He was awake but kept his eyes closed.
He began counting numbers in his head. Waiting for the right time to start his day. He stopped when he got to one hundred and twenty eight and opened his eyes. He turned his head and looked at the clock on the bedside table.
05.57. He didn’t like that number. It was an “odd” number. He didn’t do “odd” numbers, they made him angry. He closed his eyes quickly so the odd numbers wouldn’t affect his day. He started counting again from one to sixty four. He did this four times confident that this would make the odd numbers go away. He smiled when he opened his eyes for the second time. The clock was showing 06.00.
Better, much better. 06.00 was a good number, an “even” number. But not a safe number. 06.04 was a safe number. It contained the magical numbers six and four. Sixty four was his most favourite and safest of all the “even” numbers. It could be halved into “even” numbers right the way down to number one and as everyone knows number one doesn’t really exist as it’s a “starting” number. Number two is where everything begins.
For the next four minutes he stared at the clock forcing himself to look at 06.01 and 06.03. During those painful seconds he could feel his temperature rise and his pulse quicken. He wanted to smash the clock with his fist and shout the most obscene words out loud, but then along came 06.02 and the anger left him. It wasn’t as bad at 06.03 because he knew he was close to his beloved 06.04.
And then it happened. He grinned. His day could start. It was 06.04.
There was no way he could describe the joy he felt when his magical number appeared, it was as if a pair of invisible arms were holding him tight making him warm and safe.
He pulled back the covers and dragged his skinny body out of bed. He took eight carefully paced steps and entered the bathroom. He pulled the light cord eight times so that there were four shorts bursts of light and four times when the small room was plunged back into darkness. He took four tiny steps and stood next to the toilet. He urinated while he slowly counted to sixteen. He pulled the chain and then waited for the cistern to refill. He pulled it again. Two was an acceptable even number.
He walked back to the bedroom counting out his steps as he did so. He took a handkerchief from his bedside cabinet and draped it over the clock. He didn’t want to see the numbers for the rest of the day. Certain numbers frightened him. Seven and eleven were the worst. He NEVER wanted to see those numbers again.
Last year he’d had one of his “episodes”. The neighbours called the Police at 07.11 after they’d heard him screaming. His doctor thought it best if he went away for a while. The people in the hospital were nice enough but they just didn’t understand about the numbers. He was there for four weeks. He could have come home after three, but that would have been wrong and would never have worked. Too many “odds”. Three weeks was twenty one days, he couldn’t have that, no way. So he stayed for another week. That was good. Two sets of evens. Four weeks equalled twenty eight days. He remembered the doctor saying that he had something called Arithmophobia. Since then a lady called Clare came to see him every day and he knew he was making progress.
He liked Clare. It was her idea to get rid of the clocks in the flat and cover up the one in the bedroom after 06.04. Who needed a clock anyway? He ate when he was hungry and slept when he was tired. He didn’t have a television or radio so no one could surprise him by telling him the time and making him upset. That was another one of Clare’s ideas. Clare seemed to understand about the numbers.
He didn’t go out anymore. Not since the “episode” with the number seven bus. It wasn’t his fault. It should never have been on that road. Only numbers twenty eight and sixty two use that route. But there were roadwork’s up by the Post Office and the number seven was diverted. He saw it coming towards him and just froze. A nice man came and took him back home.
So now Clare comes in every day and brings him everything he needs.
He felt sad about Clare. She’d be coming soon and he knew he couldn’t let her in. Not anymore.
When she first started visiting he asked her how old she was. She said she was forty six. That was good, almost perfect. But last week she’d let slip that it was her birthday soon. He’d asked her which day and she said Tuesday. Today in fact. So she’d be forty seven. There was no way he could let the number forty seven into his home. The doctors would just have to get someone else.
He wondered if Clare might consider coming back in a year’s time.
He was awake but kept his eyes closed.