Yesterday at the local health food store, as I was being rung up by a young woman, I had my head down, rifling through my purse for a tote bag . I heard the breathy prep for a sneeze. The check out girl disappeared from the corner of my eye and there was a big moist explosion. “Bless you,” I said absentmindedly. When I looked up, a middle aged, male manager was standing in her place and from underneath the counter came the sounds of a squirmishing struggle. He resumed ringing up my groceries. Since the store had once given me a free tote, I searched my bag one more time. “It’s at home, on my desk,” I said, looking back up. The girl, red faced, was standing there again.
“I fell down,” she said in operatic giggles, “from that sneeze.” As we laughed together, an old boyfriend came to mind. When the sun hit his sinuses, it never failed to trigger a juicy sneeze. Walking down the streets of New York, his arms would fly out to his sides like he was stopping traffic. That was my signal to halt and witness his often violent reaction to an innocent ray of sun. At first, I found this amusing, like an orgasmic little death in a public arena. But after too many of these conspicuous bodily functions demanded my embarrassed audience, I learned to continue walking, as if I were alone.