I love to sneeze. I’m old and it’s the closest thing I get to an orgasm anymore. Used to be I would visit my neighbor, Lois. Over a decade ago, after my wife Martha passed, I started dropping by at my neighbor’s. I know what yer thinking, of course it wasn’t the day after Martha’s funeral, But Lois had lost her husband to heart disease, too. And she was a looker. Not a hooker. I said, a looker. Five eight, auburn hair, probably dyed, but still caught my eye. And dainty, like that china we’d inherited from my Aunt Rita, used it twice a year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oh, and I’m a sucker for big boobs. Lois was on the smallish side, but perky, responsive. Worked for me.

I started by shoveling her steps that winter of 2002. Snowstorms came early in December, one right after another. We were all buried. Was the least I could do when I saw her out there struggling one morning. She offered me a glass of water on Friday. A cup of hot chocolate the following Tuesday. I could feel her eyes on me, staring out those front windows.

After the third snowstorm, she asked me in. I stamped the wet snow from my Sorels, felt my heartbeat pounding. Took off my soggy gloves first.

“Thanks, Duff.” She pointed at my t-shirt after I’d tossed my winter jacket, sweater, hat and scarf on a bench by the door. “You poor thing. You’re soaked!”

“Yep,” I said. “I sweat a lot. Got a towel?”

She looked at me like it repulsed her. “Would you like a fresh shirt? I could get you one of Tom’s.” Handed me a dishtowel.

He was the dead husband, a real asshole. Sorry. I know he’s gone and all, but I saw how he’d mis-treated her, time and time again. She was captive. Shut down. Martha and I stopped socializing with Lois and Tom after the kids were born. Tom was just too, well, military for me. Plus, I didn’t like the way he’d ogle Martha when he thought I wasn’t looking.

“I live right next door, Lois, remember?”

“Yeah, smartie pants. But if you’d like to stay for coffee, I thought you might be more comfortable out of your wet clothes.”

I’d be a lot more comfortable out of any clothes, I thought. I wondered what would happen if I just dropped “trou” right there, in her kitchen. I saw that on a CSI show. But I had too much respect for Lois. Didn’t want to mess up the days it took to progress from her step shoveler to coffee buddy. “I’m okay,” I said. Besides, I’d used extra Aqua Velva before any trip to her house.

“I made fresh Christmas cookies yesterday. Sugar cookies, with the different flavored frosting.” And goddamn if she didn’t bring out a tin of them, stuffed full of santas, reindeer, stars, elves, topped in every color of the spectrum. The frosting looked glassy, the way snow looks after an ice storm.

“Wow.” I tried not to drool on the table. “I’m impressed.”

“Go ahead, have one. Have them all. Cream or sugar with your Sanka?”

“Nope, black.” I was tempted to add, ‘like my women,’ the way I did at those AA meetings. But with Lois, I was trying to be well behaved. And, I’d stopped going to AA anyhow. Too depressing after I’d kicked the alcohol. I picked an orange stocking cookie with sugar sprinkles, while Lois fixed her coffee then sat down opposite me. Her hair, those deep red locks, were piled on her head like a beehive. I smiled.

“Tom never liked Christmas cookies.” She sipped her Sanka, her fresh lipstick left a mark on her mug.

Ugh, Tom. “Do we have to talk about them?” I included Martha, just so it didn’t seem harsh. I bit the cookie, the orange flavor created a zing in my mouth.

“No,” Lois chuckled. I hope she felt relieved, not having to re-hash the past we really hadn’t shared anyhow. “I was wondering if you’d be up for something.” She was adorable, the way she sort of hid behind her coffee mug, a Budweiser stein.

“Try me, Lois. I’m pretty open.” I hoped to god it wasn’t bingo at that damn Grange Hall. I went once, years ago, for Mixer Madness. Torture. “Unless it’s my CSI night.”

“Oh, I can’t watch that show. Way too violent. I can’t even watch CNN.”

Yup, Martha re-visited. Which is why we got the second TV after the kids got through college. Didn’t think my last son was gonna make it. But Danny did, by the skin of his teeth, he finished. I swallowed some Sanka and tried not to grimace. It was foul. I’d been introduced to the whole Starbucks crap years ago. My grandkids. Too cheap to spend those kind of bucks, so I get my beans at Costco, that Kirkland brand. They’re tasty as hell. “So, what you wanna ask me, girl?” I had to admit, I was feeling more frisky than usual. Something about being alone with a woman like Lois made me feel like a teenager.

She pulled a paper out of her purse, handed it over. It was a flyer. I scanned it, said ballroom dancing lessons, and other information. I glanced at dates. Monday nights. CSI was Thursdays. I could barely walk let alone dance. I shrugged.

“Whaddya’ think?” She had the eagerness of a Labrador, practically wiggled.

“I think I can’t dance to save my life.” I felt a sneeze coming on.

“Who cares? It’ll be fun. You can’t be any worse than-”

The unmentionable. How could I resist? I whipped out my handkerchief. “Okay, you’re on.” I turned away. “Achooo.”

“Bless you!” She clapped her hands together. “More coffee?”


About Robert Vaughan

Originally from NY, Robert leads week long National writing retreats at sites like Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Synergia Ranch, and EarthRise IONS. His poems and fiction are published in over 500 print and online magazines, such as Necessary Fiction, BlazeVOX, Los Angeles Weekly, Literary Orphans and Smokelong Quarterly. He is Editor-in-Chief at (b)OINK magazine and leads round- tables for Redoak Writing in Milwaukee. He is six times a Pushcart Prize Nominee and his fiction and poetry have won awards, including a Micro-Fiction runner-up (2012) and twice a finalist in the Gertrude Stein Fiction Award (2013-14). His books are: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (Civil Coping Mechanisms); RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press), and FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press).
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11 Responses to Sneezing

  1. Shari says:

    Loved this story, wanted more, and know that there is more to come!

  2. Suzi says:

    LOVE this story!! Duff is an awesome character – someone I’d probably like to count among my friends. I, too, love to sneeze and I’m a big fan of sugar cookies.

  3. Rontuaru says:

    Very adorable. A fave! But you already know that! 😉

  4. Andrea says:


  5. david says:

    ACHOO!!!!! I dunno.. but this is REALLY good. I wanna read this whole book… or better yet see the movie!!! This would be a great movie on TV on a cold winter’s day..

  6. Angela says:

    Practically wiggled. 🙂 I definitely wiggled while reading this…tail still wagging. X@

  7. Dan says:

    I love this story, reminded me of my own Dad. He is a curmudgeon, but oh so lovable. And you do his point of view so darn well. Great effort, thanks for this.

  8. Beverly says:

    I know Duff is wonderfully drawn, but I really adore Lois in the story. Please, oh please, would you finish this? For your own sake…this is a winner!

  9. g says:

    sanka, aqua velva……………..ugh, i am getting old and the lust in the eyes of old men makes me feel unattractive, yet hurling toward that end, unstoppable, like the hale bopp comet………………let me drink the cool aid and go quietly into the night…

  10. Pingback: Sam

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