“But, Mom,” her son said, fidgeting from the passenger seat, “I can prove it.” He reached for the glove box.

“Justin, leave that alone. I don’t doubt you, honey, it’s just Mommy’s sickness.” Anne-Marie jerked the wheel into the fast lane. She hated driving like this with her son in the car, but the nagging itch in her brain wouldn’t let her ease the accelerator.

Justin threw his arms open and craned his neck heavenward. “Mom,” he groaned, “the knobs on the stove are off, I promise.”

“Sit back in your seat,” she scolded. “You know Mommy believes you, right?”

He leaned forward again, “I just want to show you.”

“Justin, what did I just say? Sit back.” It wasn’t the first time she had worried that he was showing signs of OCD too. It could be passed genetically.

“Fine,” he said, folding his arms and turning toward the window.

Logically, she knew it was hypocritical for her to reproach his behavior while her actions were far less rational. She blew passed a caravan of three SUVs lined up like ducks in the middle lane. The fact was she had checked the knobs six times before leaving the house. But, she couldn’t shake it. The ‘itch’ always pushed its way, however senselessly, into the position of greatest immediacy inside her mind.

The sharp yip of a police siren brought her attention to the flashing red and blue lights behind her. Great. Justin turned in his seat, but was wise enough not to say anything. However briefly, Anne Marie entertained the idea of gunning it. She wrestled the thought aside. Not with her son in the car.

Everyone knew she had an obsessive disorder. Her husband and son, her family, her friends and co-workers all knew. Everyone except the police officer behind her. How could she explain it? I’m obsessing about leaving the oven on, even though I know it’s off.

She maneuvered the silver Hyundai over the staccato rumble strips and onto the shoulder. A cluster of anorexic weeds growing from freeway dust shook like breakdancers. With her hands gripping the wheel, she practiced the breathing exercises her therapist had taught her. Her husband practiced them with her regularly, but he was in Minneapolis for three days.

With an expression of apology, Justin held up his mom’s purse. “Don’t you need your license?” She could see the officer climbing from his car and beginning toward them on the passenger side. The car rocked as the SUVs passed by. It was just a ticket, probably. No big deal. The itch, however, was getting stronger, and again she fought the urge to jump back onto the freeway. Instead, she imagined herself telling the officer: I haven’t always had this condition, and I’ve been getting better. I don’t straighten everyone’s chair at work anymore, but the oven —  

She bit the inside of her cheek. The window descended as a semi threw a blast of air at them. The officer collected himself before leaning over.

“Ma’am, do you know why I pulled you over?”

She cringed, “I was speeding, I know.” Suddenly, explanations seemed futile. She handed him her license as a fire truck bore down the express lane, sirens blazing.

Her heart flinched. “Do you know where that truck is heading?” she asked anxiously.

The officer looked up and shook his head. “No, ma’am. I also need to see your registration.”

She leaned over Justin’s legs and reached for the glove compartment. She heard him whisper, “Don’t be mad, Mommy.” The door flipped open and she gagged, first in confusion and then shock. Five black knobs fell onto the carpeted floor mat. She conjured the image of five metal studs slipped into the ON position and a surge of adrenaline took control.

And though she wouldn’t remember it later, Anne Marie apologized to the officer before she turned the ignition and dropped the gearshift into drive.

Matthew Wells writes mostly science fiction and is a student of the Long Ridge Writer’s Group. He works for a construction company in Western Washington and resides with his wife and their two dogs, Kylie & Jeffery.

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