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by Jan Ackerson  
8/09/2011 / Short Stories

Melissa feels the tug of the strings before she gets out of bedeven before the sound of the alarm has finished jangling in her ear. They will make her dance and jerk through a grotesque routine, from beginning to end, and if she falters, the Puppeteer will send her back to the beginning, to get it right.

Out of bed, then, Melissaleft foot on the floor first, but your right foot takes the first step toward the bedroom door. There's the doorknob; touch it once, twice, three times before finally grasping it to open the door. Very good so farbut you've barely begun.

Step over that spot on the carpetthe spot where you killed a spider several weeks ago. But be careful, dear, you mustn't step too far over it, or you'll have to touch the wall for balance, and that would send you back to the beginning. Carefully, carefully now

And here you are, at the entrance to the bathroom. Don't look in the mirror yet, not until you've washed your face. Hot water tap, cold water tap, soap on the washcloth. Scrub while you count to fifty, then rinse. Look in the mirror now, Melissa. Is everything fine? No blemishes? Waitthere below your left eye, a small red spot. No need to go all the way back to the beginning this time, though. Feel the tug on your wrists? The puppeteer will settle for fifty more seconds of scrubbing.

Turn off the hot water, then the cold. Count the drips from the faucet; if there are more than six, turn on the hot again, and then the cold. Turn them off. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Very good.

Not too many jerks of the strings in your showerthe Puppeteer is saving the difficult maneuvers for dressing and eating.

Dance your bizarre dance to the closet now, and pick a blouse and slacks that match. Carefulif there's a pattern in the slacks, even the tightest herringbone weave, the blouse must be a perfectly solid color. And the total number of fastenerssnaps, buttons, zippersadded to the total number of pockets mustn't be an odd number, and mustn't exceed ten. Socks now. Left foot, right foot, and don't even think about the time you wore navy blue because you mistook them for black in the dim morning light. Check the socks. Check again. Shoes now. Left foot, right foot. Check the socks again. Check again.

You're almost to the endthat last little bit of puppetry that will allow you to leave the house. It's essential that you not become entangled in this last, intricate series of steps. You don't want to have to start over now, do you?

Walk to the kitchen now, Melissa, and fix your breakfast. Cut the toast exactly in half and pour a glass of orange juice. The jam is in the cupboardoops, can you feel it? There's something sticky on your hand now. The puppeteer will walk you over to the sink, where you'll have to wash your hands. Wash them again. Again. Wash them again. Your toast is cold now, and although the clock says it's time to leave, perhaps you should make another piece. Yes, you definitely should.

Take the plate and glass to the sink. Wash them, then wipe the table. Feel for crumbs, and don't forget the floor.

Yes, there they areyour fingers have found some crumbs, haven't they? Better clean those up.

Better check the floors in the other rooms, too.

Wash your hands again.

It's been a good morning, hasn't it, Melissa? It's nearly the end of the morning show. Hardly any start-overs. Seems like you're done now.


Did you touch the bedroom doorknob three times? Are you sure?

Back you go, girl, back to the beginning.

Melissa sheds hot angry tears at the Puppeteer who puts her through this herky-jerky dance, morning after morning. On the way back to the bedroom, she stops in the hall and tugs back against the strings. Very deliberately, she steps with her left foot onto the invisible spider-spot on the carpet.

Jan is a Christian who has traveled through sorrow and depression, and has found victory and grace. She dedicates all writings to her Heavenly Father. Check out Jan's website at
Copywrite Jan Ackerson--2006

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