1 comment

Fiction Contemporary

She’s late.

You were supposed to meet for lunch at 1 o’clock but it’s ten minutes past and she still isn’t here. You check your phone again – no messages from her, no missed calls. 

You were able to rationalise her being five minutes late - maybe the traffic was bad. Maybe she got caught up chatting to a neighbour, or she couldn’t get the dog in from the garden.

After ten minutes though, you know something awful has happened.

Her car crashed on the way here.

She fell down the stairs.

She had a heart attack.

She had a stroke.

You check your phone again and look at the last message you sent her – “Read 11.52 AM”. She was still alive then. Something terrible has clearly happened in the last hour. 

Your napkin lies in shreds in a pile on the table in front of you. You hadn’t even realised you had been tearing it into tiny pieces as you worried your hands together.

Ok, calm down. Sitting here worrying isn’t going to achieve anything. Just give her a call and see where she is. Take it from there.

You prepare yourself to make the phone call. You can’t simply call her right now. You need to prepare. You need to generate positive energy first. Then you will have done all that you can do and maybe the universe will allow her to be ok.

You begin to tap your thumb against your pinkie finger on your left hand. Three taps on the pinkie finger, counting to three in your head. Then on to the ring finger for three taps. The middle finger, then the index finger. Then blink and swallow. Think of a positive thought whilst you blink, or it doesn’t count.

One two three, one two three, one two three, one two three. Repeat three times in total. Three batches counts as one round. Blink, swallow.

You don’t know where this rule came from - you don’t know why this makes things ok. It’s one of many rules that dictates your day. You have no idea why you ever had the thought to follow these rules in the first place. But you have been doing it since you were a small child and so far nothing catastrophic has happened in your life, so you know that this is what prevents the Bad Things from happening.

Of course, on a deeper level, you know that isn’t actually true. You’re not delusional. You are all too aware of how completely irrational this thought process is and yet…and yet. You can’t possibly stop. Because what if..?

What if, what if, what if?

You had better do a second round before you call her. Just in case.

You start the process again. You are on to the index finger on the third batch when a voice interjects to your left.

“Excuse me, you dropped this” – a kindly older man hands you your purse off the floor. It must have fallen out of your pocket when you sat down.

“Oh, thank you so much!” you say with a smile, as you inwardly scream.

He is clearly trying to be helpful. If you were a normal, functioning human being then it would have been helpful. But you just want to bang your fists on the table, to shout, to cry. You were so close to finishing that second round. If you had been able to finish it, maybe she would have been ok after all. You feel your eyes filling with tears in frustration as you try and take a deep breath. 

Ok, so just repeat it again. And then again after that to make up for this interruptionYou can’t do it four times of course, four is a Bad Number. You’ll have to do it five times.

You start tapping again.

One two three, one two three, one two three, one two three. Repeat three times in total. Three batches counts as one round. Blink, swallow. Positive thoughts.

It takes several minutes, but you manage to do five rounds without being interrupted. You wait for the heaviness in your chest to lessen as a result. It doesn’t. 

That last time didn’t feel right. You’ll have to do it again. You can’t do it six times in total though, six is a Bad Number. Eight is a Good Number, do it another three times to make eight in total. Then maybe she might be ok.

After eight rounds, the vice around your heart starts to loosen its grip. You’ve done all you can do.

Maybe it is ok, maybe she is just running late after all. Let’s just give her a call now and see if she answers.

Your thumb hovers over her name and you are about to tap it to place the call when an ambulance races down the high street, lights flashing and siren blaring. 

Oh god. That’s her.

Her car crashed on the way here.

She fell down the stairs.

She had a heart attack.

She had a stroke.

She’s in that ambulance right now.

You start tapping again.

Tap, blink, swallow.

Nine times, ten times, eleven times, twelve times. Twelve is a Good Number.

But what if you miscounted? What if you have actually done thirteen rounds? You can’t possibly stop on thirteen. You’ll have to do it another three times to be safe. That makes sixteen. Sixteen is a Good Number. Sixteen is safe. And even if you have miscounted, seventeen is ok.

You’re halfway through your eighteenth round (you thought you ought to do it a couple more times, just to be safe) when the sound of the bell on the back of the door shakes you out of your ruminations. Where were you? Were you on the middle finger, or the index finger?

You almost cry again, until you see the customer that has just entered.

She’s here.

She flashes a grin at you from across the room and makes her way over to the table, cheeks flushed and hair windswept.

“I’m SO sorry I’m late, the traffic was awful…oh, before I sit down, do you have any hand sanitiser? I never trust the handrails on those escalators. Sorry, I’m a bit OCD!” she laughs breezily. 

Your racing heart is finally beginning to slow down.

“Oh, don’t worry” you smile. “I am too!”. 

October 14, 2022 18:30

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Andrew Sweet
00:52 Oct 20, 2022

What a fun and all too familiar situation. I couldn't help breathe a sigh of relief at the end. Yet, the tension had me wondering if this was truly the end and what happens next 😀!


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.