Repetition Compulsion

by Alyssa Jordan

Once upon a time, Reggie had spent his days with other people. He had loved the ritual of it: Handshake, small talk, smile (smile a lot). He had always included an activity, too. Nervous clients preferred to hold something in their hands.

When it came to real estate, people were usually apprehensive. Wary. Excited, occasionally. Reggie had thrived no matter their mental state.

Now, he woke without looking at what he wore. His beard wasn’t oiled or conditioned. His skin cracked from overuse. His knees creaked as he mounted the stairs; his hands ached from hours in the attic.

Despite the years it took, Reggie had raised a miniature city. Homes fashioned from wood and Styrofoam and adhesive. Model cars on hand-painted roads next to handmade trees. Modest streetlamps lit the way toward a town center, a post office, a hospital—everything he could remember from his childhood.

Everything except the people.

Reggie tried to carve a family from lime wood. His supply was soft and crisp, perfect for sculpting with precision tools. Still, his hands shook, chipping faces or necks.

Reggie swore.

He upended his stool. Around him, the walls had been papered with drawings and designs. One window sat against the back wall. Through misty glass, a garden lingered past the weeds.

Reggie sighed and reached for his stool.

That night, he dreamt of a home with closed doors.


For years, it had been so easy to get things. The big house. The car. The promotion(s). The wife, even. Reggie had held it all in his hands. At the time, he’d wanted nothing more than to show his father.

See what I’ve done.

Reggie thought of his dad as he severed his left pinky toe. Neither of them had been capable of feeling pain. So, Reggie maintained his downward-sawing motion, stopping only when it was time to cauterize the wound.

Through the blood and gore, he had finally found the right material.

It continued like this for another week. The bone of each toe made fine carving material, enough to create a set of parents with two kids. The adults, James and Willa, wore smiles with their nice clothes.

Under lamplight, Reggie named the kids Dylan and Ellie.

The morning after he’d carved the father, Reggie had propped his foot on a cushion, staring at the tiny porch with the figurine. When it sat up and began to babble, Reggie laughed, tears in his eyes.


“What do you dream of?” Dylan asked Reggie one day.

Inside Dylan’s replica home, his parents cooked dinner while Ellie played the piano. Reggie had cut a slice of deli meat into button-sized pieces. One shredded lettuce leaf and a pinch of corn completed the meal.

On his stool, Reggie smiled at Dylan.

“Houses, mostly. I used to sell them. Did I ever tell you about that?”

Dylan shook his head. His feet dangled from a porch chair.

“It was a long time ago, but I loved it… I was good at talking people into doing things. One time, I even got a pilot to commit.”

Sitting up, Dylan gazed at Reggie, wide-eyed. “What’s a pilot?”


One day, Reggie realized that he had begun to hum an old tune. He sang it under his breath as he rubbed oil into his beard. It smelled like pine and cedar. Before Reggie dressed, he stopped to peruse his clothes, picking a button-up shirt at the back of the closet.

Although he had to take smaller steps and wear prosthetics, the climb to the attic no longer bothered him.

He opened the window on most days. Ellie once said she liked the fresh air.

Whenever Willa taught the children, James studied Reggie as he carved something new for them. His latest project took the shape of an airplane.


Reggie still dreamed. Now, he stood outside of a home with an open door. He couldn’t get his feet to walk through it.

The answer seemed obvious when he watched James ruffle Dylan’s hair or walk with Ellie.

For years, Reggie had kept his hands closed, tight enough to bruise, tight enough that, when he’d opened them again, everything had fallen away. All the things he had been so desperate to show his dad.

The boy Reggie was had only wanted to be better than his father.

Somewhere along the way, he’d become him.


When the time came, Dylan and his family flew Reggie’s plane. They soared through the open window and out into the world.

Reggie watched them go. He sat on his stool in front of his miniature city.


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