This work contains content pertaining to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which some may find distressing.
I looked down at the tray of green tablets on the floor of the pantry. Poison. I looked up at the Vegemite sitting on the shelf across from me. I looked back down. I looked back up. I stepped forward. My pink, fuzzy sock acted as a barrier against the contaminated floor. When I had the jar of Vegemite firmly in my hand, I let out the gulp of air that was cramped inside me.
Pop! My toast was ready. Good timing. I jumped out of the pantry and skipped over to my breakfast set up, buttering my toast before it got too cold to melt. My breakfast was perfectly crafted; I took pride in searching for the perfect two pieces of bread in the loaf every morning. But I could feel the entry of the pantry staring at me, daring to ruin my morning. I had to put the Vegemite back.
I did not like this new thing we had going on in the house. Rat poison was in all corners of the kitchen. I had obstacles now. I had to check my body before I went to sleep, in case I had any green colouration on my skin. I felt like I was the only person concerned about it. The box said it kills rodents within three to four days of consumption. This was serious. I had to be careful.
When I’d finished making my breakfast, I placed the butter back in the fridge. Then I tossed the knife in the sink and stared at the pantry. It stared back, waiting for me to accept the challenge once more. I walked over slowly, looking down at my feet – they were the masters of the obstacle course. They were also the closest to the death trap, and I had to keep a look out for any stray tablets that may linger through the kitchen. When I reached the pantry, I looked straight at the tray. There it was again. This powerful poison. It could take me away from my family. I hated it.
Once again, I stepped forward, placing the Vegemite back on the shelf. I looked back to make sure my other foot had not accidentally gone near the tray without me realising. It had not. Letting go of my breath once more, I jumped out of the pantry, and stood in one spot for a moment to let my heart rate slow back down before eating my breakfast.
It was Saturday morning and Mum and Dad were working in the backyard. My little sister was out with them on the rope swing. Madelyn and I were to clear the branches and leaf piles to the bonfire pit. It sounded like a big opportunity for all sorts of bugs and spiders to make their presence known to me. I had to dress accordingly: I covered myself from head to toe in a tracksuit and gumboots. I just had to put my hair up, but I had to find a hair-tie first.
I was combing through the assortment of junk in the miscellaneous basket when it happened—all so quickly. In the frustration of finding everything but what I wanted, I bumped the can of car cleaner. I stopped what I was doing to see if I had knocked anything over. But what I found instead, was a tray of rat poison. It was right next to the car cleaner.
It was on the bench.
I stumbled back, bumping into the dining table. I struggled to regain my balance as my fingers grasped the back of a chair. My knuckles were white. What had just happened exactly? I didn’t know, but whatever it was, it involved a hidden tray of poison that I had no idea was there. How could I have failed to know this? I had lost the obstacle. I had gotten too close. Was it on me? It had to be. I touched the car cleaner. What had I done?
My hands were in my hair and I hadn’t realised. I ripped them out of my tangled locks and ran to the bathroom. I scrubbed and scrubbed. I could see the panic in my eyes when I looked in the mirror. I could feel a tingling underneath my skin. I could swear I saw green, patchy stains on my palms. I couldn’t believe myself. The poison was all over me.
‘Ebony? Are you coming out?’ I heard Dad’s voice at the back door. I turned off the tap and paused. I couldn’t tell Dad I’d touched the poison. I’d get into a heap of trouble. We weren’t supposed to go near it.
‘I’ll be right out,’ I told him, still shaking.
When I knew Dad was gone, I crept back out into the kitchen. I dumped a soaking contaminated washer into the bin, along with a pile of anti-bacterial wipes. I wasn’t sure how well I had done getting rid of it all, but I was sure it was unsafe to put my hands anywhere near my mouth, unless I had washed my hands first without touching anywhere on my body.
With that conclusion in mind, I decided it was safe for me to go outside and start dragging branches to the fire pit.
Mum smiled when she saw me, but it was quickly wiped from her face when she saw my expression. I can imagine I looked as white as paper and as startled as someone who’d just witnessed a murder.
‘Are you alright Ebz?’ she asked me. I just nodded.
‘I couldn’t find a hair-tie,’ I added. Then picked up a big pile of branches and began walking them to their destination, at the other side of the yard. Madelyn was ahead of me, carrying her one leaf to the pit. I couldn’t even be bothered by the unfairness, as I was too worried about my hair blowing in the wind, and whether it had touched my mouth. Stupid hair and hair-ties. If I hadn’t have gone through the trouble of trying to find a hair-tie, I wouldn’t have been in this mess.
That night I showered and washed my hair. Before dinner, I made sure I washed my hands before I ate, and didn’t touch anywhere on my body while I was eating. I had to be as cautious as I could to avoid consumption.
As I lay in bed that night, I quickly realised there was no chance of sleep. Instead I studied my hands and my bed, wondering where the poison lied. Maybe I’d accidentally got some in my mouth and I hadn’t realised. I would have to count the days. How would I know if I was dying? I could feel the tingling under my skin returning. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t breathe. And the more I couldn’t breathe, the more panicked I got. And the more panicked I got, the more my heart tightened. I thought I was dying. It was a vicious cycle.
I wanted to go and tell Mum. I knew she was sleeping. It was almost 12 a.m. I wasn’t supposed to be up that late. I didn’t know what she would do. There’s nothing you can do for poison. Mum would just be mad at me for touching it. Or maybe she would be mad at me for worrying. She always told me to stop worrying about stupid things. But this time, it’s not stupid. I’d contaminated myself with rat poison.
My stomach was churning. I managed to calm myself back down again. But it didn’t take long to pull myself back into a full panic. I thought I could feel my hands and fingers going numb. My chest was hurting. Was this the poison taking effect? My emotions were high, switching back and forth, trying to convince myself that I hadn’t consumed the poison… yet. Eventually I fell asleep.
Day three came around, and I still seemed to be fine. I was still washing my hands vigorously all the time. It was still all over me. I could feel it. I’d successfully kept the secret from my family. I accepted that I would never fully escape the green substance of death. I’d touched too many things, and I would just never know if I’d ever gotten rid of it once and for all.
My hands were extremely red. The skin was hard and dry. Each time I washed my hands, the more they hurt when I dried them.
On Tuesday night, I came out of the bathroom after washing my hands. Mum and Dad were in the kitchen opening a packet of chocolate biscuits.
‘Do you want a biscuit?’ Dad asked me. Madelyn rushed in from the lounge room when she heard the news of dessert. He handed one to her. He then picked another one from the packet and handed it out to me. I looked at it. Then I looked at my hands. I’d just washed them, but had I touched anything on my body? It’s safest to wash them again.
‘I’ll just wash my hands,’ I replied, turning away from his offer.
‘Didn’t you just wash them?’ His question stopped me in my tracks.
‘Wait a minute. Ebony look at your hands,’ Mum sat up from her chair and came over to me. She gasped when she picked up my hands to have a closer look. ‘Why have you been washing your hands so much? They’re all red and dry.’
‘I—I don’t know,’ I sputtered. I didn’t know what to say. My heart rate picked up, and I was worried that M um’s hands were now infected.
‘Come with me,’ Mum said furiously, taking my hand and leading me to my bedroom. ‘What’s going on?’ Mum asked me, when we were both seated on my bed. ‘You’ve been acting strange this past week, and you’re washing your hands too much. I told you about this germ obsession, Ebony. It’s not good.’
That’s when I broke down. In a matter of seconds, I was in tears.
‘I think I touched rat poison… and it’s all over me… I don’t know what to do,’ I cried. I went to lift my hands up to my face, but remembered I couldn’t and put them back in my lap.
‘Rat poison? When?’ Mum asked. I then explained everything in a stream of sobs – about the car cleaner, and using all the anti-bacterial wipes, and the fear I was going to die.
‘I’m sorry Mum. I promise it was an accident,’ I finished with one last blubber of hiccuped cries. I braced myself for the yelling.
But Mum just hugged me and tried to calm me down before she spoke.
‘Goodness,’ was the first thing to leave her lips. ‘Darling, you’re not going to die,’ she explains. ‘The effects of rat poison are totally different for humans. We’d have to eat a lot of it for it to kill us. Nana even takes a tablet every day with the same ingredients as rat poison.’ As Mum explained all this to me, I realised just how silly I had been. As I cried into my mother’s arms, I also realised how much I missed her musk perfume and her gentle touch. I soaked it in, making up for the days I’d spent thinking my touch was toxic.
I felt so stupid. But I also felt relief. I laid my cheek on mum’s tear-stained shirt as she hugged me closer to her. I was breathing in short, sharp bursts from my panicked outburst.
Mum sat me up and looked into my eyes.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked. I nodded in reply. ‘Alright, now come on. Let me give you a cream for your hands, and then you can have a chocolate biscuit.
I slept well that night, as everything around me seemed so much cleaner and clearer.
Ebony is a creative writing student at QUT. In her writing, she focuses on shedding light on mental illness in young people, and sometimes domestic abuse among families. Ebony is currently in her third year of her degree, and has grown a passion for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for storytelling.