“Dr. Miller Takes his Coffee with Milk and Sugar” By Faith Potter

By Faith Potter ’23

The following short story is fiction and is based on the writer’s experience with OCD. If Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a sensitive topic for you, this story is not recommended to read. 

Dr. Jameson Miller takes his coffee with milk and sugar. His wife is from Ridgewood, New York. A private school elitist who adorns herself with delicate jewelry in the mornings, and never mixes her metals. They attend church on Sunday. Ms. Miller says it makes her feel safe. Safe from what, exactly? She isn’t one for specifying. Also, she goes by Ms. Miller, by the way. She thinks Mrs. Miller is funny sounding. Dr. Miller doesn’t really find much of her funny. Prepossessing, sure. A trust fund girl who goes to the country club on Thursdays to eat spinach salads and drink unsweetened tea, just to tip two percent. Why should she tip for a job she can do herself? Ironically enough, the thought of her doing the said job is laughable. Dr. Jameson Miller takes his coffee with milk and sugar. He works an office job; commutes to the city in the mornings. He listens to jazz while he drives through the city, and he counts the number of birds he sees on Woodmont Street. Only if there is an even number, does Dr. Miller make a right turn for the rest of his drive.

 Last week, before Dr. Miller and his wife went to get lemon-sage fish in the city and drink Pinot Noir at their favorite restaurant, Dr. Miller made a U-Turn on Lovely Street to go back and check if the oven was off. They had not used the oven all day. Ms. Miller doesn’t cook. The oven hasn’t been used since they moved in. But he insists. When they make these U-Turns, the screeching of BMW wheels and Ms. Miller’s shrill voice clash, but he doesn’t care. He drives because if that oven is on, there is the possibility of uncertainty. He needs to know. Ms. Miller often tells her husband to act normal. She likes that word. Normal. Dr. Miller takes his coffee with milk and sugar if it allows him to. Act normal. Go to work, church, meetings. Golf under a 90, maybe. 90 is even. No one really notices this. Ms. Miller does, but they don’t talk about these kinds of things. Besides, what’s the point?

Tonight, Dr. and Ms. Miller sit in their other car. Jaguar. E-Type. Stick shift. He drives with the top down, on their way to the country club for a fundraiser. A recorded stand-up show plays on the radio, in spite of the fact that neither of them laughs, or bother to listen. It’s been a while since they laughed, genuinely. Months, maybe. In the passenger seat, Ms. Miller hums slightly off-key and applies her lip gloss, Chanel, in the shade Noce Moscata. It’s funny, to Dr. Miller, how this woman he called his wife acts. He stifles a laugh. “What was that?” said Ms. Miller. “Nothing. Just a joke I heard from work,” he lied, scared she would take offense to the truth. “Not that. I saw something. A bear, maybe? Yes, most definitely. Turn around. Now. I need to see it! We never get bears around here! Now, please, Jameson.” What Ms. Miller didn’t know is that Dr. Miller could not follow this command. He prefers his coffee with milk and sugar, but only if he has the choice. It’s not up to him most of the time. 6:00 pm was approaching. They were but five minutes away. If Dr. Miller did not pull into the club’s parking lot at, or before, 6:00 pm, the possibility would come. And it would get mad. And he knew bad things would come. And he knew that under no circumstance could he arrive after 6:00 pm. And there was no stopping that. “No. We can’t. I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad. I can’t right now.” The voices became louder. You cannot arrive past six. If you arrive past six, something bad will happen. Do not, under any circumstances, arrive past six. Something bad will happen. You will die. Your wife will die. 

“I don’t remember giving you a choice. Turn this car around right now, or so help me God I will take the wheel myself, James, goddamnit!” she screamed. “No. You don’t understand, I can’t. Can you not see this? I just can’t. It won’t let me,” he said. How could she not understand? Telephone poles whiz past and the lip gloss rolls onto the passenger seat floor, along with an assortment of receipts and maps. Somehow, the radio has been silenced to a dull hum of static. The sun began to set as the couple entered a long stretch of road, with no cars around. How could she not understand? He always listened to her, when she told him to do things. When others had their voice, tell them what they could or could not do, he listened to them. “Who is ‘it’? You are insane. I swear, I should’ve listened to my father. Who the hell is ‘it’?” she screamed. “Honey, it’s fine, let’s calm down. You know how it is. You have your voice too, and I listen! You know? The voice? The one that tells you what to do, and the consequence if you don’t? The one with the numbers, the little evens-and-odds tricks, the double thinking. Your voice. Are you kidding with me?” He let out a smile. She could be comical, sometimes. A trickster. That is what he fell in love with, after all. “James, stop playing with me. I’m scared, okay? Please. I don’t know what’s going on. Let’s go home, alright? We can watch a movie. You choose?” she let out a nervous laugh. They were approaching. “Oh, come on! We’re almost here! I’m fine.” 

James and Melissa Miller did not make it to the country club that night. Dr. Miller arrived a minute too late. Just one minute. It wasn’t good enough. Melissa Miller fled to Greenwich without warning a day later. Her husband doesn’t know where she is, and that’s perfectly okay with her. James misses her, he supposes. He takes his coffee how he wants now, along with varying milligrams of Prozac he picks up from the local drugstore.