Coming and Going
One. Two. Three.
The third time the lock clicked relief spilled over her. Now the door was really locked.
She walked down the hall, almost reaching the next door, when she turned back and ran to hers. Her hand was splayed open in front of her, stretched towards the knob. The metal was cool, smooth against the roughness of her palm.
Need to make sure I lotion every nig…
The knob spun easily under her hand and the door opened.
Wait, that was locked. Wasn’t it?
She pulled the door closed, stuck her key in the lock and hesitated. Was the lock broken? But it was so shiny and new. Bright brushed steel against the black backdrop of her door. It looked shiny and new, but she couldn’t be sure about that. She hadn’t lived in the building long—just under six months. And she’d never looked closely at any of the other locks and knobs. She spent too much time obsessing over hers to even consider giving those more than cursory glance.
Well, nothing for it but to investigate another door’s lock and see if it was the same shiny, clean brushed metal or dingier, worn. Used.
But she had a plan now and there was no going back. She turned her key in the lock, turned it back, locked it again. Turned it back. Locked it once more. Three times. Unfortunately, she couldn’t test it to be sure it was secure. She felt the urge. Her right arm was aching with the need to grab the knob and spin it once, but it would break the pattern and that was unforgivable. She’d have to redo her entire morning if that happened.
She bit her lip and walked down the hall, heading towards the door—her usual direction. She fought the urge to run back and check, even though this was the time she usually did. It had to wait until she got a peek at the other door’s lock and knob. Her eyes were glued to the floor. She counted the tiles between her door and the closest neighbor’s. It soothed the ache that wanted to run and check the door. Quieted the moaning voice begging her to go back.
Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve.
Not good. There was the door to her right. But thirteen? She couldn’t turn and look up now. She hopped a small step forward to the next tile. Fourteen. It left her a little off, but that was better than turning on thirteen.
She lifted her eyes, taking in the worn paint on the door. The cracks through which she could see the red of the original wood. The doorjamb was banged up a bit. Seemed this neighbor was careless entering their apartment. It partially explained the sometimes loud bangs and curses she’d hear.
Above her focus a gray object floated. She took a deep breath, steeled herself and looked up. She was expecting a grimy, fingerprint coated greasy slimy sticky knob that would be crying for a good cleaning but instead there was just the average door knob. It was the same as hers. Gray brushed steel, although this had a few scratches from the owner stabbing the lock with the key. Poor thing. The average person had no idea the kind of power in ritual, much less to be careful doing anything.
She wanted to touch the knob, brush the deepest scratch with the tip of her finger. Reassure it that its pain wasn’t forever. Maybe one day someone like her would come along for this apartment and would treat the lock right. Would leave and enter the right way—three times in, three times out.
But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Partly because her therapist had told her that these inanimate objects couldn’t feel and didn’t care how many times she did something—so obviously the lock wasn’t really weeping at its careless use—and that if she continued to believe that they were in some way appreciative of her careful maneuvers, she would be admitted.
Well, Mrs. Grange hadn’t exactly told her that, but she knew that’s how it would be. That’s what it always came down to, didn’t it? She could function in society, but believing that inanimate objects understood the ritual far better than another intellectual creature could was tantamount to heresy. She knew it would end in forced committal. She’d seen it happen to others. At least, she thought so. It was difficult for her sometimes to separate fact from fiction, but one of the times she’d seen someone committed on television had to be for a similar offense. It was a matter of statistics, probability. Not fact or fiction.
Either way, the lock looked as new as hers. So her lock couldn’t possibly be broken. Well, it was possible it was broken, but highly unlikely.
Through her thoughts barreled the urge, the need to run back to her apartment. Nowadays she could do that, but since she’d counted the tiles to this door…
Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Crap. Fourteen.
She wasn’t centered on the door, but the urge was strong enough to counter her normal hysterics. Her hand reached for the knob, a rush of adrenaline filled her—one, two, three, she countered in her head, one, two, three—her fingers connected and a spark of energy flashed between the metal and her skin. The shock ran down her arm and she almost jumped onto tile thirteen. But she wasn’t that careless, not like some people. She kept her balance.
The knob beneath her fingers began to turn and the door popped open.
All her work had been undone. She’d have to start the entire day over again.
A scream waited in her throat, hiding underneath the lump of fear that lurked there. Starting the day over would be agony. Doing everything again. The three eggs for breakfast, three perfect pours from the coffee pot. She still drank coffee, even if the caffeine was bad for her—or so said the therapist. Exactly three sprites of hairspray per lock, three twists per bobby pin (and oh how it hurt).
Her eyes scanned the room, difficult to do with the strange angle the fourteenth tile put her in, but she could see well enough to pick up the VCR’s blinking light. And time. It was 5:45 PM.
She glanced down at the lock and realized immediately what the problem had been. It locked to the right, not the left. She was unlocking it the entire time.
The hallway was empty, thankfully, as she knelt down on tile fourteen and tried not to cry. All that stress was balled inside her and she didn’t have any other way to let it go. She took the keys, still in her hands, and pulled the sharp edges three times down her forearm. The blood welled, but didn’t drip.
She walked into her apartment, careful to avoid the thirteenth tile. She set her purse down on the table and walked into the kitchen. Pulled nine paper towels off the rack and put three to each scratch on her arm.
When her arm was cleaned up, she went into the living room, sat at the coffee table and pulled out her post it notes. She wrote three notes and posted them on the front door.
“Left for coming, right for going.”