The Rhythm | Mhairi Campbell


The Rhythm

Mhairi Campbell

The Lucky Numbers Award


One, two, three, four, five, six. There, all done, we’re safe now. The light switch was sitting in the same position it was in at number two, but I knew two was not enough. Six was good, six ought to do it, six was a good number. Not like five. Five always made me nervous. Although daylight filtered through the curtains I wanted this tepid electric light, which filled the room with a comforting yellow and reminded me I could keep things the same. I touched the wall eight times before eating breakfast, a fast quick rhythm, like a song, like a heartbeat. The only thing that bothered me that day was the fact that my mum wasn’t there. No, she was away for work for two days, and as the time passed I knew something bad would happen, if I didn’t count and count and count. It went up from two, to four, to eight, and as the numbers passed so did the time. I used to think I didn’t need to do this that it wasn’t real, but I know it is now.

I was twelve when I first stopped the counting. Mum had told me I didn’t need to do it anymore, that I was a big girl, but that need to count made my arm ache. I was worried about Dad that day, he was in his big truck for work. I didn’t like that truck. It was large, and red, its edges rusted and the paintwork chipped from years of people not giving a toss, and I felt strange looking at it, as if it didn’t give a toss about my father either. The numbers screamed out that day, telling me they could fix it, even, very even numbers, not odd like three or five or five hundred. I could see them printed on my lids, although words were scrawled on the paper in front of me, flashing bright scarlet. I almost screamed but I held in my numbers like Mum said, and looked at the useless words on the desk. I was a big girl. I didn’t need numbers.

At exactly 3:18 in the afternoon, the numbers stopped. I felt funny, but was happy they were gone. The teacher gave me a sticker that day, I had been the best reader in the class. It was gold and a star. Later that day, the neighbour told me my Dad had died in that red truck. I ripped the golden star into four pieces, an even number for my uneven heart.
Today I could feel it again. The pounding rhythms of numbers, the even twos, the fours, the magical sixes. It was best to keep it simple. I counted them as I walked, in the lines of the words that I barely read, in my strokes of the pen. The pressure behind my head was rising, my worry increasing, and the sixes kept lining up, my mum is in trouble, something is wrong,

I have to keep up the rhythm the rhythm.

I couldn’t sit still, it was 10:16, too early to start panicking, but I had to keep counting. I knew that if I did, the something wouldn’t happen. Sometimes it was hard to feel when your life was a constant dance of figures, I was so filled to the brim with tens and twelves and fours that there wasn’t room for much else. I shoved the toast aside, colour invading my mind. The pressure was building, pushing and when I closed my eyes for a second the number eight was flashing in a pale blue, the colour of the sky. I ripped the curtains back in frustration, the light pouring in. And stopped.

There she was, at the side of the road, ready to come in. She was smiling. I sighed in relief, but as I closed my eyes I saw eight in blue. What was eight? What was blue? A loud noise startled me, a sickening thud, and I opened my eyes. The pressure stopped. A van sat where my mum had been, the number eight a pale blue on its side. The numbers sighed in my head and petered out into…nothing.