1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
He tapped the counter five times. He had to, otherwise he couldn’t open the draw. He didn’t know why, but it seemed to work. Once the five taps were done, the draw opened. He couldn’t explain it. He tried opening before but it just didn’t shift. Tried four, six, thirteen, but it only seemed to work on five.
Knife, fork, knife, fork, spoon, fork, spoon.
Ok, it was all perfectly placed, he thought, all ready. He picked up the fork and the bowl of rice he had on the counter. The far end of the counter of course, it couldn’t go any closer otherwise it spoiled the food. The cutlery he had removed lay neatly above the drawer from where it came, he would put it back after he had eaten. He daren’t put it back now.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Brian used to be a looker of a man. Women liked him when his hair was a flowing mane of dark brown, and his dark-rimmed glasses hung off his nose. He had a smile that drew people in, entranced them, but the smile had long since faded, and the glasses were firmly attached to the jowls of his face. His hair was scraggy, not quite to the levels of the homeless, but it was not as well kept as it had been. He looked a mess, but in his mind, an organized mess.
He circled the room as he always did.
Four laps of the room, just to make sure. Was it four? Maybe five? Maybe one more to make sure?
The room was the very definition of minimalist. A sofa, a television and a table, but only a small one. Even the light didn’t have a shade attached. All Brian’s possessions had long since gone. Bad luck, bad mojo. Nasty things happened when they were in his flat. He used to have a beautiful king size bed, gigantic it was, and it housed many a beautiful lady who he romanced in it, before settling down with Laura. Along with his looks, his talents as a writer got plenty of female attention. His friends used to mock him in that way jealous men do, saying how he would never be happy, he was a slut, it would go wrong eventually. Foolishly he thought “eventually” would never happen.
He sat down slowly, any faster would disrupt it. Discharge the equilibrium. Luckily this time he did it right. Nothing went wrong, all was well. Brian took a fork-full of rice and ate it in rhythm, four forkfuls at a time.
1, 2, 3, 4.
Of course it would be easier with a spoon. God it would be easier, but he tried that. He tried the spoon. Never again.
The television was blank as Brian stared at it. He wanted to turn it on, to see what was happening, but was scared. Last time it was horrible, he went to flick on the switch, and came away with a searing pain. He had lost the end of his right index finger through the burns he came away with. He found the left index finger worked ok though, but that meant approaching in a certain way that he had forgotten. He daren’t approach it in the wrong way.
The rice wasn’t the tastiest of meals, but was the only one that didn’t make him feel sick. He tried muesli after the incident happened, or even pasta, but both tasted like poison in his mouth. He had been sick for four months trying to eat the pasta, cooking it in different ways. But each way was the same, each way it tasted like venom.
Brian finished the rice. The room was hot, the sun scorching in the sky. He desperately wanted to open the window, he needed to, but it was over there, on the wall. He had tried various times to open it, in desperation he once tried to smash it, but such rash actions had a destructive effect. He lost his right eye when that happened. Luckily it seemed to just cauterize from his socket, but still it hurt like Hell. Never try to destroy your surroundings that taught him, or your surroundings would destroy you.
He knew, like everything else, there was a technique for doing it. Like opening the draw, getting the cutlery, and entering the room, there was a way. It was like when he needed to go to the bathroom, he learnt that the technique was:
Enter, exit, enter, exit. Continue ad nauseam ten times and then you can pee.
For having a shit, it was double. His bladder nearly burst before he figured that out. He was lucky in that respect.
But there must have been a technique not only for approaching the window, but opening it. Brian stood up, then sat, and then stood up again. Getting up from the sofa was one of the easiest tasks. He gazed at the window, the air circulating freshly outside, looking so inviting. He took a step using his left foot…
And crashed to the floor, clutching his left leg in pain. He looked down and saw the bone peeking out from the calf, the blood slowly trickling through. The agony was searing through his body and he cried out in frustration, slamming his fist down on the floor. Of course this act of chaotic rebellion had consequences, as the flat began to shake and a deep, throbbing rumbling was heard. Brian could see the building around him begin to collapse and break apart, so fierce was the impact of the tremors. However, in a matter most ironic, the wall of his flat broke apart and crashed to the street below, allowing an influx of air that quelled Brian’s screams.
He crawled to the edge of the floor, now an entrance to a fifteen-story fall. It would be tempting to just end it, but in all honesty he had been there and found himself back at square one. He looked over the ledge, not even noticing that nothing bad had happened due to his movements. It was instinctive moments like that which went against him, as every movement, no matter how minor, needed to be chronicled. But right now he just did not care.
Unfortunately, the streets below were all the same. Nothing moved, literally. People stood like statues, well except for the ones who were now crushed underneath the debris and rubble that his minor action had created. Even vehicles stood firm in mid-movement, the planes in the sky just hovering there, lifeless.
He lay on his back and looked towards the door to the rear of the room. There, standing in perfect stillness, was Laura. That had been how it started, when she merely came to enter the room, and he was unsure of what it was he had done to start it, but everything seemed to stop. Laura didn’t move, the clouds didn’t shift and the sun didn’t set. Everything just seemed to stop.
Over on the wall to his left was the timeline. Well, he called it a timeline in his head, in reality it was merely carvings on the wall, notches of days gone by. He had lost count, but had an inkling that at some stage he had given up on days and started on months, this time with longer and deeper carvings. Looking at the wall, he saw that there was almost no space left unmarked.
Thinking it over, it may have been easier to just start again. He’d get his eye back, and fix his broken leg, but then the rules would change, and he’d be punished. Last time he did he looked down to see several people just burst into flames, with no rhyme or reason, just spontaneously combust. He wasn’t sure whether next time he would do it, something worse would happen, or even happen to Laura herself.
He looked at her perfect form, covered merely by one of his old designer shirts which she always stole to sleep in. He smiled, wished a little wish, and then dragged himself over the ledge. A hideous whirring noise was heard as he managed to get himself over, but whatever that meant, he’d find out as soon as his head hit the concrete.
At least he would have a couple of seconds of freedom as he fell.
(Compulsion is from Filmic Cuts 1: Sunshine & Lollipops, which is available now on Kindle & Paperback.)