It was the fourth time I’d read the magazine and it had only come out the previous month. I could almost close my eyes and tell each story to myself word for word. I knew every line and shadow in the photos and every mistake in the text. I knew every fingerprint on the page.
The magazine in question was in the waiting room at the hospital.
I knew all the staff at Stanton Territorial Hospital – not by name, but by face – and when I was there I always tried to keep my head down in a book, pamphlet or magazine so they wouldn’t notice me. I spent way too much time there and I knew it. And they knew it. And I knew they knew.
I didn’t want the nurses to think I was some silly hypochondriac, jabbering on endlessly about my ailments.
I tried to explain it once to my younger brother. I said, Joe, it’s not that I’m sick. It’s that I think I am. He said, Frank, you’re nuts. I thought so, too.
It was one of the only things we had in common.
It was about a year before this waiting room incident when I finally got the diagnosis. Every twisted little thing about my 26 years on Earth suddenly made sense: my fear of the number five, my irrational childhood obsession with meningitis and the scary, unwanted thoughts that made everyday life like a nightmare.
Dr. Stevens certified me obsessive-compulsive, gave me some brochures and sent me on my merry way. It was the happiest day of my life.
You’re mental, Joe told me.
Since then, I’d made a career out of sniffing out ailments, taking them to the kind doctor and having them checked out. I know 100 per cent of the time they will turn out to be nothing. There is a rational side to my thinking, you know, and I know when the little monster in my brain is hiding behind my thoughts.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it go away.
Like the time we were at the supper table and, in my mind, I was stabbing Joe with my steak knife. I knew it was the monster creeping up on me, but I couldn’t help but worry that somewhere deep down, I wanted to kill my brother.
After several days of convincing myself I was a serial killer, I brought my fears to Dr. Stevens. He once again made my world a brighter place by telling me, no, I was not destined to spend the rest of my days grieving with guilt behind bars for the people I’d killed in a rage.
I shut my eyes tight so I wouldn’t read a sentence a fifth time, closed the magazine and opened my eyes again. After the magazine was back in place I touched each of my fingertips with my thumbs four times. I counted the flies on the wall. I counted the people in the waiting room.