"Twenty-Seventh Time" is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales is completely coincidental.
"Twenty-Seventh Time" is the property of author Othy Jones and may not be redistributed or posted without prior written consent.
WARNING: This short story contains coarse language that is not suitable for children.
A special thanks to Stefanie Aubee and Ana Montes for the sentences that inspired this short story.
By Othy Jones
As she sat and considered her options, the phone rang. Olivia stared at it, knowing full well who it was. She might only be ten but she wasn't stupid. Her eyes left the phone and gazed up at herself in her bedroom mirror. The tight dark brown curls of her long bristled hair with her pale face and stark blue eyes found each other and she sighed. She put down the fist full of pills from her right hand, picked up the phone and clicked it on.
"Olivia?" begged the voice. "Olivia, I know you're there."
"You can't talk me out of it, Ellie. Not this time."
"Olivia, listen to me. You can't do it. The universe has too many big plans for you."
"You don't know what it's like. I can't function," Olivia replied as her voice began to crack. "I am so, so tired of not being able to walk into a room without touching a doorknob exactly twenty-seven times or-or licking clean each of my teeth with my tongue after every meal. It's exhausting! Nothing helps and no one cares!"
"I care, Olivia," Ellie proclaimed from the receiver.
"Maybe you do, but we're worlds away. You're all the way out there in New Jersey and here I am in Virginia. You're a year older than me and it's not like we're ever going to meet up. Hell Ellie, we've never even met in person! You're just my online pen-pal from some self-help site that my social worker coerced me into joining."
"Olivia, I have something to tell you. But I...I didn't want to say it like this. But if you are really going to go through with this, I'll probably never have another chance to tell you," Ellie added, her own voice now wavering.
"Tell me what?"
"It came back, Olivia," she cried. "The God-damned cancer is back."
Olivia dropped to her knees. She was stunned.
"But I thought they said they got it all. That-that doctor promised you."
"He's a nurse, Olivia. Danté's a great friend, but he couldn't have known. Nobody really knows. Doctor's just pretend they do. "
"But you-I mean you still have options, right? Chemo, or something?"
"I'm eleven years old, Olivia. I've been through six rounds of Chemotherapy in the last two months. I can't take another dose. It wouldn't do any good anyways."
"But what about all your big plans? You were going to parasailing, help the poor. It isn't fair!"
"It's not. But I don't have any control over it. You though. Olivia, you do have a choice. Your life doesn't have to end this way. Me? Cancer's going to win. I know that now. I get that. But you, you have a choice to make. It's a crappy choice. But it's a choice. And if it were up to me, I'd fight it. Hell, I have fought. Promise me you'll fight those demons, Olivia. Promise me!"
Tears streamed down Olivia's face and she found herself trembling. "I don't know," she sobbed.
"OK, what if. What if you only promise me you won't do it today. Is that OK? Just promise me that you'll give today one more chance. That's fair right?"
"Awesome, fuck yeah, Olivia! You can do this," Ellie exclaimed through the phone.
That conversation took place exactly twenty-seven hours ago, reasoned Olivia as she glanced up at a wall clock in the waiting room of her social worker's office with her computerized tablet in front of her. She looked down at the words she'd typed for her blog.
In the doorway, looking at decades old layers of memories, contemplating if I should step out into an adventure or inside into comfort. Deciding to leave your house in the morning may not seem like a big deal to most. But for a kid living with an OCD, life's no picnic. Somehow though, I did it.
Maybe it was because of the talk with my best-friend, Ellie, maybe because my Uncle feared for my life when he found the bottle of pills laying on the floor or maybe because, as my social worker had told me many times, it was because someone else may get strength from my story, I did it. I crossed that freakin' threshold and took my first step outside in three weeks.
It wasn't like trumpets went off welcoming the president or pyrotechnics at some heavy metal concert, but it was a pivotal moment for me. Now here I am, two hours later, waiting for Corrie, my social worker, here in D.C., while blogging on my smart pad.
The door to Corrie's office opened and a boy stepped out with her. Corrie was a thrity-something woman with sandy-brown hair in a tie-dyed t-shirt and jeans. Olivia liked that Corrie never tried to dress to impress. Corrie hugged the boy, whispered something to him and then turned to face Olivia as the boy met up with his mother and departed.
Corrie said nothing at first, she just walked over to Olivia and hugged her as she sat there with her tablet. "You ready to come in?"
Olivia nodded. "OK," said Corrie. "You tell me, what's the easiest way?"
"What do you mean?" Olivia asked.
"The easiest way to walk into my office without giving into your demons."
"There's no easy way. I just have to get through it," she stated. She then stood up, sat back down, stood up and sat back down, and proceeded to do so exactly twenty-seven times. When she'd finished, she took up her tablet, nodded to her Uncle, whom sat silently beside her, and followed Corrie into her office.
As Olivia took a seat in front of Corrie's desk, Corrie closed the door. "I have to say, Olivia, I'm impressed."
"Impressed that I almost killed myself?"
"No, impressed that you didn't kill yourself and that you made it to my office after not even wanting to see daylight for days. How did you do it?"
"My friend, Ellie, gave me some strength."
"She must be one true friend."
"She's dying...of cancer."
Corrie's otherwise cheerful face dropped as she began to absorb more concern for the ten year old in front of her. Somehow, she knew, she must press on, for Olivia's sake. "This is your internet friend? The one from New Hampshire?"
"New Jersey," Olivia corrected.
"Right," replied Corrie as she took a seat on top of her desk near Ellie. "What was it she said that clicked for you?"
"She said she didn't have a choice but I did. I knew she was right. I knew then that I'm meant to go on in her place. Like I have a destiny mapped out for me. You know, someone once told me my aura was indigo. Do you know what that means?"
Corrie shook her head. "What does it mean?"
"That I might be psychic, have social issues, maybe ADHD, have trouble sleeping and that I'm independent. It also means I don't like being manipulated and that I belong here. Like I have a special purpose."
"I admit, I don't know much about that kind of stuff, but if you get something from that, then that's good. Maybe it can help you deal with your fears."
"I don't have fears. Indigo's don't, really."
"But your demons-"
"My demons exhaust me. They drain my energy. Sometimes I don't have the energy to do things. It's not that I don't want to do them."
"So what about the pills?"
"I was going to take them to end all this crap! I don't have a fear of dying or of living. I just don't always have the energy to cope with it all."
"But Ellie convinced you that you did?"
"She made me promise not to do it yesterday. She made me see that every day I'm going to have to wake up and ask myself whether that day will be the day. Then I'll think of her and the promise I made her not to do it yesterday. And hopefully, I won't do it on that day."
"Wow," said Corrie. "That's pretty heavy stuff. You sure you're only ten?"
"I'll be eleven in a few months."
"Ahh," Corrie smiled. "That must be it."
Olivia gave her one of those, I-see-what-you're-trying-to-do, looks. But she let it pass.
"So Olivia, I've been thinking about you and your case."
"You mean you were thinking about how my Mom lost it when my Dad was killed in Afghanistan and started beating me to make me stop my compulsions then how the courts gave custody of me to my Dad's brother who lives like five hundred miles from my Michigan life where I was born and raised!"
"Right. See, there's this new program that's starting up here in D.C. that I think you might be a good candidate for."
"A program?" Olivia questioned with attitude.
"Look just hear me out," said Corrie.
"It's called Mentors Against Meanness. It pairs up abused kids with adult mentors who don't have all these psychosocial degrees but can relate to you on more personal, more human, level."
"So instead of having someone with a degree mess with my head, you're going to toss me out to some volunteer with absolutely no training?"
"One of our newest mentors is a yoga instructor right in Alexandria, practically five miles from you. Her name is Sung. I think you'd like her."
"What kind of background check did you do on her?"
"A pretty thorough one, I have to say."
"Do you trust her?"
"I don't have a reason not to trust her."
"Then why should I?"
"I'm not saying you should," stated Corrie. "I'm just asking that you give her a chance. What have you got to lose?"
"And she instructs yoga for a living?"
"You know," said Corrie. "Yoga works with the flow of energy. Who's to say what you two will have in common."
"You have a point."
"So you'll meet her?"
"Awesome, I'll go ahead and set it all up then."
Two nights later, Olivia sat across from her Uncle at the kitchen table. Both of them were engrossed in their smart pads while their macaroni and cheese dinner lay half eaten.
"So,"offered her Uncle as he lifted his eyes away from his tablet, "Tomorrow you're going to meet up with this yoga mentor?"
"You looking forward to it?"
"I don't know. I was looking up some yoga positions on the internet. Downward dogs, table tops, I don't really get 'em."
"Maybe it's because you don't understand them."
"Maybe. What about you?"
"Do I know anything about yoga?"
"No, what are you going to do when I'm meeting with her."
"I'll be at a diner across the street from her studio. I'm meeting a source there for my next article."
"What's it about?"
"The article? It's kind of a secret."
"You think I'm going to blog about it?" asked Olivia with a hint of sarcasm.
"Let's just say the target of my topic has major issues and very deep pockets."
"Exactly. Political threads are tied to everything."
"You know I had a friend back in Michigan whose father ran for mayor."
"I didn't know that!"
"Yeah, some guy shot him for being Muslim."
Her Uncle's jaw dropped.
"It's messed up, I agree. So you better be careful."
Rather than say anything he merely nodded.
The next morning, on a quaint street lined with brown brick boutiques, a twenty six year old Korean woman in white capri yoga pants and a matching camisole stood silent as her sixty year old father cursed her out. He was cranky looking, permanently bent forward and clearly enraged.
"You disgrace your family," he finally declared to her in English. "Worse, you disgrace me!"
The woman remained silent, much to his aggravation.
"Sung! I am speaking to you," he shouted. "You acknowledge when spoken to!"
"You should go," she stated. "I have an appointment soon."
"With this crap? I didn't pay thousand of dollar on college for you to teach yoga! If you can't give me grandson, don't insult my honor by wasting my money!"
"Honestly, father, I don't have time for this. I have your prescriptions," she held them up. "I'll drop them off tonight."
"You will," he ordered rather than acknowledged and soon stormed off down the street.
While Sung opened up the yoga studio, her father, not paying attention to where he was going, slammed into a forty-something woman with a masculine build.
"Watch it buddy," she japed.
"You watch you," he cursed.
"What have you got to be angry for? You ran into me!"
"Dumb dike," he muttered.
"Excuse me?" she wielded back. "You got a problem, pops?"
"My problem is you!"
"You're lucky I have a rule about hitting old people. Else I'd lay you out on this corner!"
"Go fuck self!"
The woman could feel her anger build but realized he wouldn't be worth it, though she had to admit to herself that the idea of seeing his bloodied toothless face sprawled out on the concrete would be a welcome sight. She took in a deep breath, chuckled to herself and let it pass. She ignored him and continued on towards the diner just across from where Sung had opened the yoga studio.
A short time later, a black German sports car pulled up taking a parking spot at one of the open meters. Olivia's Uncle got out and went around to the passenger's side to see about his niece. Though he opened her door for her, she did not get out immediately.
"Maybe this wasn't the best idea," she diverged.
"No coping out now," her Uncle replied. "I've got to meet my source across the street and I can't leave you here in the car alone like some dog."
"You could crack a window," she joked.
"Not happening, let's go."
Olivia sighed. She poked her head up and looked off down the street in both directions. So far it was empty. That's one of the benefits of getting an early start on the day, less people,she thought. She then stood up in her new yoga outfit, sat back down, stood up, sat back down and carried on precisely twenty-seven times.
When Olivia and her Uncle entered the studio's building they needed to take the stairs, another great feat for poor Olivia, up to the second floor where they found a counter and a small shop inside. The shop was filled with various books on yoga poses, prayer beads, meditation CDs, organic clothing and various colored mats rolled up off in one corner.
Sung appeared from a room just off to the side of the counter. "You must be Olivia," she observed.
"I must," Olivia added.
"Kevin Deerfield," offered Olivia's Uncle as he extended a hand to Sung.
"Please to meet you," she replied.
"I'm her uncle."
"Kevin Deerfield, I feel like I've heard that name somewhere before."
"I'm a staff writer for Front and Centered."
"That's it! Didn't you have an article on global warming not long ago?"
"Swallowed whole," he replied. "It was a piece I did on a survivor's tale of watching her entire expedition team get sucked under the ice up in Alaska."
"That's the one," said Sung. "I follow environmental stories. Yours was pretty captivating stuff."
"Thanks. Well," he glanced back towards Olivia. "I'll leave you two ladies alone then." He turned back to Sung. "I'll be just across the street in the diner if anything comes up. I've also got my cell on me. Olivia's social worker, Corrie, mentioned she'd given you the number.
"I've got it, thanks."
"Great. See you two later then. Have fun Olivia."
"Good luck with your interrogation," Olivia replied.
"Interview!" he corrected as he headed for the staircase.
"Right," she added as he disappeared from sight.
"Welcome," Sung said to her. "Have you ever been to a yoga studio?"
Olivia shook her head no.
"Come on then, I'll give you the official tour."
As they walked, Sung explained that there were four main studio rooms and three for privates. Since the private room made Olivia a bit too claustrophobic, they settled on the smallest of the four studios.
"When do classes start?" Olivia questioned.
"Not for another hour," Sung replied. "Since Corrie said too many people made you nervous I thought an earlier meeting might be best."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
"So why are you doing this?"
"No, me. Why do you want to mentor me?"
"If you got here just a little earlier you might have understood why," she added whilst removing two mats from a closet. "Let' s just say I didn't have the best of childhoods."
Olivia nodded. "So what now?"
"Well, since you don't really know me yet, I thought we'd work on some breathing and relaxation to put you in a more open and comfortable place. Then we can talk, if you like."
Sung rolled the two mats out on the floor in front of them. She then stood toward one end with the rest of the mat behind her.
"First, let's stand on the edge of the mat like this," she extended her hands down towards the ground while looking forward with her shoulders back.
"This pose is called Tadasana. Asana means to pose or position and tada is Sanskrit for mountain. So-"
"So tadasana is mountain pose," said Olivia. "I get it." Olivia took to the end of her mat and followed suit.
"Good," replied Sung, "But lower your shoulders a little more and put them back. Excellent! Tadasana is one of the easiest asanas which makes it one of the most convenient to use for grounding and opening up the heart chakra."
"What's a chakra?"
Sung smiled. "A chakra is a kind of like an energy zone in your body. Each of us as seven of them and each of the seven spin at a different frequency."
"Where are they located?"
"The root chakra is located at the base of the spine and spins the slowest. This chakra governs our most primal needs such as a sense of security. Next is the sacral chakra, at hips and genitals. This chakra harnesses connections or reproductive energy and spins just a little faster than the root chakra."
"You mean the sex chakra."
Sung nodded. "You could call it that. Next up then is the solar plexus near your stomach. This chakra deals with self-esteem. From there we have the heart chakra-"
"And compassion. Then the throat chakra regarding will and expression. Ever have a frog in your throat? Next is the third eye. The mind's eye or third eye is important because it's where visions come into play as well as intuition and dreams. Last is the crown, located at the top of your head. This is your chakra that spins the fastest and is closest to divine knowledge. Think of it as a kind of antenna."
"When we talk about grounding, what we're really saying is to align your energy between the earth and the divine, as if you yourself were a lightning rod or conductor of energy, which you are. We could go on, there are even colors associated with each, but I'd like to focus on some other stuff first."
"No sweat, I can always do an internet search on them anyways."
"I'm not surprised. OK, now I'd like you to close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose and then exhale through your nose. As you do, I want you to focus your attention on those different chakras. See if you can feel them, staring at the root," Sung breathed in deeply and exhaled. "Now your sacral."
As Sung continued to guide Olivia through each chakra she found that when they got to the crown, Olivia continued to deeply breathe in and out.
"OK now," began Sung.
Olivia was not listening, she was concentrating on her breath.
"Olivia? OK, breathing deeply is good but you can continue to breathe while we do other things."
Olivia continued to ignore her until, at last, she stopped and opened her eyes. "Twenty-seven."
"Twenty-seven?" asked Sung.
"That's twenty more than you needed."
"No, it's exactly the right amount."
"I'd rather not."
"Are you sure?"
"Look, I don't want to talk about it!" Olivia declared, raising her voice.
"OK, apologies. But were you able to focus on your chakras?"
"I lost you at the mind's eye."
"What happened there?"
"My mind's eye kicked in and I couldn't stop seeing things. Then I lost track of the chakras and kept breathing to twenty-seven."
"Can you tell me what you were seeing when you lost me?"
"The American flag covered in dirt on some desert road with footprints all over it."
"That's very specific."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Fair enough. But what you should do, on your own then, is think about what that image means to you so you can think about why you saw it."
"It means losing, that's what it means."
"Like a war?"
"Like a father."
"Did you lose your father?"
Olivia nodded. "In Afganastan, but you probably saw that in my file anyway."
"They didn't give me a file."
"Boy, no file, no formal training, what am I a stray dog?"
"I can teach you how to do a downward facing dog," Sung joked to lighten the mood.
Olivia just stared at her.
"Why don't you fill me in on your file then?"
"Fine, I'll give you the low-down," Olivia sat on her mat with her legs crossed. Sung followed her lead. "My Dad was killed, like I said, and my Mom couldn't handle it. She lost it and started beating me. She was trying to beat my OCD out of me one day and a neighbor heard my screams. After that, I was sent to live with my Dad's brother, Uncle Kevin."
"I'm sorry to hear about your parents."
"Me too," Olivia stared off into the space. "I miss Daddy... but they shot him. Shot him twenty-seven times," a tear trickled down her face. "I see him getting shot in my dreams, well...nightmares. He was going to be coming home later that day. He said he'd be home for my summer break from school. In the end, I guess he was right," she said as she turned back towards Sung. "His body came back and we buried him on the third of July."
"Your Dad sounds like a hero."
"I see him sometimes."
"In your nightmares?"
"No, whenever I'm alone and feeling sad. He just appears, like he was always there. I don't see him, see him. But its him. I know it. I feel him."
Sung, unsure of what to say, stayed silent and nibbled on her lower lip.
"You don't have to say anything. I probably shouldn't have told you that. I didn't tell anybody else that. Please don't tell Corrie. She'll have to get me real psychological help then. No offense."
Sung nodded. "We'll change the subject then. I think I get why you do things twenty-seven times now though. Did you always have these...compulsions?"
"You mean before my Dad was killed? Yeah, I've always been...different. But now I have a number and the number consumes me. I can't stop it."
"Maybe we can try and turn it from something negative into something positive."
"How do you do that?"
"For example. Sometimes, when my head's full of negative thoughts, I write each of those things down on a scrap of paper and I bury them with a seed. As the paper decomposes it releases the negative energy and nourishes the plant transforming the bad energy into something good and useful."
Olivia smiled. "Like a butterfly."
Sung nodded. "Exactly."
Across the street, Olivia's Uncle Kevin had seated himself across from the woman whom Sung's father had run into earlier. She sat with a coffee half drunk as Kevin continued to ask her questions.
"So that was the first time you'd noticed this chemical slurry mixture in your water treatment facility?"
"Yeah, in Honey Brook, but I'd seen it before, just not to this magnitude," she added. "But in the past, when I'd bring this type of thing up to my supervisor he'd file a full report and the sludge would stop. I'd just assume they'd fine the companies or arrest someone. But not this time. When I brought this one up they transferred me elsewhere and I heard from my co-workers who stayed back that it got worse, like a lot worse."
"Where do you think it was coming from?"
"There's only one place it could be coming from. Pennsylvania Hydro-Grid & Co. I'm guessing from their hydrofracking division."
"A subsidiary of Global Grids, the energy super power."
"That's the one."
"Not to mention Super-Pac and ultimate parent of six investment firms and multinational banks."
"I don't envy you," added the woman. "This'll be a hard article to sell."
"I've already got my backers, Bernie."
"For now you do, Kevin. But let me explain something to you. These are kinds of guys that make people like you and me disappear. The proper way, if you catch my drift. They control everything and everyone in one way or another. You'll never see it coming but they'll take you down and make it look like it was the natural course of events. I saw it happen to a buddy of mine, Terry. He was the one who told me they were still running the sludge down our pipes. He threatened to go public. Know where he is now?"
Kevin shook his head no.
"He lost his job, wife and kids and, last I heard, he'd become a crack addict. Let me tell you something about Terry. Terry never even smoked, never drank. They did that to him. They could do it you."
"That's why I have to take my time with this one."
"So we done here?"
"I think so. If I have any other questions I'll contact you for a follow up."
"I'd prefer you didn't. I'd rather this be a one-time thing. I've got my wife to think about. She'd kill me if she even thought I was going to the press."
"Even as an anonymous source?"
"Even to deliver donuts!"
About an hour later, Olivia's Uncle returned to the Yoga studio where he could hear the distinct sounds of OM chanting. When he walked into the room he found his niece and Sung seated in the middle of their mats with their legs crossed and arms extended onto their legs, palms up. They continued to chant "OH-OMMMMMMM".
"Sounds peaceful," he observed.
Olivia and Sung opened their eyes.
"It is," Olivia replied. "Sung taught it to me as a way to silence my overactive brain. It worked."
"Fantastic, now maybe you can teach it to me!"
"Mind working overtime decompressing from the interview?"
"Next time I need a thesaurus I'll just come to you instead!"
Olivia gave him a cocky grin.
"Now remember, Olivia," said Sung. "Aside from the OM mantra, whenever you feel compelled to do something twenty-seven times try to think of twenty-seven positive memories of your father."
Olivia nodded. "It won't be easy but since I'm obsessed with the number anyway, I might as well focus on the positive."
"Namaste," said Sung.
"Namaste," Olivia replied.
"Namaste?" her Uncle Kevin asked as he helped her up.
"It's a salutation," said Olivia. "It means the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you."
"That's right," Sung agreed. "In some sense, we're all connected."
"Like an energy Grid?" he asked.
"You could put it that way."
He smiled with a far off look in his eye, as if in deep thought. When he lowered his eyes back down to Olivia another thought altogether struck him.
"Did I just help you stand up?"
"I guess," she added not quite knowing where he was going.
"Well, Sung, I hope Olivia will be seeing you sometime again."
"We'll be in touch," Sung added with a wink.
On their way out, Olivia began to fill her Uncle in on the various things she had learned from Sung. "Have you ever heard of a chakra?" Sung heard Olivia ask him as they disappeared from view.