"No Arlene. Absolutely not. I will not permit any butcher knives inside this residence--period."

Arlene was not happy. The Bernsteins were coming over for dinner on Friday evening. Arlene had promised them "the greatest pot roast ever"--her mother had shown her how to make the best, she told them, and they seemed to take her word at face value.

But now. Because of Glenn's silly little phobia Arlene would not be able to cook the Bernsteins their promised meal.

This was not right.

For years Arlene had begged Glenn to go see a psychiatrist. But to no avail. "I am not comfortable talking about this to anybody, Arlene--yourself included. So will you please just drop it?"

But, like many strong-willed, take-charge personalities Arlene could not just "drop it."

Not at least before receiving the infallible counsel of Pastor Williams.

And his command was in Arlene's favor. Glenn had no other choice, but to go see a shrink. His wife's asking was one thing, but a direct edict from his spiritual shepherd was quite another.

To Glenn's delight the doctor was understandingly quiet. And sympathetic.

And at the end of the first session two men dressed in white did not rustle him away off the couch and into a straight-jacket. Always a grand way to end a session, Glenn smiled to himself, while exiting the musty corridor leading to the parking lot.

After the second visit came Dr. Grossman's verdict.

"You suffer from OCD--Obsessive Compulsive Disorder."

"You mean I'm crazy?"

"Mr Stromwell. Many suffer the afflicition and, I assure you," he said, taking a semi-deep breath, "they are not insane."

"I don't believe it. You mean like the folk on reality TV that hoard junk? I don't do that. Our home is spotlessly clean."

"Oh, Mr. Stromwell," Dr. Grossman gave a hearty, elitist laugh. "That is just one of several types of the disorder."

"Really?" Glenn was interested.

"Oh, yes. Many different forms.

Many, many many. Hand-washers.

Checkers. Pure-O--Pure OCD. H-OCD--which compels straight men and women to question their own sexual orientation," he said with a smile. "And of course you got your hoarders."

"What the hell am I?"

"You suffer from Harm OCD. It is not as uncommon as you believe it to be, Mr. Stromwell. Terrible, intrusive thoughts permeate your mind. Until you fear you will act upon them.

And herein lies the ultimate irony: you never will."

"So...I'm not a psychopath in bloom?"

"Hahaha--a psychopath. No, no young man. You are but a man--a man with dangerously low serotonin and an overactive Basal Ganglia."

Doctor Grossman stood up. He was taller than he looked sitting down and had a scraggly salt-and-pepper-colored beard.

He handed Glenn a handful of paper. "Here is some literature. And here is a prescription for Paxil. Take it regularly, as directed.

*   *   *

Friday evening. Now. The kids are playing video games with the Bernstein children.

Arlene and Mrs. Bernstein are engaged in happy conversation. Even Glenn pretended he was interested in whatever it was Mr. Bernstein was animatedly talking about.

Stove-bell rings

"Well," Arlene said happily.

"I think it is time we all eat."

She returned with two oven mitts shielding her hands and a pot containing a strong-smelling meat.

Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein glossed over the "great smell" and what a splendid cook Arlene was--even though this was their first time over for supper and they hadn't taken so much as a bite yet.

"Kids!" Mr. Bernstein shouted authoritatively in the direction of the den. "It's time we say Grace--get yer little butts over here!"

That annoyed Glenn.

Little legs scampered to the kiddie table.

To Glenn's further annoyance, Mr. Bernstein takes it upon himself to say Grace.

"Our Dear Heavenly Father," Tom Bernstein said theatrically. "Thank you for this delicious food you have so kindly and generously bestowed upon us..."

Bernstein. What an arrogant SOB. He could have been a pharisee, Glenn thought.

"...and Lord, please thank you for my three beautiful children, my job, and my wife--"

Glenn had had enough. He opened his eyes and gazed down the other end of the table as Bernstein was still saying his prayer, his eyes shut tight.

No! Don't you look at that butcher knife--no, Goddamn it, look at it!

That's what Dr. Grossman said.

Exposure therapy. The anxiety eventually will subside...

Still he stared at the big, shiny-bristling butcher knife as the tedious prayer continued. And thought.

Boy-oh-boy. I'd love to use that on my wife and kids--no, I wouldn't!

It's wrong to use it! Please. Lord.

Forgive me my wicked, compulsive thoughts and for praying over a prayer--if the latter's even a sin...

The prayer was now over. And Mr. Bernstein was staring bitterly at Glenn.

Glenn caught on.

"Hey Glenn," he said, pointing the giant butcher knife at him.

"Better get over here...else I'll carve ya like a turkey!"

Everybody in the adult and kiddie table laughed boisteriously at Tom Bernstein's lame joke, except Glenn, who smiled only vaguely.

5 A.M. Saturday. A full bladder goaded Glenn out of bed and into the bathroom. As he returned to the bed he noticed a thick dampness, then, turning on the light, only to see his worst fears realized.

Sprinting to the other rooms now.

There's Josh! Still asleep. Unscatched.

But Nicole! More running. Running.


She was crouched behind her bed, shaking and frightened.

"Daddy," she said, gripping her doll. "What was that scream?

Did somebody try to break in?

Is Mommy and Josh O.K.?

"They are," he assured her. "Just an earthquake. Hide under your bed for ten minutes, then I'll check back in on you."

"I love you, Daddy."

"Love you too, Sweetheart."

Glenn walked calmly to the masterbedroom now, shutting his door--lest the children see the ungodly mess inside...

Calm. He picked up the telephone and speed-dialed Dr. Grossman's office. An answering machine greeted him.

"Hi. Dr. Grossman. I just called to tell you you misdiagnosed me--and that I demand a refund."

He yanked the phone card from the wall violently and then slit his own wrists.
"A Misdiagnosis"

Copyright: © 2010 Jack Bristow

Jack Bristow graduated Long Ridge Writer's Group in 2009. He lives in New Mexico. His next short story, "Our Bus Driver, Fred" can be read in the upcoming issue Thirteen of Cantaraville: An International PDF Literary Quarterly.

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