MAGPIES PERCH ON the branch of a golden Linden. I sit at the edge of my bed and watch the magpies dive and soar. I stay in this space of autumnal beauty. I slide across to the window. Tree roots bulge out of concrete like varicose veins. It is the end of the world.

      I lose a slipper running back to bed. I stare at the Linden. The birds flap their wings. Their plumage slaps the foliage and the rough bark. I swallow a short-lived charge of frosty air. I inhale deeply and exhale. I rest my head on the pillow, get up and repeat until the space of autumnal beauty returns, it does, but there is always something lurking—sidewalk cracks, paper cups, bus tickets, bird droppings. It is the end of the world.

      On semi-normal days, there is an abundance of autumnal loveliness like fat, juicy cherries in hand painted ceramic bowls. The roots do not tarnish the scene. I slip my feet into slippers. The mirror reflects a smile painted on my face and a canvas of green parrots in flame trees. Benji threads in between my legs like an embroidery needle. Fish catch a shower of thawed shrimp. Two fig rolls slide into the oven for twelve minutes. Efficiency and home baked effusion. I skip on stepping stones. Is the oven off? It is the end of the world. I stare at the vertical line beneath off. A doubt lingers. Five, four, three, two, one. I pull the gate. What if I left it on? The train's brakes screech. My knees are squishy. On or off? I turn, bumping into people speeding toward the platform. I hurry home and check the oven—again. 

      Normal days are soft. There are no concrete eruptions. Benji dips his nozzle into tender meat lathered in gravy. Brand-name shrimp rains down onto Corydoras. I bake orange, raisin muffins for breakfast, brush shoulders with commuters. Bumping into situations do not exist on normal, soft days. 

      I have fresh starts, just rights, new life, start agains on Sundays, at Christmas, when trees blossom or dare to go bare in front of onlookers. Trees are free to be. I am free on normal days when I say: Today, I will not wash my hands one hundred times—just in case I missed a germ. Today, I will not apply symmetry rules to books, forks, or pens. Today, I will tap the steering wheel singing Born to be Alive, drive down High Street and over the speedhump just before the zebra crossing. I will not check in the mirror just in case of a hit and run. 

      I read a ten-page article on obsessive-compulsive disorder, the role of neurotransmitters, a list of obsessions and compulsions, medication and cognitive behaviour therapy. I shut my eyes and imagine how my ocd brain works. My brain is under construction-reconstruction-destruction. My brain has four sides. The edges are sharp. I cut a piece of sandpaper and sand the edges as if sandpaper is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. A river runs through the coils. The cerebrospinal river is a white water stream that is obstructed by dams. My veins throb. A wobbling staircase taunts the brain's playground. There is a prize if I reach the top: perfection. I never win awards. I search for railings, but I grab cortexes and lobes. I tumble from the stairs into a murky mangrove. Logic fails miserably at convincing me. A Dragon's Breath chilli cools on a scorching day, but ice cream burns my tongue when snow pelts the rooftops and gutters. 


      I walk to the bathroom. I pull the drawer. Jet black strands hug wide toothcombs, cotton buds spill out of their plastic casing, and my almost done bottle of make-me-better pills rain down on my bathroom tiles. I stingray-shuffle the drawer's contents and walk toward the mirror. 

      Setbacks stain fresh starts, but stains can be removed. The pills lay in a whirlpool of hairs. I switch off the oven until the next home baked pastries. I will wash my hands once. I will walk away from the faucet. I will cross a fork over a knife. I will get into the garage, reverse the car, drive along quiet neighbourhoods, freeways, and High Street, never returning to check—horrible word—if there is death sprawled across the asphalt. 

      My brain activates neon lines when I refuse to perform rituals. The trembling hands, sweaty palms, and heavy breathing eventually disappear. It is a non-stop party when I climb up the stairs to the inferno—tops are not always perfect, paradisical places, no matter what Dante and Virgil say. I shake but keep standing. I turn my back away from that unattainable top step. My tongue laps chocolate ice cream under a beach umbrella. Sand coats my hands like leather gloves. Sandy hands hug wafer cones. But I don't wash my hands—not even once. I sip hot chocolate in front of a crackling fireplace. I dip my finger in the mug of cocoa to fish out a marshmallow. Unwashed fingers, bark scrapings on the index, on pinkie, on the thumb. But I don't wash my hands—not even once. 

      Two robins are chirping on a twig. I sit at the edge of my bed and watch what the robins will do next. They face my window. I stay in this space of blossoming beauty. My bare feet skip to the window. A can of beer, a train ticket and three dollops of fresh pigeon poop lay upon fragmented concrete. Heartbeats steady. The whiff of spring fills my lungs. I lift my head and wink at the robins.


Isabelle B.L is a writer and teacher based in France. She published a novel inspired by the life of a New Caledonian feminist and politician who fought for the rights of exploited men, women and children in the 1940s. Her work can be found in the Best Microfiction 2022 anthology, Visual Verse, Grey Sparrow Journal and elsewhere.