The Park

The bike ride over to the park was lovely, but now all you want to do is find a comfortable bench and zone out by the lake. It's a gorgeous day, a bit warm for October, and perfect for lazing around outside.

So you find a place surrounded by bushes, which give you the impression of being alone, lean your bike up against a tree, and slouch comfortably onto the seat. You stare at the water for a while.

You've almost convinced yourself that you're the last person on earth when you hear the sneeze. It happens too unexpectedly for you to notice where it came from, and you're almost annoyed by the intrusion. But not quite. Giving up on your illusions of solitude, you tilt your head, listening.

With the next sneeze - a forceful yet somewhat controlled explosion, definitely female - you determine the sound is coming from ahead of you a ways and to the left,. Whoever she is, she's probably about halfway around the lake from where you are.

A third, louder sneeze follows almost immediately, accompanied by an audible sniff. Your curiosity gets the better of you and you slip off the bench. Carefully, you step to the gap between a tall bush and a narrow tree trunk, looking across the lake.

A woman sits by herself on a bench like yours. The sun is angled so that she is bathed in light, whereas your vantage point is in shadow. You realize that it's probably impossible for her to see you from where she is, while you can see her perfectly. She sits cross-legged on the bench, engrossed in the book she's holding.

For a long moment you are both motionless, she reading and you watching, until you begin to doubt that this was the source of the sneezing. Just as you are about to turn away, however, she lowers the book slightly. You return your attention to her face, and all doubt vanishes at the expression: mouth slightly open, eyes slightly shut, chest rising and falling quickly and irregularly.

The moment ends as she turns her head partly to the right and sneezes in almost your exact direction. Being alone (or so you figure is the reason), she doesn't bother to cover her face, but sneezes openly, her eyes clamping shut. It's slightly more intense than the others, and before she can do more than take a quick breath, she sneezes again, then again, then a fourth time. Each sneeze is increasingly desperate, and by the last, you can actually see the spray from her nose as she turns her head almost in profile to you.

She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, then rubs her nose violently and sniffles wetly, which you can hear all the way from where you are watching. She returns to her book, dabbing frequently at her nose.

It's not much longer before another sneeze takes the woman by surprise. Her mouth opens and her eyes squinch shut simultaneously as she turns her head and sneezes quickly into the open. It's followed by a long, wet sneeze that sounds like it uses the rest of her breath. This one leaves her sniffling even more, and as she goes back to reading, you can hear her give a wet sniff every few seconds. The sound is promising enough that you sit down in the lush grass, back against the tree trunk, comfortably hidden with a good view, waiting for what you hope is to come.

The woman continues to sniffle as she reads, periodically raising a hand to rub roughly at her nose, which even from here you can see has taken on a reddish tinge. A few minutes later, a particularly energetic nose rub brings on a short gasp, and the woman begins sneezing into her loose fist. The sneezes are short but intense, bending the woman over, and each one is wetter than the last. Finally, after six or seven sneezes, she sits up straight, dropping her hand despite the unmistakable expression still on her face. She gives a loud, wet sniff, then sneezes again. The next one seems to sneak up on her, and she sneezes uncontrollably despite her lack of breath. She takes in a long breath, then lets it out, dabbing at her now streaming nostrils.

Eventually the woman regains her composure, though she still sniffles constantly. She rummages through her pockets and comes up with a ragged tissue. She smooths it out, then blows her nose into it. The pressure seems to trigger the tickle, though, and just after blowing her nose she sneezes with a muffled sound into the wet tissue. She coughs a little, then sneezes again, wetter than ever. She uses the tissue to wipe her nose a final time, then sets it aside.

As she goes back to her book, the woman continues to dab at her nose with the back of her hand. You watch for a long while as she reads, uneventfully except for the repeated sniffling and nose rubs. Even those begin to die out after a while.

You stretch your legs as a pleasant breeze begins blowing, and start to think about leaving. However, it' s only a moment later that a sharp gasp draws your attention back to the woman. Her face is frozen in pre-sneeze agony, and she actually speaks out loud: "Oh god..." Two more quick gasps follow, and she finally lets out a long, loud, wet sneeze. The next comes so quickly she has time for only a quick inhale before sneezing helplessly. Her next gasp for air is quick and high-pitched, and after she sneezes again her inhales take on a desperate quality. The sneezing begins to double her over, as she lets out one convulsive sneeze after another. With each sneeze you can see the spray from her nose that she barely tries to suppress. It's the worst allergy attack you've ever witnessed, and you've witnessed plenty.

Finally the sneezing begins to taper off, and she sneezes only once every fifteen seconds or so. Her sneezes are slower, wetter, and more tired-sounding than before. When she raises her head, you can see her runny nose and the tears streaming from her reddened eyes. She looks utterly miserable, out of tissues, her book forgotten.

Still sneezing, she gets up and begins to follow the path in your direction. You move quickly and quietly around the side of the tree you're leaning against, so there is no way she can see you. You can chart her progress by the volume of her sneezes, which increases steadily. Suddenly you can hear her stop very close by, and you wonder if in fact she's seen you. But after a tense moment you realize that you're hearing the woman's jagged, uneven breathing. It finally solidifies into a long, shuddering breath, and the woman sneezes violently with a wet, desperate sound. It's the loudest one yet, as she is just a few feet from where you are sitting. Without even a pause for breath, another identically uncontrollable sneeze follows. You hear a slight exhausted groan, and then a long sniff.

The woman continues on her way, the sneezes every fifteen seconds or so diminishing in volume, although just by what they sound like you can tell she is still sneezing helplessly. It's a long time until the sound of the sneezing disappears entirely, and you sit there, unmoving, for every second of it.