This flash fiction originally appeared in Issue 9 of Dance to Death (Sorrowland Press) back in 2008. Dance to Death has since ceased publication, and no longer has a web presence.
About this piece: I wrote "Twenty, Four, and Seven" years after one of my social work professors made a quick reference to a case study about a woman who had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The woman’s routine to walk to work eventually became so complicated that she lost her job. Living with this particular mental illness in its manifest state would be very difficult.
Twenty, Four, and Seven
Today, step out front door to walk to work. Lock door. Unlock door. Walk back in. Check stove element. Turn it on. Turn it off. Step out front door again. Repeat six times.
Twenty years ago, step out front door, help mother garden. Enjoy self at first. Count the tomatoes. Count his drunk beers. Count her bruises. Keep eyes down.
Today, begin walk to work, step on cracks only. No matter, she is already gone. Stand at crosswalk. Push walk button six times.
Seven years ago, leave home, go to college, fall in love once, marry him. Check his breathing twice to see if sleeping. Get up. Rewash all dishes in cupboards. Cry into dishwater when finished. One: the number of times he said he was leaving. Two: the days it took him to pack up and go. Twenty-four-seven: the time spent missing him.
Today, circle block before entering building of employment. Repeat six times. When in lobby, push button with arrow pointing up. Six times.
Four years ago, sit at home alone. When phone rings, pick up after three rings. Meet friend who does not understand it, but who tolerates it. Talk about life. Never talk about it. Go home. Rewash dishes. Weep. Sleep.
Today, walk to desk. Watch as coworkers stop working and wait for it. Turn computer monitor on and off six times. Pick up phone after sixth ring. Walk toward boss's office. Turn doorknob six times. Increase to twelve times. Lower eyes to ground once inside. Three: the number of warnings generally given before being let go. Seven: the number of warnings received because boss has genuine concern. Twenty: the number of minutes to pack up desk and leave.