The rational part of his mind knew that it was ridiculous. Normal people didn’t live like this. Normal people just turned off their lights, locked their doors and left their houses. Every day. Without bringing on the cataclysmic consequences of not checking everything three times over.
Or nine times. Not six, never six, nor any multiple of six. Three was good, even five was okay, but six or twelve…no, then he’d have to start all over again. From the top. No cheating or the house would burn down for sure. Or flood. He’d forget to turn off the tap and come home to find the bread basket floating near the kitchen island like Noah’s Ark.
So he started again: the freezer is closed, the fridge is closed, the tap is off, the toaster’s unplugged, stove dials are up so the stove is off, the oven is cold and cold and cold and off, the lights are off, the windows are shut, the bedroom’s okay, the bathroom’s okay (toilet’s not running, shower’s not running, the sink is okay, nothing’s plugged in). Finally, he was at the door.
As he bent down to tie his shoes he glanced at the clock. He might make it, hoped he’d make it on time, because Annie didn’t know. Could never know. He lived in fear that she’d catch him or figure it out because she was so pretty, so perfect and when he was with her he could almost forget that he was different. Almost hope that it had disappeared, that the chemical equations had balanced themselves.
He wiped the beads of sweat that he had worked up on his brow with a fine handkerchief from his pocket. He waited for the clock to turn to thirty-three minutes past the hour and stepped out onto the porch.
He checked the door – closed and locked and shut – three times and took a few steps towards the car. Nope. It didn’t feel right yet. He went back to the door and rattled the knob three more times, again taking a few more steps away from the door before frantically turning back to do it all again. He added some counting in his mind as he performed the door ritual, furiously trying to make it feel right. His rational mind was getting frustrated, knowing it was growing late and that he looked a fool, pacing his porch and banging at his door. He began to whimper and slap the side of his head between patterns, desperately trying to knock the “what if” movie reel of his mind out of its feedback loop.
Eventually, much later than he liked, the diseased part of his brain gave up and let him go. His hands shook as he started the car. He was sweating again.
Choking back sobs, he pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the restaurant. He drove carefully, attentively, praying his mind wouldn’t make him circle the block to make sure his door was closed or that he hadn’t hit a pedestrian at the crosswalk.
He made it to the restaurant with no detours and parked carefully at the end of the lot. He got out, checked that the door was locked, lights were off inside and out, car was in park, parking brake was on…and breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared that once through this ritual was deemed enough.
He wiped his brow again, straightened his tie, checked that his keys and wallet were still in his pocket and went inside to greet the love of his life. Only twenty-one minutes late. A personal best. Annie would be pleased.