Short Stories

Short Stories: Acuteness

What is normal? We have this set of rules what makes someone sane and others insane, but if we truly look at those lines, we find out that they are not so well drawn. Culture plays a huge role in what kind of behavior is acceptable. Say someone is shy. In western societies, such persons are seen not so well adjusted, maybe are at risk of becoming marginalized, and studies have shown they have a lower salary than their social counterparts. But in China, a boisterous and socially outgoing person can easily be seen as a delinquent and is at risk of being imprisoned and marginalized. Yet, in western societies, such a person is highly praised, and gains favors. The same goes for the shy person in China. So what is normal, and what isn’t? They also found out that women and those from different ethnic backgrounds  got diagnosed more with mental health issues and institutionalized than white males. The explanation is simple, the therapists could to relate better to the white males’ problems and help them rather than see their issues as pathological. Funny old world.

Last week, I went to visit a mental health clubhouse and spent a day there. It got me thinking and a lot. Yes, people can have mental health issues, and their psyche can be broken, but it depends and a lot about how we handle those things in our societies. Some societies give such people room and a place to belong, but in here, in my country, they are marginalized, institutionalized, and pushed out of the communities altogether. Feared, I would say. And it broke me to see these people and see that the problems they struggle with are the same as I and many other struggles with. Obsessive thoughts or behavior can and is among anyone of us. The question is, can we handle them in the way that our society wants them to be handled? Often enough, we are expected to bury them deep into our minds and never let them out. Or better yet, pretend they are not there. So, I ask again what the line is between the insane person and me? Is it being harmful to myself or others? Yet, we have seen that a sane person can and does hurt themselves and others. Any sports injury is madness. Or how about that bar fight or a verbal assault at the checkout counter? Aggression and mania are part of everyday life. So are delusions. They can be a side effect of some physical illness, epilepsy for example. People can separate what is real and what isn’t. But of course, some don’t. Yet, from those don’ts, we have art, stories, you name it to be thankful for.

But the solution isn’t to throw out the baby in the bathwater and say there are no mental illnesses as we can’t know the lines or say without a clear doubt that this person is sane and this one is mad. There are clearly people who struggle within our societies, struggle with their emotions from anxiety to anger, can’t always separate what is real and what isn’t. And people need help with those issues, and they want help with those issues as multiple personalities can be a burden to carry around, so can be depression, schizophrenia. But as I see it now, it is about the reactions we form. Is it beneficial to all of us to push out functional people from our society, marginalize them, lock them up, live from the charity of others? Is it beneficial to fear them? Shyness, anxiety, depression, compulsions, lack of social clues on how to behave, and when. I think most of us can relate to those things, feeling one or another in some situations. If you never have, then there is something wrong with you, or you are lying to yourself. See what I did there. When I look outside from my window, I see a society that makes marginalized people justify their existence over and over again, and if that doesn’t break your psyche, then I don’t know what does.

I’m sorry. I was meant to give you a short story and not a lecture on the issues I have been juggling around. Anyway, here it is:


The smell of freshly cut grass floated in the air. So did the damp morning dew. She wrinkled her nose. Then she glanced back inside from the open doorway. The stove was off, so was the coffee maker. She had triple-checked the faucets both from the bathroom and the kitchen. Windows should be down and locked. She had tested them all. What was she forgetting?

She opened her purse and pushed in her hand, rummaging through the content. She could feel the keys. They felt cold against her raw skin. She moved on. There were the phone and the wallet. The plastic box containing her medication was there. She couldn’t function without them. So were her notepaper and pen and tissues. Lipstick was at the bottom of the purse along with the hand cream and disinfectant bottle. She took her hand out and zipped the bag. Then she had to open it again, touching every single item.

The keys were still there, and she hadn’t made a mistake. So was everything else. When she had gone over the content of the bag the third time, she closed the door.

Before moving on to her driveway, she knocked on the door three times, looked it. She tried the handle. The door was locked. She turned around to leave but couldn’t. She tried the handle one more time and for the third time just to make sure the other two hadn’t been a fluke. Now she was ready to face the yard.

The yard was immaculate. The boy had done an excellent job with the garden. The flower beds were neatly organized into three-by-three squares with equal height plants. The grass had been cut to two-and-a-half inches. She had seen him measure it. Not that she needed a measuring stick to know that it was how it should be. It was pleasing to look at. Also, there was no single leaf on the grass. She wasn’t sure how the boy could be so precise, but even more so, she wondered how he could touch—she didn’t also want to think about it.

She turned her attention to the small path lead from the house to the driveway. It was made of medium-sized squares. Three side by side, and altogether there was thirty of them. The contractor had wanted to put down an extra row, but ten was more pleasing number than eleven. It was dividable. She carefully stepped off the porch to the pathway, avoiding the cracks. Every step she took, she made sure she touched with her feet all the squares. With the right foot, the one right from the middle. Then returning her feet back into the center tile and then doing the left side.

She glanced at her wrist clock as usual at this precise moment, Todd, her neighbor, would open his door and head out to work. She held her breath for the second before it was fifteen past nine. The second took an eternity, and she was sure she would pass out. But then the door opened, and she could breathe. But Todd never fully came out. He closed the door again. Opened it for the second time. Then closed it. And opened it for the third time and closed it. And with the fourth, he came to the porch.

Todd saw she was looking at him and lifted his hand. She raised her hand to greet him. But it was pointless, as Todd had already turned his attention to the door. He wouldn’t hear her or see her. She began her steps to the right and to the left, making her way to the driveway one row at the time. There she would wait for the driver to pick her up. She had applied for a license, but at the test, she had failed. The instructor had patiently let her take her time in checking the mirrors, the seat, her hand alignments, but when she had sat there waiting for an ideal situation to push the pedal, the test had ended. The instructor had said that even in an organized world, there are always randomness and chances, and environments can’t be controlled. That had been the end of her dream to be self-sufficient.

She could already see the bus approaching, but it would make a stop at every single house, ninth to be precise, before her home to pick her up. She had stridden the last three rows to be on time at her driveway. The bus was at the fifth house now. She looked at her clock and watched the second hand make its way around the face. There was extra pressure on her chest when she thought the bus would be late. But when she heard the hiss of the breaks, the pressure was gone. She made her way inside. Todd was already in and had taken the third seat from the right. She walked past him to the ninth row, where she always sat next to Hailey.

Hailey barely looked at her when she sat down. She didn’t mind. With Hailey, it was better to leave her on her own, and she had other things to worry about. Despite knowing that they had sanitized the whole bus before this morning, she squirmed on the bench. She wanted to take out her disinfectant bottle and tissues and wipe her surroundings. She resisted the urge. The doctors said that it was the small steps that mattered. It was hard to believe a doctor who couldn’t touch you. Not that she wanted anyone to touch her.

The bus soon took off and moved on to the next house. The boy, the gardener, was working on Elias’s tree. He trimmed it to a perfect circle. She watched him work as Elias made his way into the bus. It was always a long process as Elias had to pause on every step he took and count to ten. The bus driver waited without saying a word. She was glad the woman did. There were times when it was too overwhelming for her to step in, and even then, the driver stayed stoic. The world was lucky they had a few of her kind and like the boy who could touch—she didn’t want to think the word. It made her nauseated. But she knew one if four people in the populations were peculiar in a way that they didn’t care about equal height flowers, time to the second, or germs. She squeezed her tight, not to scratch her already broken skin to fight off the thought. She let it pass by, shutting her eyes to listen to Haley’s quickened panting. At least she was healthy as the rest of them, unlike the boy and the driver who could do unspeakable things and break the rules.

Thank you for reading! Have a fascinating day!

© K.A. Ashcomb

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