Ritual Family

by Cynthia Wold

It started when she was six.
In her dreams, an ominous yellow eye would watch from a dark fog in the corner of the room. Terrified, Sand would keep her eyes squeezed shut and start the ritual, one, two, three, four, five…
She had heard there was safety in numbers, and the higher she went, the safer she felt, ninety-nine, a hundred, hundred one, hundred two…
Like a loyal family, she could count on them to protect her, to be predictable, to be present at all times.
Even so, she considered five a problem, often trying to break out of line, with zero, into their own clan (five, ten, fifteen…). It fought with six, four would intervene and make it worse, leaving it to seven or three to even things out.
Sand accepted that in all families, conflicts could arise.
Sometimes, to stop its whining, she would allow five to run wild, skipping over the others and bounding quickly to a hundred.
So much more efficient! it would argue, but Sand had no need for speed. Her ritual called for the steady tempo and rhythm of the numbers, one after another after another; all included, always the same, marching in formation.
She would keep five in line by threatening to teach zero how to jump in tens.
As an adult, Sand could tell you how many steps between any floor or room of her house, the number of tiles in her doctor’s waiting room floor, the exact number of parking places at the grocery store, and how many seconds to get to the bathroom from her desk at the office.
On her computer, every document, and program, was a family reunion.
The day she was stuck in the elevator, she counted to twelve thousand, four hundred and fifty-one before they got her out. It was the highest she had ever been able to go without falling asleep. When she emerged, smiling, everyone thought she was high.

By the time she gave up the count, Sand was ninety-two. Five held her hand with patient, loving care, while three and four wept quietly in the corner.

Cynthia Wold is a poet, writer, and founder of Scribble River, a community writing forum focused on self-discovery. She has a BA in psychology, and an MA from Metropolitan State University where she studied love. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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