Copyright is held by the author.
ONE . . . TWO . . . THREE . . . My heart pounds as I wait for exactly the third ring to snatch the receiver before the fourth pierces my ears. It is important that I react at exactly the right moment or something terrible will happen to someone I love. I have been told that I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whatever they say, it all seems normal to me.
I often wonder why my Mother is so distraught about my obsession with the number three when she has her own irrational compulsions. Everything has to be “just so” or she agitates. She freaks out if the towels on the rack are not precisely lined up, or if a black sock is mistakenly tossed into a white wash. My Father stays out of our lives as much as he can; we are big yawns to him. He registers as empty on the emotional scale, whereas my Mother spills over the top. She reacted hysterically when I told her I could smell the scent of death.
My name is Arden. I was eight years old the first time this odour intruded and changed my life. I was curled up in bed reading Black Beauty when I sniffed a great rush of sweet air just before we received word that my grandmother had died. I smelled the same suffocating sweetness when my brother was fatally hit by a car. When I recognized this flowery scent just before a neighbour’s child tobogganed into a tree, I knew it was more than a coincidence. I had the ability to smell when death was coming. It was frightening to have insight into horrific happenings yet feel helpless to prevent. This was the beginning of the rituals.
I am 15 years old and live a regimented life controlled by avoidance.I refuse to enter those charming boutiques that reek of potpourri, and avoid my Mother’s friends who douse themselves with Chanel #5 and bathe in lavender oil. Even at school I am not safe. I have to deal with my History teacher and his overpowering use of after shave. The smell of sweet death is everywhere, threatening to take another life if I allow it.
Last week, I was out back emptying the trash bin near my Mother’s garden when a powerful sweet odour flooded my senses at the same moment the telephone rang. The piercing sound carried through the open kitchen window. I knew that a message about death awaited my answer. It was then I had a thunderbolt thought: just maybe I could prevent the death of a loved one if I ignored the shrill call of the telephone.
I raced into the house, listened for third ring, then yanked the lines from the wall and returned to my Mother’s garden to uproot the offensive-smelling plants. I upturned geraniums, pulled out daisies and toppled sunflowers. I felt sweat bead on my brow and salt tear my eyes. I grasped the garden shears and hacked down the lilacs and felled the rose bushes. Thorns ripped at my fingers and blood trickled down my arms, but I was ecstatic that I may have saved a life. Exhausted and dirty, I lay down in this muddy upheaval and slept.
I awoke to my Father’s screaming. “She’s gone completely crazy!”
My Mother was eerily calm. “It is obvious she needs help. We should be grateful that she only cuts down flower gardens.” She was referring to my cousin who finds pleasure in cutting her arms and legs with a razor.
My parent’s reaction was immediate. They hung a “help needed” sign around my neck and hired a nut doctor. His name is Dr. Chin, a misnomer because he doesn’t have one. His face drops down to his neck without the protrusion of a jaw. Despite this physical impediment, he flashes a toothy smile when we enter his office. It appears that he has designed this space to elevate himself to a plateau. Three chairs are positioned in front of his desk at a much lower level. The glare from the large window behind him spotlights his victims.
I squirm my way into the middle seat and sit uneasily between my bookend parents. I have heard that doctors like him can put people away in a nut house forever. The thought that this man controls my future terrifies me. My cousin, the cutter, has not been seen at family gatherings for some time. Whispers tell that she is isolated in an institution that ensures she is kept away from sharp instruments. A cure of some sort, I imagine.
I listen as Dr. Chin and my parent discuss me as if I am not there. Their conversation skips over me like a flat stone on water, barely touching the surface of whom I am or why I do what I do. No one seems to understand that the rituals I perform safeguard the lives of loved ones.
The monotonous tone of their voices, as they perform an autopsy on the living me, numbs my mind. I find that whenever I want to escape from an uncomfortable situation or view a scene from another angle, I simply rise out of my body and travel. My Mother calls this astral projection. She has tried to discourage me from floating, especially at night, especially into bedrooms. She tells me it is wrong to view others in private moments. Yet I persist. I find it thrilling to spy on the secret activities that inhabit dark bedrooms.
Rather abruptly, Dr. Chin dismisses my parents. They abandon me without a backward glance and leave quickly like children obeying the voice of authority without question. As they file out, I can see a spark of hope in their eyes that possibly this behavioural therapist can make their daughter normal. They just don’t understand that their daughter’s psychic ability is a blessing, not a curse to be dealt with by some quack doctor. They should be proud of me as I am. After all, I have put up with them and their wrinkled outlook on life forever.
Dr. Chin now turns his full attention on me.
“Well, Arden,” he says in a good sport voice, “let’s see what’s going on in that head of yours.”
The thought of this ugly little man peering into my inner self is repulsive. His interrogation is intense, irritatingly intrusive. It amazes me how many flaws he finds in my character so I omit to tell him about my secret friend who resides within me. I have named my friend Janus after the Roman god of transitions, the one with the two heads. Right now Janus tells me he is assessing my situation. I leave him to ponder and return my focus to Dr. Chin. This man bears watching.
Dr. Chin diagnoses that my condition is triggered by fear of flowers.
“Anthophobia, an odd phobia,” he comments.I interrupt to tell him that it is not flowers I fear, just their flowery scent.
“Apples and oranges,” he says dismissively. “Deep down you must realize that someone’s death cannot be caused because you breathe in a whiff of perfumed air. This condition is an offshoot of your compulsive disorder. It is an irrational fear, Arden, but it is treatable.”
He suggests a series of sessions where I will be exposed to perfumed air in increasing quantities.“During these sessions, I will combine aversion therapy with hypnotherapy and while you are under, I will instill positive thoughts to adjust your mind set.”
He makes it sound like I have a little dial inside my head where he can reprogram my thinking by turning the knob to another station. I am not a radio. I recall the hypnotists I have seen at side shows who ask people to do stupid things such as wade in water or walk in sand to the hilarity of the audience. I have no intention of making a fool of myself or allowing this man to take control of my mind.
Janus speaks up. He is now ready to add his two heads’ worth of advice to my problem.
“Arden, you have the power to outwit this man. Have you noticed how his eyes flick from your face to your breasts to your legs in a wink. Janus suggests that I shift in my chair, cross my legs and allow my skirt to slip up over my thighs to prove his point. Dr. Chin’s eyes follow my moves like a trained seal. I hear him sigh deeply. It becomes obvious that Dr. Chin finds me sexually attractive. This revelation is mined with explosive possibilities. Power has just changed hands. It suddenly becomes clear that it is not I who should fear Dr. Chin, rather the opposite. Dr. Chin should fear me. I can put him away for good.