It's amazing how far your obsessions can take you. I remember as a child there was a boy in my class at school who suffered from really bad hay fever. His name was Lee and every spring you knew when the pollen count was high. His sweet little eyes were all watery and his cute nose would be twitching away. He would have the most amazing sneezing fits. Sometimes two or three together, sometimes batches of six, seven or more. And he always carried a clean white handkerchief with him. It was so bright it almost shone.
I used to spend those adolescent nights dreaming about his sneezes. The sound they made. The way his body reacted, like someone was passing electricity through his veins. Then there was the look on his face. A kind of fluttering of the eyes. Raising his head towards the light. A quick inhaled breath and then ... whoosh, out it would come. Or even better, sometimes they would catch him unawares. He'd be doing something, saying something, moving somewhere and from nowhere this thing would be unleashed.
Everything would stop and there he was, framed by the intensity of the moment.
Of course obsessions can get out of hand. Once I was through fantasizing over those sneezes, I moved on to fantasizing about those lovely clean handkerchiefs he carried with him. I fantasized about his mum washing them for him. About the shop where she would buy them, the women behind the counter that would've sold them.
Then there was the pollen itself. Drifting, mostly unseen on the breeze. Ripening, bursting forth. Spreading out the seed. Rich with potential. There was the pollen count to study every day in the newspaper. Then that cute weather girl who gave the forecast at the end of the evening news. It was endless really. I was young and I was excited and I lapped it all up.
But that's adolescence. You grow up. You move on. Passions dissipate. The wider world encroaches and starts to temper your desires. Or something like that. But you see, I wouldn't let it. I had an obsession and I wasn't about to let go.
I'm thirty now. Sometimes I work. Sometimes I fiddle about writing tunes on a guitar. Mostly I just daydream. I've changed, sure ... but I'm still me. Now of course I get the pollen forecasts e-mailed to my computer every day. I study weather systems. I plot graphs. I have charts on the wall. I hibernate through the winter and then when spring comes around I wake up refreshed. Just like the plants outside, the sap rises in me. I can't sit still. I have to have it all.
It's a good life really. Not conventional perhaps, but I never let that worry me. I'm happy. I'm a hedonist. As for what else is going on in the world, truth is I don't care.
Still, that's just background detail. What about now? This instant. This wired up second in this downtown bar. Well, I wouldn't come here for the décor, that's for sure. It's all post-modern, chrome and flashing lights. The beer is dull and overpriced. The music's okay, kind of repetitive, but at least it's not too loud.
No, forget the music. Forget the beer. Forget the décor, if you can. It's the woman I'm watching. Her face is so cute. She has lovely dark hair that reaches to her shoulders. Even from 20 meters away I can tell when she's going to sneeze. It's like an instinct I've been honing all my life.
I pass her on the way to the bar at just the right moment.
It's a safe opening gambit. I've toyed with a few others, gesundheit and the like, but you can't go wrong with the classics.
"Thanks." She gives a little half smile. I feel my stomach melting.
'Hay fever?' I ask.
You need to keep it brief. You only have a few seconds before she starts wondering why you aren't moving on to the bar. It's got to be a fine tuned act.
She nodded. "It's been real bad today." Her voice is kind of stuffy. She gives a little sniffle and I'm in heaven.
"Pollen count's rising again."
I could've given the exact figure to three decimal places, but that would've just freaked her out.
"Tell me about it. Some nights I can barely sleep."
Now here's the toughest part. I mean, part of your brain is so overwhelmed with the image of this pretty young woman up all night sneezing away that you have trouble keeping your thoughts in order. It's damn hard to concentrate. But you have to. You've exchanged a couple of sentences. You have the beginnings of a conversation going. You have an entry point. Stay focused. Don't blow it now.
Which I don't. But then I'm a professional. I've been doing this all my adult life. Thirty minutes later I've bought her a drink, established that she's not in the bar to meet her boyfriend and witnessed two magnificent sneezes up close and personal.
From there it's easy. Easier than it's been in a long while. Her name's Sarah. She's out drinking in this bar because she's lonely. She's actively looking for company. She's almost agreed to come back to my flat before I've even asked her. And just for good measure she throws in another sneeze, a gentle "Ah ...shoo!", just as we leave the bar.
Back in my flat I offer her another drink. She accepts absently. She's already taken off her coat and made herself comfortable on the settee. I sit down beside her.
"Excuse me." She leans away, scrunches up her face. "Ah tishoo! Ah tishoo!" Two more delicious, delicate sneezes.
"Bless you." The sap is certainly rising now.
She sniffles and takes another sip off her drink.
"Pollen's always worse at this time of night," I offer. "It builds up throughout the day."
Sarah smiles at me. "Boy you sure seem to know a lot about this." It sounds kind of funny, but she doesn't seem disconcerted at all. In fact she seems to have made herself right at home.
Then she sneezes again. "AHH CHOO!" It's more violent this time, contorting her slim body with the force of it. She bends down and rummages through her handbag. "Damn, I don't have any tissues left."
"I could get you a clean handkerchief if you'd like," I offer.
She nods. "That would be nice."
I go to the bedroom to get one from the drawer. When I turn around, Sarah is stood in the doorway watching me.
"This is very unusual," she says, pointing at the maps on the wall.
I can't think of anything to say. I hand her the handkerchief. My heart is beating double time. Things have never progressed this quickly before.
"Hey, you look kind of flushed. Why don't you lie back on the bed and relax."
"Erm ..." I'm not too sure, but I let her delicate hands guide me to the bed anyway. What else can I do? She sits down beside me. I can hear her muffled breathing.
"Hmm." She opens the handkerchief, examines it for a moment and before I'm really aware of what she is doing she has twisted the cotton round my wrists and tied my hands to the bed post.
"Hey! What are you doing!" I protest, half aroused and half disturbed by this sudden turn of events.
Sarah smiles innocently. "I've seen this kind of thing in the movies ... I always fancied trying it out for real."
Now I am wary. Everything that evening had fallen into place way too easily. I should've sensed that. Maybe after all this time I'd grown too cocky, too convinced of my own skills. I peer across the room. Sarah is walking out into the kitchen. I writhe desperately across the bed, but I can't break free.
When she comes back, I can't believe what I'm seeing. In her hand she holds a pot of pepper she's gotten from the kitchen.
She eyes me with satisfaction. "You don't suffer from hay fever, do you?"
"No," I admit slowly, my voice cracking slightly.
"Ever wondered what it must be like?"
"I have a good idea. I've known lots of people that suffer from it."
She looks at me and giggles. "I bet you have. I bet you have. Still, it's not the same as experiencing it first hand. Believe me. Not the same at all."
I try to roll away, but I'm stuck. She sprinkles pepper into her hand and then gently blows the powder into my face.
This isn't fair. I'm trapped. My hands can't break free. And all the while I can sense this terrible itch building up inside my nose. I'm trying hard to fight it, believe me. There's a sudden spasm as I catch my breath and then I release the air cautiously through my mouth. Then it's back again. I've never had to concentrate so hard before in all my life. Sarah is beside me on the bed, watching every moment. There is a look of intense yearning in her eyes. She doesn't blink for a second.
"I can't ... I can't ..."
For once I am lost for words. The itch comes again and again, until I can't hold out any longer.
"Okay, I give in ... I give in ..." And I let my muscles relax. It is a staggering moment. That second before it comes out, all the sensation building up to one exquisite point. "Ah .... Ah .... CHOO!"
The first sneeze triggers a second vigorous aftershock.
I am helpless now. Sarah hasn't moved an inch. Then, slowly, she is coming closer. I can smell her perfume, feel her warm breath on my face.
"Go on. You know you have to sneeze some more."
"I'm not sure. I ..." But the itch is still there and I've lost the will to fight it.
"Go on." Sarah mouthed the words slowly as she watches my nose twitch.
"AH CHOO!" My head jags forward. "HUH CHOO!" My whole body ripples. "H-H-H-Hah CHOOO!"
Droplets of spray are captured in the lamplight. Sarah is on top of me now, masturbating herself slowly.
I think that maybe I'm finished, but Sarah still has some pepper left in her hand. She leans across gently, caressing my forehead, and then rubs her hand across my nose.
"I bet that tickles," she whispers.
I look at her face. It's like looking in a mirror. I'm not sure if I like what I see there. But I can't think about it for long. I have to sneeze again.
"Ah, bless you." Sarah's body is heaving now, her rhythmic movements becoming more intense.
I try desperately to regain some composure. When the next sneeze comes, I clamp my mouth shut and manage to hold it back. It's a small triumph. Sarah is lost in her own world of ecstasy, but she senses something of what I've done.
"Don't fight it baby. Let it all out. It's so much easier if you let it all out." Her voice is sultry now, barely audible. She continues to rock back and forth on top of me.
I fight back a second sneeze and a third. I feel so good.
"Let it out. Just let it out," Sarah murmurs. Her eyes are closed now.
The itch comes again, but this time it is much stronger. "Ah ... Ah ..." I try to raise my hand to my nose, but it still won't budge. "Ah ... Ah .." My breath is coming faster and faster. "Ah HUH TISHOOO!!!" My whole body spasms with the force of the sneeze.
Sarah gives a low moan of pleasure. "Wonderful. Wonderful."
It is useless now. There is nothing further I can do. As Sarah climbs off the bed, I sneeze again and again and again.
She doesn't seem interested now. She is looking around for her coat.
"At least bloody untie me," I call out between sneezes.
She turns back, almost a look of pity on her face. "I suppose I should."
Carefully she loosens the knot and slides the handkerchief from around my wrist. She studies the clean white cotton. "Maybe I'll keep this," she murmurs. "It'll be a kind of souvenir."
And with that she is gone. Well almost. She halts a moment in the doorway, her body frozen and then lets out a half stifled sneeze. "HE-CHOO!"
"Damn pollen count," she grumbles.
And then she really is gone.