If there were a hall of fame for bodily noises, my sister would have pride of place in the Hall of Sneezing. Her sneezes come without warning, reach painful decibel levels, and have been responsible for more increased heart rate episodes in my life than any kind of romance.
I am used to them, as much as anyone can be. Every time, there’s a moment when I think I’m under attack, but a millisecond later I remember what’s happening.
In the Before Times, when both boys were in elementary school and COVID wasn’t a thing, we were celebrating their Book-It prizes. If there’s a person alive in the US that doesn’t know what Book-It is, I’ll be surprised, but you never know, so here you go: You read a certain amount of books and you get a personal pan pizza for free. This is a good deal for Pizza Hut, because no purchase is necessary, strictly speaking, but are parents really going to take their kids and not get something? Mostly no.
The thing is, Paul and I both get sick after we eat Pizza Hut. Not sure what the problem is, but … yuck. So we bribed the children. No Pizza Hut. But we’ll take you to the frozen yogurt place and you can get whatever you want. It was probably more expensive, but it pleased everyone.
Sometimes, my sister met us there. She’s like a pseudo-parent, and she read to those boys more often than Paul and I combined, so it only seemed fair.
We all had our yogurt and we were sitting there, grownups eating boring chocolate with whipped cream, and the kids having neon raspberry yogurt mixed with fat free butter pecan, all topped with Nerds candy and those bubbles that pop in your mouth. Probably the mango flavor. Appalling.
The yogurt place has terrible acoustics. There are no soft surfaces anywhere, and a lot of the place is covered with tile. It’s a cacophony waiting to happen.
Without warning, my sister sneezed.
Everyone at our table startled visibly. I jumped so violently my neck cracked.
“Sorry,” my sister whispered, as if she could balance her decibel usage over time.
I cast a sidelong glance at the only other family group in the place. They were all settling themselves back into their chairs, eyes averted. Except the five-year-old girl, who was openly fascinated, and ignoring her mother’s tugs on her arm. Her mother hissed in her ear — “Don’t stare, Emma!” — and the girl returned to her yogurt cup.
I snickered and exchanged a glance with my sister, who had seen it all too. I returned my attention to my boys and broke up the beginnings of a fistfight over topping thievery.
My sister sneezed again.
I’d halfway been expecting it, though you can never really be ready. I tensed in reflex and immediately relaxed, and then the kid across the room barked.
I snapped my head around and she was grinning, expectant. Which one of us was going to bark next?
There was a single beat of complete silence and then I snorted. Loud. That was it for my sister, and the two of us were gasping for breath.
We were trying to enjoy the joke with the other family, but their mortification would not even allow them to meet our eyes. Except the girl, who was still waiting, confused both by our giggles and her family’s rush to exit the restaurant. It was like they’d just heard the health inspector describing a rat-sized roach in the freezer.
We never really did recover that day. We’d get it under control and then one of the boys would bark again and we were helpless. We had to leave the shop. We were freaking out the later-arriving patrons.
My dearest wish is that I’ll hear this story someday told by the mother of that girl, about the bizarre sneezing woman who sounded like a terrier.
So far, no luck.