Spring 2020 may not be the time to exhibit a cough in public places...
|I was afraid to go into the store.
I hoped my jacket collar would act like a muffler, but the protestations of a not-quite-cough-cleared throat alerted the woman perusing the canned goods two metres ahead of me. Her eyes widened. Her lips pursed. She snatched a tin of peaches and turned on her heel, her aura of alarm forcing the housewife two metres in front of her to hurry her selection of essential sugared cereal.
"Carahk ahk, aracack, ahem," was all I could muster by way of apology, the soft glob of sputum I swallowed got in the way of actual words.
I kept my crusted, pollen-swollen eyes averted from the worried stares of other shoppers and focused those crispy-haloed orbs on the task at hand: bread, eggs, antihistamine and Advil; that was the list. No more. No less. I had mooted beer, but that was pooh-poohed as non-essential shopping. Really? I found the thought very essential.
Why a nasal drip? I could feel it, pooling somewhere behind my Adam's Apple, tickling it into bobbing consent and soliciting a sound from me not unlike a turkey if they could gobble and growl at the same time. I wasn't a turkey farmer, so the sound might just have existed. I found the anti-histamines and Advil and tried to wait patiently for the bread section of the store which lay two fretful women away from me.
My nose exploded. I was in time, though -- brought that unexpected sneeze right into the nook of my upper arm and arm pit. I wished Shelly could have seen. She would have been proud of my mastery of infection control training. Heck, I was proud of me; I grinned through trailing strings of glistening slaver toward the paniced women in front, who had now forgone their need for bread and were gesturing at the people in the next aisle to let them get urgently to the till.
Sticky-slick slug-lines travelled up my sleeve, but I ignored them. I picked up one of the limited varieties of loaf still available: rye. I hated rye. It was all that was left. There was something else on the list, but I could feel everyone's eyes and disgust pushing me toward an early checkout. Ooh, beer. That was lucky. Picked up a cardboard-cowled store-warmed pack and tried to keep my cool as a dry patch of sandpaper skin ached to be itched in the back of my throat. Ignore it, I warned myself, and like a corpse on stage, or a fart in an exam, tried desperately not to splutter. I didn't even need to cough until I thought about it.
The two women I had stalked through the store were well away from me, gone even from the parking lot. The teller was very efficient.
"Twelve, night-five." She motioned to the credit card pin reader.
"Oh, I'm cash." I dug around the back for my jeans and flipped open my wallet. The teller's eyes flared with ill-concealed derision at having to handle my cash.
"Hay fever," I offered as explanation. We're done here, her raised eyebrows indicated. We were.
My ordeal at the local store didn't seem to interest Shelly much, not when compared with an an absence of eggs and an an excess of beer, but I saw her eyes soften as I dry swallowed some anti-histamine and Advil and changed for work. "I'll keep your beer cool until you get back." She smiled a little worried smile, and I left for work. Work, away from the tree blossom of spring. Work, with its clean-room environments and air conditioning, where pollen was practically eliminated behind the masks.
There were less masks available these days. There were so many needed on intensive care wards, that regular nursing staff practically felt guilty at requesting them.
Limited PPE, unlimited frightened people, and everyone desperate not to be in the hospital or less than two metres away from each other.
At the start of my shift, Dana was leaving following a double. He looked like a zombie. "How were the stores?" he asked.
"Not much--rye bread only. Couldn't see any eggs, but I got my anti-histamines and beer."
He shook his head. "Hay fever. Hell. They're going to love me looking like this and probably coughing and sneezing by the time I get to the store."
Word Count: 720
For consideration in "The Writer's Cramp"