it was. He decided he must receive medical attention immediately. He couldn’t go on like this. The Doctor’s surgery was at the other end of the street and he headed towards it. 

Ambling down the road — his arms outstretched, his mouth agape — he resembled something between a scarecrow and an Edvard Munch painting. He could feel people staring at him as he went. He walked past the bank. Some pensioners pointed. He continued past the betting shop. Some children turned to look. He moved towards the Post Office. A couple muttered to each other — presumably raising the question, “Why hasn’t that man stopped yawning yet?”. He broke into a jog; past the shoe shop and the butcher’s. Some youths laughed. He started to run. He raced past the florist, the grocer’s and the bookstore as if he were a child pretending to fly. Some people looked slightly scared. He continued to yawn. He was getting tired of this. He couldn’t stop yawning.



He reached the Doctor’s surgery and made his way to the reception desk.

“Hello Sir, how can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

When his arms allowed him, he pointed to his yawning mouth and shrugged his shoulders in a manner which he hoped was the universal language for, ‘I started yawning in the supermarket about 15 minutes ago and I haven’t been able to stop since. For the love of God, please let me see the Doctor as a matter of urgency!’

The receptionist seemed to understand his gestures up to a point, although he had apparently failed to convey the seriousness of the situation as he found himself being ushered into the waiting room.

He sat down next to a mother and her baby. The mother and her baby looked at him, left their seat and moved to the other side of the room. ‘Am I so hideous?’ he thought, ‘It’s like these people have never seen anyone yawn before.’

He picked up a pen and some paper from the table in front of him. He felt it would be easier to communicate in a more traditional way with the Doctor than using the rudimentary sign language he had trialled on the receptionist. ‘Hello Doctor,’ he wrote, ‘I can’t stop yawning!’



After he had prepared a sufficient set of notes he was finally called into the Doctor’s office. “Take a seat,” invited the Doctor, “what seems to be the trouble?”.

‘The trouble seems to be fairly obvious, surely’ he thought while presenting the Doctor with the paperwork explaining the situation.

“Well,” said the Doctor after reading the case notes, “this is an unusual ailment. That’s a new one on me, I must admit. Has it happened before?”

‘I’ve yawned before, yes’ he wrote, rather sarcastically, ‘but not to this extent. Surely there’s something you can do. There must be a cure.’

“I’ll have to consult my handbook,” said the Doctor, “but even if there were suitable medication, I’m not sure how we could administer it. I presume swallowing is out of the question?”

He nodded despondently and, once more, involuntarily stretched out his arms. 

After rifling through the substantial handbook for some time, the Doctor’s eyes glanced sheepishly up at the patient. “It’s not good news I’m afraid. Your condition doesn’t seem to exist.”

‘But it does exist’ he wrote emphatically, ‘it’s existing now. Look at my mouth!’

“What I mean to say,” the Doctor elaborated, “is that no-one appears to have suffered from this condition before. You may be the first. Certainly the first recorded case. I’ve looked under ‘Y’ for ‘yawn’, ‘E’ for ‘excess yawning’ and ‘C’ for ‘continuous yawn’ but there is no known disease of your type and therefore, I’m sorry to say, no known cure. The only thing I can suggest is that you go home and get a good night’s sleep.”

He sat there open-mouthed. Even if he hadn’t been yawning he would have sat there open-mouthed. Exasperated, he stood up and made his way to the door. Hesitating for a moment, he turned around, went back to the desk and picked up a pen. ‘Would you like this sandwich?’, he scribbled, ‘I’ve no need for it.’



Back on the street he weighed up his options. The doctor, although of little use, had accepted the sandwich and, in return, kindly given him a scarf with which he had covered his mouth. It was, however, the middle of summer so he still attracted some strange looks from passers-by, although nothing to rival the attention his yawning mouth had received earlier. The arms remained a problem but he would just have to live with it.

It was half past two. Even if he took the Doctor’s pitiful advice of getting a good night’s sleep, and although he had been yawning for one and a half hours, he was far from being ready for bed. He decided to do some self diagnosis. ‘Let’s see,’ he thought, ‘if I’m not tired, why have I been continually yawning?…Perhaps I’m bored. Really, really bored.’ He reflected on this prospect and the longer he did so, the more it seemed the most logical explanation. He really was bored. His life was incredibly dull at the moment and in a way it was unsurprising that this elongated yawn had manifested itself. He would have to find something to do to inject some much needed excitement into his day. He looked around. On the other side of the street was the cinema. He figured it might not be a bad idea to hole himself up in there for a couples of hours whilst watching a high-octane action-thriller. He walked across the road.



He gesticulated to the box office staff using the homemade sign language he was slowly becoming fluent in and managed to acquire a ticket to see a suitable film. It was, according to the poster, the new one from the actor who had won the Oscar last year, directed by the chap who had been nominated for an Oscar, hadn’t won the Oscar but probably should have. The important detail, though, was that the five-star review snippet had read ‘the most exciting and dramatic film you’re likely to see this decade’. ‘Perfect,’ he thought, ‘the perfect remedy’.

He was glad to discover an almost empty auditorium. Empty save for a group of teenagers at the back. He settled down towards the front and was able to spread his arms innocuously over the seats either side of him. The advertisements were coming to an end. He continued to yawn.

The film, when it came, included fast cars, lots of guns, shouting, sex, violence, more shouting, shooting, helicopter crashes, police chases and, he counted, twenty-seven different plot twists. When the credits rolled he was feeling a bit dizzy, he had a headache and his ears were sore but overall he was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience. It hadn’t been the tonic he was looking for and his yawning persisted. ‘It’s a shame,’ he thought, ‘that they don’t make them like they used to.’



He decided that he probably should just go home and get some sleep. The lights in the auditorium had come on. “Hey buddy,” came a call from behind him, “buddy, why are you wearing a scarf?” Realising he was being addressed, he tried to ignore the query and hoped the teenagers would leave. “Buddy!” Footsteps. They were coming towards him. “You know it’s really hot in here, right? You know it’s summer? Why are you wearing the scarf?” He wanted to say it was because he was constantly yawning and needed to hide this fact from people. But he couldn’t say that. Because he was yawning. He stood up hoping they would let him leave without further questioning.

They surrounded him.“Grab his scarf!” one of them said, “You grab it!” said another. The third teenager didn’t say anything but, taking the initiative, pulled the scarf away. No resistance was given due to the would-be resister’s arms being as far away as possible from where they were needed. The vision of the scarf-less mouth had given the teenagers the answer to their question. “What a freak!”, the teenager who was holding the scarf deduced after a fair amount of bewildered staring, and the three of them fled.

‘I’m not a freak,’ he thought to himself, ‘I’m a man. Just a man who can’t stop yawning.’



A few minutes later, he emerged onto the pavement. His adrenalin levels had returned to normal after his stressful encounter in the cinema. This potentially helpful level of excitement had failed to cure his yawning and he remained at a loss as to what had caused his ailment. He was half expecting the teenagers to have assembled an angry mob, waving pitchforks and torches, ready to chase the ‘Yawning Devil’ from their community. There wasn’t a mob. There was hardly anyone. It was six o’clock and most of the shops and businesses had closed for the day. One or two people walked by without noticing him and the traffic was all heading back to the suburbs. 

He had driven into town that morning. He wouldn’t be able to drive home. Not without holding the steering wheel, that was for sure. Catching a bus might have attracted more derision from the general public. Likewise, he didn’t want to take his chances on the level of sympathy a taxi driver might have for his situation. He would just have to walk.

And so, in his own unique style, he dejectedly embarked upon the six and a half mile journey back to his house, accompanied with nothing but a rumbling stomach, two aching arms, and a persistent, unwelcome and increasingly irritating yawn.



He arrived back home at about nine o’clock. He was certainly tired now. His aching feet adding to his discomfort as he climbed the stairs and fell into bed. He wondered if he would ever be able to get to sleep. Could one drift off mid yawn? It wasn’t a question he had ever asked himself before. What if he couldn’t? The rest of his life would just be an unbearable combination of starvation and increased insanity as his waking hours stacked up. He would have to go and get some sleeping pills from the Doctor tomorrow. ‘You fool,’ he thought to himself, ‘I won’t be able to swallow them. Only one day of yawning and already your memory’s going. What chance have I got? I’ll never be able to sleep. I’ll never be able to stop yawning’ He lay there cursing his luck for a good few minutes.



He woke at seven. His jaw ached. His arms hurt. He was so hungry. He yawned. He yawned a regular yawn, a normal yawn, a yawn-sized yawn. A yawn which had an end. He pinched himself a couple of times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t yawning. “Oh, what joy!”, he exclaimed, “I shall never doubt the professional opinion of Doctors ever again.”

Breakfast was an indulgent affair. Toast, eggs, bacon, orange juice, cereal, tomato, coffee, sausages, fried bread, marmalade — and a small croissant to finish. As the croissant disappeared, he wiped the crumbs from his mouth, sat back in his chair and sighed.

Then he hiccupped. This hiccup was shortly followed by another hiccup. He hiccupped again. ‘Oh dear,' he thought to himself, ‘I’ve got the hiccups. I hope they don’t last too long.’



He hiccupped again.

© Copyright 2018 E. G. Harris. All rights reserved.

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