Tilt

I’m back! Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me through my long hiatus. I know I mentioned before that I had every intention of being weekly faithful with my stories, but some health and life issues got in the way. I wish I could promise to be consistent with my weekly posts from now on, but there may still yet be some bumps in the road that will prevent that… I promise to strive for more consistency, though!

This week’s picture comes courtesy of author Sherri Hollister! Please go and show her Instagram some love —> @sherrilhollister ❤

I was feeling something light and airy for this week’s story, so for those who have gotten a taste of my darker, more suspenseful side before, you can relax today 🙂 This is a story about accepting the things that make us unique and striving for optimism during less than ideal times. I hope you enjoy!

Tilt
Photo Courtesy: Sherri Hollister

Here is, ‘Tilt’:

~~

The first day Ethan Hayes saw that oddly tilted head was at the annual Mackinac Stone Skipping competition. Due to a warm, heavy wind that had picked up right as he threw, Ethan’s rock had barely gone eight skips before sinking, so he had been left to watch with perpetually crossed arms as the other competitors stepped up for their turns.

The owner of that tilted head had been watching from the sidelines, her mouth forming a perfect ‘O’ as one competitor coaxed fifteen skips out of his stone.

Ethan tried to ignore her. While he was mostly forgiven for always needing to straighten inanimate objects thanks to his OCD, he doubted that the woman would take well to him grabbing her head and forcing it to an upright position.

“Watch the rocks,” he muttered to himself. “Just watch the rocks.” With a burst of exhaled air, he realized that, even as he said it, his gaze had turned toward that tilted head again, the one with the blonde ponytail that was swishing back and forth as she joined in the loud applause.

Wait, why was everyone applauding?

“An impressive 22 skips!” came the announcer’s voice.

Darn. He had missed it thanks to that woman’s head.

Chalking the day up to a bust, he turned away from the lake and the woman with the annoyingly angled head and moved for the ferry.

The following weekend, after a particularly chaotic few days of work, Ethan went back out to Lake Huron, ready to let some of the stress from the week fade as he searched the shore for good skipping rocks. Thanks to a steady drizzle of rain, the beach was mostly abandoned. A welcome fact.

Pulling the hood of his black rain jacket a little further up over his head, Ethan turned his eyes to the ground and began scanning. Every time he found a thin, flat stone about the size of his palm, he dropped it into the plastic grocery bag he had brought along with him. He had made it about a quarter mile when, feeling he was nearing someone, he glanced up to be met by a hooded, tilted head. The tilted head.

The woman who owned it had a five-gallon, blue bucket, one with the logo of a big-brand hardware store on the side. Her own eyes were downcast, brows mushed together in focused concentration as her lopsided head scanned side to side. Judging by how deep the handle of the bucket was digging into her left arm, and the way the veins along her left hand popped out, Ethan guessed her luck in finding stones had been good.

Seeming to feel herself no longer alone, the woman looked up, water droplets falling from her pink hood and onto her heart-shaped face. When she saw Ethan standing in her path, she frowned first, then her lips turned up when she saw the bag on his arm.

“Having much luck?” she asked, wiping at the moisture on her face with the back of her hand.

“Yeah, but I don’t think as much as you.” He pointed at her bucket to avoid looking at her head. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all!” The woman tilted the bucket so he could see into it as he took a step forward.

A twinge of envy creeping along his mind at the sight of near perfect skipping stones, Ethan sighed and said, “Much better luck than me.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’m told that I’m particularly adept at finding them. You’re welcome to join me if you want. My load is already big enough that I don’t mind passing some of my finds on to you.”

At first, the thought of joining her sent an uncomfortable jab through Ethan’s gut. Could he with his OCD really stand to see that tilted head for an extended length of time? But then he realized that, if he was next to her and searching the ground, the occasions to actually look at her would be few.

With a shrug, he said, “I’ll take any help I can get,” and he fell into step beside her.

“I’m Mia, by the way,” the woman said, hazel eyes back to scanning again.

“Ethan.”

“Were you at the competition last weekend?”

“I was, but I didn’t do very well.”

“Me neither. Ah! That’s a good one.” She bent to pick up the rock that Ethan had totally missed, then reached over to drop it in his bag.

“Thanks.”

“No problem. I’m hoping that, if I practice enough this year, I’ll actually make it to the last round next year. Of course,” she picked up another perfect stone and put it in her own bucket, “I said that last year, too, and things didn’t go so well.”

They fell into a comfortable silence for another half a mile or so. By the time they stopped, Ethan was afraid his bag was going to rip from the extra weight Mia had helped him add to it.

“Thanks for your help,” Ethan told her, keeping his eyes fixed over her shoulder.

“Any time. I’m here pretty much every Saturday if you want to join me again.”

She was silent after that for long enough that Ethan had no choice but to look directly at her. Noting his expression, a slow smile spread across her face.

“Do I make you that uncomfortable,” she asked, shifting her bucket to the other arm.

“OCD,” Ethan said by way of explanation, kicking at a rock with his booted foot.

“Ah.”

“Can I ask…” Ethan cleared his throat.

“Why I keep my head tilted,” Mia supplied for him. When Ethan nodded, she explained, “I have Meniere’s disease. It’s an inner ear disorder. Certain things trigger it, which means a lot of spinning and ear ringing and stuff. I discovered a few years ago that keeping my head tilted tends to help keep the episodes at bay.”

“Don’t you get a lot of weird looks from people, though?”

Mia rolled her eyes.

“Trust me,” she said, “getting weird looks over a tilted head is much better than feeling like the earth is spinning out of control.

“Right. Makes sense.” Ethan rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, feeling his discomfort grow.

“No, not to you it doesn’t. But you’ll just have to trust me on this one.” Mia smiled so he knew not to take offense at her words. “Okay, then, Ethan, I have to get going. Like I said, though, feel free to join me any Saturday.”

With a little wave and another shift of her bucket, she turned and started walking to a nearby parking lot.

Once home, Ethan threw his drenched jacket in the dryer, then grabbed his laptop and a mug of coffee. Settling in on a stool at the kitchen counter, he did a search of Meniere’s disease. It seemed Mia had understated her condition. More than spinning, ear ringing, and ‘stuff’ as she had described, Ethan learned that the episodes of vertigo, striking with no warning, were violent at times and could go on for hours. Even worse than that, the disease often lead to permanent hearing loss.

The research was still running through his head as he sat down at his desk at work Monday morning. Knowing what he did, he felt bad that he hadn’t been able to really face Mia while they were together Saturday, but at least she hadn’t seemed to mind.

His mind working on auto-pilot, Ethan began to straighten everything on his desk as he did every morning, lining up his four pens in perfectly spaced order and making sure his phone was exactly perpendicular to the edge of the desk. The cleaning crew had a knack for bumping into his desk every night, sending things slightly askew. Not enough for them to notice, but more than enough for him to pick up on.

His hand pausing in a hover over his business card holder, Ethan hesitated, then very slowly began to tilt his head to the side, trying to see what things would be like from that perspective. While most people probably wouldn’t have found the change too terrible, his mind went into a kind of hyperactive overdrive, causing him to snap his head straight again. No. He could never do it. If he ever developed Meniere’s, he’d have to resign himself to the vertigo episodes.

On Saturday, Ethan was back at Lake Huron again. Mia was already on the beach, standing at the edge of the water with her bucket at her feet.

Angling herself to the water, she pulled her arm back and, with a snap of her wrist, she launched a spinning stone out over the water. Ethan watched as the stone got in six skips before it was lost to the depths of the lake.

“Your form looks good,” Ethan said as he came up beside her.

“Thanks,” Mia said as she turned to him with a smile. “I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d see you again because of your OCD.”

“If you can live with a tilted head, my OCD can live with seeing it.”

“And by that, you mean you get to look out over the water most of the time, so it’ll be ok.”

With a shrug that would neither confirm nor deny the statement, Ethan grabbed a stone from his plastic bag and wound up for his own skip. It wasn’t his best, but it was an improvement over his performance at the competition.

As they threw, they kept up a polite and steady stream of conversation, mostly about occupations and hometowns.

When the rocks were gone, Ethan stuck his hands into his pockets and looked over Mia’s shoulder again as he asked, “How about some lunch. My treat since you helped with finding the rocks last time.”

“Lunch?” she repeated. Ethan looked at her in time to see her cock an eyebrow. “You sure you can handle it?”

Knowing she meant the titled head, Ethan nodded and said, “Just don’t get offended if I randomly find my plate incredibly fascinating.”

Mia laughed.

“Fine,” she said. “I know a good place just down the road.”

After they ordered at the mom and pop eatery, Mia looked across the table at Ethan and asked, “Are you doing anything for your OCD?”

“Most people don’t realize you can do something about it,” Ethan said as he began straightening his silverware.

“I did research after you told me last weekend,” Mia admitted, a touch of pink appearing in her cheeks. “I hope that’s ok.”

“I did the same with Meniere’s,” Ethan said, feeling his own face begin to warm. “I’m on medication for the OCD. That helps, but I still have my odd behaviors.” He gestured down to his perfectly aligned fork and knife. “Believe it or not, I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be. It used to be that I couldn’t go to bed before dusting everything in my house. Granted, my place was super clean, but it wasn’t healthy.”

“You’re officially over that?”

He nodded and said, “Thankfully.” The waiter came with their food. After he left, Ethan asked, “What about you? Are you doing anything for your condition?”

“I take motion sickness meds every day. If things get bad I go on an anti-nausea prescription. There’s also this little machine thing I have at home that helps improve fluid movement in my ear. I won’t go into the specifics of it, but it helps sometimes.” Mia spruced up her burger with ketchup and took an appreciative bite. “At least my hearing hasn’t gotten much worse yet,” she said, shielding her mouth with her hand.

Ethan nodded, but knew it was only a temporary victory for her. From what he had read, there was a good chance she wouldn’t be able to hold on to her normal level of hearing forever.

Seeming to notice where his thoughts had gone, Mia shook her head and said, “You can’t dwell on what could happen. You have to focus on the blessings and accept the oddities.” Mia raised her scuffed looking water glass. “To accepting our oddities, both the tilted world and the overly straightened one,” she said.

Grabbing his own glass, Ethan raised it to meet Mia’s in the air.

“To accepting oddities,” he parroted.

One Year Later…

“Twenty-third place,” Mia said in disgust as she slid out of the passenger’s side of Ethan’s car. “That’s worse than last year.”

“But everyone agreed that you had the best rocks,” Ethan said, trying to placate her, but failing thanks to the smirk he had on his face.

“At least I stayed in the twenties, unlike others who shall remain unnamed.” She had begun moving her way up the front walk, but stopped to turn to him with her own impish grin. “Now hurry up and open this door so I can raid your refrigerator.”

Ethan shook his head in disgust at his own lack of rock-skipping skills as he watched Mia stop in front of his home’s front door. He frowned when he noticed something was off about her. Something he couldn’t quite place. And then it hit him.

“Your head’s not tilted,” he said, voice raised a little as he walked up to join her. It had become harder for her to hear when she wasn’t in a confined, controlled environment, but she wasn’t letting it slow her down. If anything, she was keeping busier to prove to herself and others that she could still do whatever she wanted despite her slight handicap.

“You finally noticed!” she said, face lighting up.

“Why do it?” Ethan fumbled with his key ring until he landed on the one he needed. As he slipped it into the lock, he asked, “What if you bring on an episode?” He hated seeing her struggle through one of those.

“The doctors said the therapy seems to be working okay, and my hearing hasn’t been quite so muffled the last month or so. I want to try this. For you. You’ve adjusted to my oddity, so now I want to try adjusting to yours for a change.”

Ethan rested his hand on the doorknob and started laughing, quietly at first, and then the kind that was hard enough to make a person sick to the stomach. All the while, Mia watched him with a solemn look on her face.

“The OCD has finally taken its toll,” she said, crossing her arms.

“Nah,” Ethan said, trying to get himself under control. “Not the OCD. But I think it’s safe to say we’re on the same wavelength.”

He pushed open the door and gestured for Mia to go inside.

“Woah.” She stopped right inside the door and looked around with wide eyes, her head naturally leaning into a tilt out of habit since she wasn’t focusing on keeping it straight. “What… when… why?” Without ever finishing a coherent thought, she took a few steps forward and peered into the living room. “Even the TV?” she asked.

“Especially the TV.” Ethan followed her gaze around his house and smiled. Everything that could possibly be tilted had been. The pictures on the wall. The TV. Things sitting on the counters and tabletops.

Mia turned to Ethan, and clasped her hands happily under her chin like a child who had just been offered a puppy.

“For me?” she asked.

“For you.”

Smile growing, Mia went into the kitchen and grabbed the refrigerator handle that Ethan had managed to re-install with a lean to it. Grabbing two cans of root beer, she popped the tabs and then held one out to Ethan.

“To accepting oddities,” she said, raising her drink.

Ethan looked around at his house, strangely okay with just how not straight everything was. Sure, he’d eventually reach a point when he was about to lose his mind and would have to set everything right again, but for as long as his own oddity would allow, he’d enjoy getting to see things from Mia’s usual point of view.

Raising his can, he clanked it against hers and said, “To accepting oddities.”

 

 

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