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The Sneeze

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

April is a big month for sneezing, such as recently when I was climbing the steps of a building that was surrounded by flora. First there was the tickling in my eyes, followed by three rapid-fire blasts. There was a pause and then another sneeze. “That’s four,” a man climbing the steps behind me said. “Jeez, he’s actually counting my sneezes, ” I thought to myself as the fifth one burst loose. I made a point of containing myself until he had passed me and was inside the building. He would never know that there had been a sixth.

That incident reminded me of the afternoon a couple of springs ago when, as I was driving up to my home, I could feel something building between my eyes and nose and knew it was going to be big, like a zillion tiny space capsules about to be launched. Fearing a temporary loss of control I pulled the car to the curb and rolled down the driver’s side window. The action started quickly: one, two, three, four …"

Some people’s sneezes are so soft they’re barely audible; others are backed with vocalization so loud that it causes birds to scatter. (There is no connection between the vocal chords and the sneeze mechanism, a teacher once explained while writing a detention slip.)

Sneezes five through nine, as well as all the others to follow, were firm but not unnecessarily amplified. “Ten,” in all cultures is an important number – the gateway to double digits – the basis of the decimal system. That milestone was passed quickly on the way to another significant number, “15.”

In some Latin Countries the tradition of Quince Años is celebrated when a girl reaches that age. In the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye in Belize, I once saw a Quince Años party celebrated on the town basketball court, which was also the tennis court and party place. On an island in which even the mayor walked around barefoot, the honoree was about the only one who was shod.

If sneezes were years I reached the legal voting age at number 18.

By then my situation became less of a malady and more of a challenge. No one keeps track of such things but certainly I must be approaching a record, especially when I issued my 20th sneeze. No. 10 seemed so long ago.

By then I could feel my eyes being less itchy and the pressure within dissolving. Still, there was enough ammunition inside for what would be, and still is, my personal best: 21. If sneezes were indeed years, mine would now be an adult.

I am not sure what brought on such an outburst. I have never again had an experience anywhere near the number. Because I was alone, there was no response of “God bless you” following each eruption. That could have been someone else’s personal best.

For the moment the day was quiet again, and that in itself is the very best.

 

 

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