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Urge Factory

                Right when Macy wanted it to happen, the fall season arrived. She had crawled into bed, annoyed at the lingering heat which made any amount of blankets unpleasant unless she closed the windows and ran the air conditioning all night, and had said out loud to herself, “I wish fall would hurry up and get here,” and when she awakened a few hours later, she heard a wind outside which could only herald the fulfillment of her wish.

               The following day, Macy wore a jacket to work. Everyone commented on the “fall feeling” in the air. Macy did not take full credit, but she hinted that she may have had something to do with it. No one thanked her. Well, Gail did, but she was clearly joking.

               When Macy got home, she parked her car in her garage, then strolled down the driveway to check her mail. She could have just pulled up next to the mailbox in her car and retrieved the mail through the window, but she wanted the stroll, she wanted to be immersed in the fall weather. She wanted her cheeks to get cold. It was not a long walk from the garage to the mailbox, but half way down her driveway, Macy acknowledged to herself that while, yes, she had wanted fall weather, the wind was a little strong for her taste, especially for the first day of fall weather. It was the kind of wind that fall should build up to, not unleash immediately.

               The mailbox had a few items in it, but nothing that looked interesting or important. Macy had just turned to walk back toward the house when a particularly strong gust of wind snatched the few envelopes and advertisements out of her hand and scattered them across her new neighbor’s lawn. Macy was still trying to decide if she cared about the mail enough to chase it through the neighborhood when Rex, the new neighbor Macy had met only once, burst from his front door in red sweatpants and an undershirt, his feet brown-socked. “I’ve got it!” he called to Macy, raising one hand to her in a gesture of both greeting and reassurance. Macy watched with her hands half-tucked into the back pockets of her jeans as Rex sprinted around his mail-strewn yard, stooping to pluck each loose piece with his left hand, securing them in a bundle in his right hand.

               “That’s OK,” called Macy. “Don’t worry about it.” But Rex was almost finished. When he trotted over to her red of face and labored of breath, Macy took the mail from him and said, “You didn’t have to do that, but thanks.”

               “It was no problem,” said Rex. “I like to help.” The fullness of his close-trimmed beard made up for the thinness of the hair on top of his head. The undershirt showed exactly how pale his arms and chest were. His smile wobbled like a piece of the scenery in a high school play.

               “Are you OK?” asked Macy. She didn’t think Rex’s smile would wobble like that if he felt OK.

               “No,” said Rex, his smile evaporating. He balled his helpful hands into fists, making them less ready to help in all but a few specific circumstances. “I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have given in.”

               “Shouldn’t have done what?” asked Macy.

               “Picked up your mail for you,” said Rex. “I should have just stayed inside and let you take care of it.”

               “Why?” asked Macy. “Did I not seem grateful enough? Because I really did appreciate it.” She hadn’t cared much about the mail, but Rex didn’t know that, and it didn’t feel good to have him telling her to her face that he regretted assisting her.

               “No, no, it has nothing to do with you or your response or anything,” said Rex. “It’s a ‘me’ problem. Or a better way to say that is that it’s my problem.”

               “But what is your problem?” asked Macy.

               “I have these urges,” said Rex. “My therapist calls them compulsions.”

               “Oh,” said Macy, edging back a few steps. She did not want to hear this man talk about his uncontrollable urges and what they had to do with her.

               Rex didn’t seem to notice Macy’s discomfort. “It’s just that when I see people that need help, I get this feeling like I have to help them. Big things, small things, it doesn’t matter, I get this overwhelming urge – compulsion – to help them. No matter who it is. Friends, family members, complete strangers.” He gestured at Macy and added, “neighbors.”

               “That doesn’t seem so bad,” said Macy. “It seems kind of nice. More people should want to help people.”

               “You don’t get it,” said Rex. “No one ever does. Except for my therapist. She knows what it’s like for me, but she’s the only one.”

               “Ah,” said Macy. “Well, you’re probably right, it doesn’t seem like something I’d understand. Thanks again.” She waved her mail at Rex.

               “It’s the compulsion that makes it bad,” said Rex, not acknowledging Macy’s escape attempt. “If I really wanted to be helpful, then sure, yeah, it’d be good to help you or anyone else. But that’s not what it is. It’s a compulsion. Another way to say it, the way I sometimes say it, is that it’s an urge. And I shouldn’t give in to urges, right? Just ‘cause it’s an urge, that means I should obey it? No, I shouldn’t, I should resist the urge, I should resist the compulsion, as my therapist puts it. But I didn’t do that just now. I saw your mail blowing around my yard, and I felt the urge to help you, and I didn’t even think about it, I didn’t even pause to consider, I just obeyed the urge-slash-compulsion.” His eyes, which had been attached to Macy’s as if by hooks, fell at last to the ground as his explanation turned to old-fashioned shame.

               “I really can’t speak to your personal issues,” said Macy.

               “I know,” said Rex. “That’s what I’ve got my therapist for.”

               “I’ll try to be more, uh…” Macy didn’t know how to finish the sentence. She didn’t know what, exactly, she should try to be more of. “You should probably go back inside,” she said. “You’re not wearing shoes or a real shirt. You’ll get cold.”

               “Yeah,” said Rex, finally willing to change the subject. “It kind of turned into fall out of nowhere, huh?”

               “I actually wished for it to come today and it happened,” said Macy with just enough of a chuckle to pass it off as a joke if necessary.

               Rex gave Macy the exact strange look she’d been politely withholding from him.

               “Just kidding,” said Macy.

               “I don’t think you were,” said Rex.


               Two days later, Macy called in sick to work, but she was not sick. She felt pretty good. She had decided that instead of spending such a beautiful fall day – one without any wind – at work, she would spend it using her leaf blower on her lawn. Not many leaves had fallen so far, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a jump on it. Why wait until the job was difficult? But it was now an hour after lunch and not a single leaf had been blown. Instead, Macy stood just outside the entrance of her open garage and turned the leaf blower this way and that, looking for a problem that she hoped would be obvious, or one that would become obvious with focused observation from multiple angles.

               “Having some trouble?”

               Macy gasped in surprised, but did not cry out, for which she was grateful to either herself or to whatever outside force was responsible.

               “Sorry,” said Rex. “Didn’t meant to startle you.” He smiled and repeated, “Having some trouble?” He wore a bulky garment that was neither jacket nor shirt, but something between. His jeans were gray, his shoes were on his feet. His beard looked even more neatly trimmed than it had last time Macy had seen it, although last time she would not have been able to identify specific ways in which it could have been more neatly trimmed. But here it was, further trimmed and more neatly to boot.

               “The leaf blower won’t start,” said Macy. “But I’ll figure it out.”

               “Here,” said Rex, extending both arms as if to accept a swaddled baby girl or boy. “Let me take a look. I’m good with devices like that one.”

               “That’s OK,” said Macy. “Thanks for offering, but that’s OK. I’ll get it going. I’ve gotten it going before when it’s been like this.”

               “Are you not letting me look at it because of what happened the other day?” asked Rex. “Are you afraid that my offer to help is born not of a genuine desire to help you, but rather of a compulsion to help that my therapist thinks I should resist?”

               “Not entirely,” said Macy. “But yes, partially.”

               “But look how put together I am,” said Rex. “I’ve got a real shirt on. Some might even say it’s more of a coat. And I’ve got shoes on my feet. My coming over here is not the result of some random impulse. I didn’t come running over here all willy-nilly. I saw your plight, I considered it, I examined my own motives, and I decided to come help you. I decided to be neighborly.” His smile showed zero teeth. His blinks looked more like he was closing, then re-opening his eyes, if that makes sense. He stepped closer to Macy so that the tips of his extended fingers brushed against the hard, serious-tool-orange plastic of the leaf blower.

               “All right,” said Macy, and she relinquished the leaf blower to Rex.

               “Hmm,” Rex said, turning the leaf blower this way and that, examining it like Macy had been examining it when he had walked up except worse. More cluelessly. “Hmm,” he said again, but there was a flutter in it. The flutter in his “hmm” reminded Macy of the wobble in his smile of the other day.

               “You can just give it back,” said Macy.

               “Hold on just a second,” said Rex. “I’m…I’m familiarizing myself with it.” Abruptly, a tear fell from each of his eyes like synchronized divers. They darkened the dust on the leaf blower’s shell.

               “Give it back,” said Macy. “You tricked me.”

               “I’m trying to help you!” said Rex, but he was so unskilled at even holding the leaf blower that Macy was able to snatch it back with minimal effort.

               “Go home,” said Macy, trying a little tough love. “Love” in a very generalized sense. Some of that “love your neighbor” stuff, but a tough version of it.

               “You should have known,” said Rex, shaking his head. He was, it seemed, a really sad man.

               “I don’t know all your tricks,” said Macy. “I hardly know you at all.”

               “But you’ve heard of people with other compulsions,” said Rex. “You know how they’ll go out of their way to satisfy them. You think a pyromaniac acts only on the spur of the moment? Of course not! He plans! He gathers his materials, he finds an ideal location, he invents a cover story!”

               “Now I know,” said Macy.

               “It’s just frustrating because we already went over the most important points the other day,” said Rex.

               “Well, if it’s any consolation,” said Macy. “You didn’t help me at all. You accomplished nothing. If anything, you hindered me. The time you wasted looking at the leaf blower was time I could have been looking at the leaf blower.”

               Rex glared at her, puffing out his cheeks in a way that seemed possibly also compulsive. “It’s not about whether or not I succeed,” he said. “It’s about whether or not I give in to the urge to try.”

               “So you’d already failed before I gave you the leaf blower,” said Macy.

               “It’s about baby steps,” said Rex, almost shouting. “I have to start with modest, achievable goals. Giving in to the impulse to offer help is not the same as giving in to the impulse to attempt to help once given permission!”

               “Well, I’m not going to blow leaves today,” said Macy. “Goodbye.” She stepped into her garage and pushed the button on the wall.

               As the garage door lowered, Rex said, “At least I don’t think I caused fall weather to arrive during fall,” but since Macy could only see him from the waist down, she had the absurd impression that his knees had been the ones to speak to her unkindly, which made it worse, somehow, and she blushed.


               That evening, Macy went to dinner with a guy she’d been dating. His first and middle names – Louis Samuel – were the same as one of Macy’s first cousins, which was a little strange, but not strange enough to justify breaking it off with him. The Louis Samuel who Macy was dating was nothing like her cousin Louis Samuel. She had asked a lot of questions of both of them to confirm the extent of their differences.

               After dinner, Macy and Louis returned to her house to watch a new episode of a police procedural they both sort of liked called Secretive Bodies. As Louis pulled his car into Macy’s driveway, his headlights swept across her lawn revealing a few pitiful piles of leaves raked into existence by someone other than Macy. It didn’t take much wondering to arrive at who was most likely responsible. It looked as if Rex had gotten somewhere between a fourth and third of the way through the job before his guilt at succumbing to his compulsion to help had driven him away.

               “Someone did yard work for you while we were gone?” asked Louis. “In the dark?”

               “It’s my neighbor,” said Macy. “He’s compelled to help.”

               “Do you wish that I was more helpful?” asked Louis. “If you have a rake, I can finish this up before we watch the show.”

               “No,” said Macy. “The last thing I need is another person imposing help on me.”

               Louis looked both hurt and relieved, an unattractive combination considering the causes of those emotions. Sure, having the same first and middle names as Macy’s cousin wasn’t a good reason to break up with him, but what were the reasons not to break up with him. The fact that they both sort of liked Secretive Bodies? Pretty flimsy, especially since it seemed like Louis sort of liked it more than Macy sort of liked it.

               Louis shifted the car into park, turned off the engine, switched off the headlights.

               “Before we go in,” said Macy, unbuckling her seatbelt and pivoting in the passenger’s seat to face Louis. “I want to run something by you.”

               “Go ahead,” said Louis. He wore an elegant stocking cap that he had earlier expressed delight over finally being able to wear without generating excessive scalp sweat. He draped his wrists coolly over the steering wheel. The dim light inside the car smoothed out a few of his facial flaws.

               “The other night before I went to bed,” said Macy, “I wished out loud that fall weather would hurry up and get here. And within hours, fall weather was here.”

               “Uh huh,” said Louis. “But you know correlation doesn’t imply causation.”

               “But we can’t rule it out,” said Macy. “You agree about that, right?”

               “Not really,” said Louis. “What if your next door neighbor, the guy who raked your leaves – some of your leaves – for you, at the exact same time you were wishing for fall weather to arrive, was wishing for fall weather not to arrive, and the fall weather arrived not to please you, but to spite him?”

               “But that’s just a hypothetical,” said Macy. “We know that I actually wished for the fall weather to come.”

               “Fine,” said Louis. “Then we can’t rule it out. You might have caused fall weather to arrive by wishing for it to arrive.”

               “Thank you,” said Macy. “Now let’s go inside and see if that pool cue was actually the murder weapon.”

               “They figured out that wasn’t the murder weapon two episodes ago,” said Louis. “Have you been paying attention at all? Do you even sort of like Secretive Bodies?”

               “Yes!” said Macy. “I sort of like it just as much as you do!”

               “Obviously not if you’re missing basic plot points,” said Louis. “I mean, I know it’s not that great, but you’ve gotta follow the basic plot points.”

               “I will,” said Macy. “Tonight, I will.” She wondered if Louis would note the significance of her addendum.

               “I actually think I might just go home,” said Louis. It seemed he had noted the significance of Macy’s addendum.


               When Macy got home from work the next day, there was a car she didn’t recognize parked at the curb in front of her house and a strange woman standing on her front porch. The woman watched with one eye as Macy pulled her car into her garage. The woman’s other eye was covered with one of those beige bandage-like medical patches.

               On her way through the house to the front door, Macy dropped her bag on the kitchen table and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, hoping that if she dawdled long enough before going to the front door, the woman might vanish. But no, when Macy opened the door, there was the woman. Up close, Macy noticed some discoloration of the skin around the perimeter of the woman’s eye patch. She wore high-heeled shoes, professional dress pants, and large tucked-in black t-shirt that read, in white letters, “I’M THE THERAPIST THAT’S WHY.” The shirt sent a shudder through Macy’s innards.

               “Can I help you?” asked Macy.

               “I’ve been ringing your doorbell for ten minutes,” said the woman. “And no answer until now.”

               “I was at work,” said Macy. “You just saw me get home a couple minutes ago.”

               “Oh, was that you?” asked the woman. “I couldn’t make you out very well through your car windows. I think they may be tinted too dark. There are legal limits to how dark your tint can be, you know, and you may be in violation. You may want to have that checked before you get ticketed.”

               “My car windows aren’t tinted at all,” said Macy. “How can I help you?”

               The woman seemed hesitant to let the window-tint discussion go, but after a pause, she said, “My name is Hattie Sway, I’m a therapist. You know one of my patients.”

               “Rex,” said Macy. “My neighbor.”

               “I’m not allowed to say who it is,” said Hattie. “That would violate therapist-patient confidentiality.”

               “OK,” said Macy. She was being unfriendly on purpose. The window tint thing had annoyed her, and she was pretty sure Hattie had more annoying things to say, too.

               “The reason I came to see you is that some of your recent behavior has caused my patient to backslide," said Hattie. “He was making great progress up until a couple of days ago, but now much of that progress has been lost, and it’s my belief that you’re to blame.”

               “So this mystery patient is a man,” said Macy.

               “Not necessarily,” said Hattie.

               “But you called him ‘he,’” said Macy.

               “Well…maybe he’s a boy,” said Hattie. “A child.”

               “I know we’re talking about Rex,” said Macy. “He told me he has a therapist and he told me about his urges.”

               “Compulsions,” said Hattie. “I call his urges ‘compulsions.’”

               “He told me about that, too,” said Macy.

               “Whether or not we’re talking about Rex,” said Hattie, “the point is that you need to be more careful. You don’t want to become an enabler. What if you enable my patient so much that he – whether grown man or small boy – becomes a slave to his compulsions, his life utterly ruled by what he perceives as his need to help people?”

               “My mail blew out of my hand,” said Macy. “I couldn’t get my leaf blower to start.”

               “Exactly,” said Hattie. “By displaying yourself in positions where help would be useful, you give my patient opportunities to give in to his compulsions, his ‘urges,’ as he calls them.”

               “I wasn’t displaying myself,” said Macy. “Please go away. I need to fix dinner.”

               “Oh, oh, oh,” said Hattie. “I see what’s going on here. You have compulsions of your own! You feel compelled to broadcast your own helplessness. You look for, and even create, situations in which others will feel compelled to come to your aid. Imagine what that would be like for someone who is especially susceptible to compulsions to help. Someone like my patient!”

               Macy was about to slam the door in Hattie’s face when Rex emerged from behind the trunk of a tree in Macy’s front lawn. “Hey, Macy,” he said. “Is my therapist bothering you? I could help you get rid of her.”

               “No!” shouted Macy. “I don’t want your help!”

               “Hey, Ms. Sway,” said Rex, turning his attention to Hattie. “Is Macy not listening to you? I could help you convince her to listen to you, if you want.”

               “Oh, Rex,” said Hattie, shaking her head. “You’re even worse than when you first came to me. What has this woman done to you?”

               “I dunno,” said Rex. “Want me to help you figure it out?”

               And that’s when Macy slammed the door.


               The next morning, Macy had finished her coffee five minutes earlier than usual and was congratulating herself over the fact that she wouldn’t have to hurry into her office building from the parking lot at an undignified pace when her doorbell rang. There on her porch was a different woman, a new woman. She wore high heels, a businesslike skirt and sweater combination, and an incongruous baseball cap across the front of which were embroidered the ominous words “I’M THE THERAPIST THAT’S WHY.”

               “I saw someone wearing a shirt that said that last night,” said Macy, pointing at the woman’s hat.

               “Yes,” said the woman. “That was Hattie, one of my patients. That’s why I’m here.”

               “Is she not really a therapist?” asked Macy.

               “No, she is,” said the woman. “Lots of therapists have therapists.”

               “I need to go to work,” said Macy. “I’m…running late.” But really she was now merely running less early than she’d hoped.

               “I’ll be brief,” said the woman. She touched her dangling earrings as if to assure herself that they were not insects attached to her lobes by their mandibles, or maybe Macy just perceived it that way. “My name is Pia Vottezze. Hattie Sway, as I said, is one of my patients. I believe you had an encounter with her last night?”

               “Doesn’t this violate therapist-patient confidentiality?” asked Macy.

               “There’s no such thing,” said Pia. “Therapists tell everyone about their patients all the time. Use their full names and everything. That’s just the risk you run when you go to a therapist.”

               “Please get to your point,” said Macy. She could already see herself scurrying through the parking lot at work, not quite jogging, the wind blowing her hair in her face, her bag bouncing off the rearview mirrors of her coworker’s cars, dropping items into puddles, stumbling on the raised edges of cracks in the blacktop.

               “Hattie suffers from what she calls compulsions,” said Pia. “I call them-”

               “I don’t care what you call them,” said Macy.

               “I call them ‘urges,’” said Pia. “Some think the terms are interchangeable.”

               “No one thinks that,” said Macy even though she figured a lot of people probably did.

               “Hattie is often beset by urges to interfere directly in her patients’ lives,” said Pia. “She knows it’s almost always counter-productive, but she struggles to resist these urges.”

               “Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?” asked Macy.

               “Yes,” said Pia. “But not because I felt an urge to do it. I’m doing it because I considered it and decided it was the best course of action.”

               “So what do you want from me?” asked Macy.

               “I just want you to consider how you respond to your urges to enable people to give in to their urges,” said Pia. “By giving in to your urge to enable Hattie’s patient – whoever he is – to give into his urges, or ‘compulsions,’ as Hattie calls them, you enable Hattie to give in to her urge to interfere in her patient’s life by coming to your house to talk to you about enabling her patient.”

               “I’m resisting an urge right now,” said Macy. “But only barely.”

               She didn’t end up hurrying through her office parking lot at an undignified pace. She just strolled in late and not caring.


               After enduring the disapproving look of Armand, the office tattletale, and the subsequent disapproving look of her boss, who would surely store this incident away for future reference even though the next performance review was months away, Macy attempted to settle into her workday tasks. But getting started was a struggle. The events of the last couple days tapped and poked at her mind from all directions. The more she willed herself to write the emails that needed writing, the more she worried about compulsions and urges, urges and compulsions, irresistible desires, overwhelming impulses. She hadn’t wanted to look up definitions, synonyms, related terms, but she had done it anyway. Why? Why couldn’t she stop herself? Or could she have stopped herself? Did one always know when one was surrendering to an urge, giving in to a compulsion? Macy thought about her wish for the rapid arrival of fall weather, how she had maybe possibly compelled it to happen. Was someone or something – she couldn’t stop herself from adding the “something” – out there right now wishing for her to do the things she did, directing her moods and thoughts and actions without, perhaps, even knowing that it was working? These ideas made her very uneasy. She tried to think of a way to prove to herself that she was not ruled by compulsions. She could not think of a way, not a single way. She dreaded going home for fear that she would discover a third therapist waiting for her, eager to scold her for compulsively enabling Pia’s compulsion to undermine Hattie. It wasn’t that far-fetched! It was a legitimate worry.

               Macy’s coworker Gail, the lenses of her glasses reflecting the overhead fluorescent lights like twin moons except square, stopped by Macy’s desk. “Could you forward me the details from yesterday’s meeting?”

               “Uh, sure,” said Macy, trying to sound like someone whose morning hadn’t been consumed with the contemplation of the nature of compulsion.

               “Only if you want to!” said Gail. “If not, I can ask someone else.”

               “If I want to?” asked Macy, pulling her fingers back from her keyboard as if singed.

               “Yes,” said Gail, now worried. “If not, I can ask someone else. If you don’t want to.”

               “If I don’t want to?” asked Macy. She imagined a little factory deep inside of her chugging away, urges rolling out of it on conveyor belts. But where was the raw material coming from? Who – or what, she couldn’t resist adding – was working the levers?

               “I’ll ask someone else,” said Gail.

               “No, I’ll do it,” said Macy. “But we will not discuss why. Understood?”

               “I’ll ask someone else,” said Gail.

               “Too late,” said Macy, clacking on her keyboard, clicking on her mouse. “I already did it.”


               After stopping for a lonesome dinner, Macy arrived home to find no one waiting for her on her porch. Nowhere else on her property either, as far as she could tell. It seemed that everyone’s compulsions, not to mention their urges, had led them elsewhere tonight. Except hers, of course. She wrapped herself in a blanket and sat on her porch swing with a glass of spiced cider. She assumed she would drink the cider, but she would have to see where her compulsions took her. It was windy again. All of Rex’s work with the leaf piles had been undone, and now more leaves had fallen, were falling even as she watched. Now that she thought about it, Macy wouldn’t have minded a little more summer weather. She knew it probably had a lot to do with unwelcome associations to recent events, but the fall weather was wearing on Macy. Should she try it? Just a little experiment? “I wish,” she said aloud in a voice camouflaged by the wind, “that summer weather would come back for a few days.” Then she went inside, dumped the full glass of spiced cider into the sink, and watched an episode of Secretive Bodies all by herself. To her surprise, she didn’t just sort of like it, she loved it. And it turned out the pool cue was the murder weapon after all.

               A few hours later, Macy awoke to the sound of the wind just howling around her house. She peeked through the blinds of the window above her bed and saw flurries in the air. Snow flurries.

               Was acting out of spite a form of surrendering to compulsion?

               Macy decided it was and went back to bed.


               Just after 4 a.m., Macy awoke to the sound of someone pounding on her front door. As she pulled on her fuzzy – too fuzzy – yellow robe and stepped into her fuzzy – not fuzzy enough – gray slippers, Macy recalled a tapping in the dream from which she had just returned that she assumed had probably been the knocking at her door before it had evolved to pounding. At the front door, she put one eye to the peephole and saw Rex on her porch, again in undershirt and sweatpants, although there was a ratty stocking cap pulled down over his ears, at least. Despite the wind and the snow flurries, it seemed the continued door-pounding was keeping him warm. Macy did not want to invite him inside. She opened the door and said, “Come in, it’s cold out there.”

               Rex wore sneakers with no socks. The sneakers were stained green from many lawn-mowings. They were, through and through, summer shoes. He was blown through Macy’s door by a chilly gust. She closed the door behind him.

               “What’s wrong?” asked Macy. “Why are you here at this hour?”

               “Before you make me leave, please hear me out,” said Rex.

               “How long will it take to hear you out?” asked Macy.

               “Not long,” said Rex.

               “Go ahead,” said Macy.

               “I’m here to help you,” said Rex.

               It was not good news, but neither was it surprising news. “Why right now?” asked Macy. “I was sleeping. You could help me a lot more by letting me sleep at 4 o’clock in the morning.”

               “I gotta be honest,” said Rex. “I was fighting the compulsion to come help you all night, and I finally gave in just a few minutes ago.”

               “So you’re going to be crying and accusing me of enabling you soon,” said Macy. “Right?”

               “Maybe,” said Rex. “But I think you’ll think my help is worth it this time. This time, I think you’ll agree you really do need my help.”

               “Help with what?” asked Macy.

               “Your urges,” said Rex.

               Macy was silent. She crossed her arms defensively.

               “My therapist told me you’ve been dealing with them,” said Rex. “She didn’t mention you by name, of course, but I knew who she meant. And she called them compulsions, of course.”

               “What did she say my compulsions are?” asked Macy.

               “She didn’t elaborate,” said Rex. “But it doesn’t matter. No one wants to live a life ruled by their urges. Once you’re aware of them, you just want them gone. And I know how to get rid of them. I can help you never have to give in to your urges ever again!”

               Macy made a face she knew to be skeptical. “If you know this foolproof method, why haven’t you used it on yourself?”

               Rex’s countenance became sorrowful. “I’ve got other urges that won’t let me,” he said. “I have a very strong urge to not use the method on myself. Someday I hope to overcome this urge, but for now, I can’t. It’s an even stronger urge than any of my urges to help people.”

               Macy found this odd, but believable. She thought about the trajectory of her life over the last few days, how outside of her control it felt, how subject she felt to the whims of forces beyond her understanding. She didn’t like it. It made her feel like a passive observer of her own existence. She hated it, in fact. She didn’t want her every action to be dictated by a series of compulsions. She didn’t want to think about her motives for every little thing she did, peering behind each idea for the grinning compulsion pulling its strings. “OK,” said Macy. “How do I get rid of my urges? Compulsions? Whatever they are.”

               “Stay right here,” said Rex. “I’ll be right back!”


               Macy sat on her couch, still in her robe and slippers. It was still dark outside. Rex, somewhere between heading back to his house and returning to Macy’s, had lost his hat. Now, on one knee in front of her, lit warmly by the living room’s three lamps, Rex held out a thin, black tube, the other end of which led inside a brown paper bag with an oily base. Dozens of rubber bands of various sizes and colors held the mouth of the bag closed around the tube.

               “It looks kind of…primitive,” said Macy.

               “But it works!” said Rex. “Just slide the tube down your throat. It’s sterile, I promise.”

               “But how does it work?” asked Macy.

               “See that tube?” asked Rex. “That’s how the urges get out. See that bag? That’s where the urges go.”

               “I don’t know,” said Macy. “This is starting to seem less helpful than your leaf blower repair.”

               “Look,” said Rex. “What’s the point of arguing about it? You either feel the urge to put the tube down your throat or you don’t. But I think you do.”

               And the more Macy thought about it, the more she examined her own mind, the more she realized he was right. She nodded, took the tube, and fed it into her mouth. She was surprised at how easily it went down her throat and beyond, somehow, not that she felt it go into her stomach, no, but as if it had gone somewhere else. She thought again of the factory inside of her churning out urges, the tube snaking down the main smokestack, sucking the whole structure inside out, leaving nothing but a vacant lot where she could construct anything she wanted.

               Macy noticed Rex, then, smiling at her. “Can you feel anything?”

               “No,” said Macy.

               “That means it got to the right spot,” said Rex. “That means it’s working.”

               “Oh,” said Macy.

               “Do something,” said Rex. “Raise your hand. Hold up three fingers.”

               “Um,” said Macy. She didn’t do it. Not because she didn’t want to, and not because she did want to but chose not to. Not for any reason, really. She just as easily could have done it as not done it, but…yeah…yeah…

               Rex clapped his hands. “It’s working,” he said. “It works!” He did a small, circular dance in the middle of Macy’s living room. “Without any urges, you’re going to be helpless. You won’t be able to accomplish a single thing. I’ll have to help you so much. Constantly. With everything. I won’t have to worry about occasionally surrendering to my urges anymore. I’ll just join them! We’ll be on the same team every day of my life!”

               Disgusted as she was at the revelation of Rex’s true motives, realizing too late that he had only truly wanted to help himself, just like always, Macy could not rise, could not pull the tube from her mouth, could not even demand that Rex stop his plan. The urges to do any of these things were just not there. She did not feel compelled to act in any way.

               And then, when all was most hopeless, an urge that had not yet been extracted from Macy, perhaps the last urge in her body, one of the deepest and most basic, made itself known. Macy gagged on the tube. Her stomach heaved, her throat constricted, she coughed, and the tube came sliding up out of her throat and began snapping back and forth in the air like an unmanned firehose. Rex lunged for the tube and made a futile grab at the flailing end, but as he did, he kicked over the paper bag to which it was attached and the oily bottom split open like dead flesh, spilling its contents over Macy’s slippered feet. She could feel the liquefied urges soaking through the slippers’ thin fabric, making their way back inside of her through the pores of her feet. She felt them surging up her legs, storming back to the vacant lot in a mad flurry of industrious energy, the factory rebuilt in fractions of a second, and so she knew, then, that the raw material of her urges was urges, that the manufacture of compulsions was initiated and watched over by compulsions. Reproduction, of course! One of the most fundamental of all urges. And now, with production back on track, every urge, every compulsion, pointed her in one direction.

               Macy sprang up from the couch and grabbed at the nearest weapon-like object: a wooden hat rack. She wielded it like a poleaxe. With Macy between Rex and the front door, he ran for the patio door, fumbling with the lock, crying out in pain as he stubbed his toe brutally on the way out. Macy was after him, figuring she’d get a good lick in while Rex tried to climb the fence with his wounded foot, but when she arrived in the cold of the back yard, she didn’t see her neighbor anywhere. He had opted to hide, it seemed, among the bushes lining the interior of Macy’s fence, behind or inside of the shed, somewhere. He would hope for her to look in the wrong direction, then run back through the house, or wait until she was far enough away to risk his fence-scaling attempt.

               “Rex,” called Macy, tapping the base of the hat rack against the patio. “I need your help.”

               The back yard was silent. But Macy knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out for long. Eventually, he would give in.

               “I need your help to find you,” called Macy. “Only you can help me find you, Rex.”

               From nearby, only a few feet away in the bushes, came Rex’s voice, frightened, broken, helpful: “I’m over here.”

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the juiciest bit of information about someone’s personal life you’ve heard as a direct result of violations of therapist-patient confidentiality?

  • On which article of clothing should a therapist have the message “I’M THE THERAPIST THAT’S WHY” printed in order to inspire the most confidence?

  • From what little you can tell about Secretive Bodies, does it seem like the kind of show that you would sort of like more than your significant other? Or does it seem like the kind of show that your significant other would sort of like more than you?

  • What if I had said that Macy wielded the hat rack like a halberd instead of a poleaxe? Would that have been OK? Or not?

  • Is it possible for some compulsions to be good, such as a compulsion to help people or a compulsion to sign up for my patreon at