“1 hanger, tap-tap. 2 hangers, tap-tap. 3 hangers, tap –”
“Daaavid” “Time for dinner.” Amy’s piercing voice surged up the stairs to the vacant guest room like a flood in reverse. David’s belly ached for Grandma Helen’s Sunday roast but the demons inside trapped him there and forced him to count and tap.
“Coming” he lied.
“Shit, I have to start over. 1 hanger, tap-tap. 2 hangers, tap-tap. 3 hangers, tap-tap. 4 hangers, tap-tap. 5 han –”
“DAVID, come on, it’s getting cooooold!” His sister bellowed.
There were house rules commanded by Grandma Helen. One rule was that the three of them ate dinner together every night no matter what. It was her way of giving the grandkids a little consistency and normalcy despite their situation. Helen would have been happy on her own with a cup of soup and a John Grisham novel, seeing the grandkids at the weekends. But the kids needed structure and the nightly dinner rule seemed to make sense despite her ankles and back flaring up after so much standing and bending.
David was planted in front of the empty wardrobe that had housed his mother’s few belongings that morning. He would have preferred to be half way through his second Yorkshire Pudding long before Amy’s irritation gave way to threats of violence but the demons inside dictated rules that no one else could understand or know.
He had to count every item in the room, tapping twice after each number, every time his mother left. This time he had been in there four hours, periodically hiding under the bed to avoid Amy and Helen when necessary, and starting over after each interruption. He only had the hangers left to count but at this rate he would be stranded in the empty guest room indefinitely while his sister and grandmother watched a beautiful meal turn stale.
He needed Amy to back off for a little longer but he didn’t dare tell her, or anyone, about the counting and tapping. There were 44 ear lobe tugs before getting into bed (22 on each side), 12 elbow to knee taps before getting out of bed even if his bladder was about to burst (6 on each side naturally), and 8 discreet right index finger to nose taps before getting on the school bus.
Amy marched up the stairs. David counted and tapped frantically all the while wondering if he could get away with counting and tapping from inside the wardrobe which would avoid Amy’s detection and mean he wouldn’t have to start the whole room over. David’s demons didn’t seem to grumble at the idea so into the wardrobe he went. He barely fit and there was just enough light coming through the crooked door to allow him to continue counting and tapping without losing his place. He couldn’t think about how fast his heart was beating or how painful it was to tap his foot while crammed inside the wardrobe.
Amy stomped through the guest room and right past the wardrobe on her way to David’s room never hearing his muffled counts and taps over her own muttering. David didn’t move from inside the wardrobe until he finished counting 27 empty hangers and tapping his right foot twice for each hanger. With the last tap-tap he spilled out of the wardrobe and flung himself down the stairs despite cramped feet and a sore back. Just as Helen and Amy were about to give up hope their faces erupted with relieved smiles as a severely sweaty David limped into the kitchen and dove for his seat at the table.
Helen, with her swollen ankles and stiff back, waddled towards the table thinking she recognised her own laboured movements in her grandson but dismissed it and spooned some cold carrots onto their plates.