“Quick Jasper, get her into the house!” Matilda’s mother quickly threw a towel over her daughter’s head as her father directed them both into the house.
Once all were safely inside, Matilda threw off the towel in a huff, rubbed her red and inflamed nose and without a word ran off to her room. Again.
Shaking her head at her stubborn daughter, Mary Katherine collapsed into the chair where she had been folding laundry just minutes prior. “We really must put better locks on the doors,” she said after a few minutes. Her husband silently shook his head in agreement.
It wasn’t that her parents wanted to keep Matilda from venturing outside; it was that they had to. From a very early age, Matilda had developed a severe case of ACHOO syndrome.
I hear you snickering, but this is very serious, I assure you. Ahem, as I was saying…
Matilda suffered more specifically from photic sneezing, which is a common symptom of the ACHOO syndrome. Photic sneezing manifests as reactionary sneezing when the individual is exposed to bright light, like sunlight. While most people demonstrate this symptom by sneezing in a series that ranges from 1 to 10 sneezes, Matilda, if left unattended in the light will sneeze indefinitely. As a result, Matilda spends the majority of her time indoors, with all the shutters closed.
Up in her room, Matilda splashed water on her face and looked into the bathroom mirror. “All I wanted was to pick some dandelions,” she sniffled to her reflection. With a deep sigh no 11-year-old should have to utter, Matilda walked over to her desk. Over the years, Matilda had become very good at keeping herself entertained due to her condition, and was fascinated with biology, chemistry and all other natural sciences. Currently, she was hoping to be able to prove her hypothesis that all dandelions have relatively the same number of seed-bearing parachutes. This of course required the collection of samples, which required her to go outside, so you see, she had hit a snag.
Trying not to think about the dandelion patch that had sprouted in front of their apartment complex and seemed to taunt her through the kitchen window each morning, Matilda erased part of the fraction she was trying to solve. Just then, a subtle tapping on her bedroom window disturbed her computations. Pausing, she looked up and waited to hear the sound again. With no further commotion, she shrugged her shoulders and went back to work. When she walked by the shuttered window a few hours later, Matilda decided to chance a look outside- it was almost sunset after all, her reaction wouldn’t be too severe at this time of day.
Gingerly opening the shutter, Matilda was confused by what she didn’t see- light. Looking closer, Matilda saw that someone had constructed a small box on the lower pane of the window to allow items to be placed inside and be retrieved through small doors that had been fashioned on both sides. Above the box the glass had been blacked, allowing Matilda the option of accessing the strange container at high noon if she was so inclined. Who in the world had gone to so much trouble, and why? Her confusion soon became excitement as she recognized the item that was now sitting in the strange little box- a small vase of fresh dandelions on the brink of dropping their seeds.
Suppressing a squeal of delight as she reached inside to remove her dandelions, Matilda didn’t see the note attached until she was well into counting the seeds of her second dandelion. Picking up the note, she read,
“I hope these are enough. I will pick you more tomorrow if you want; just leave a note in the box. –Ralph (from unit 20E).”
Had she ever met a Ralph from 20E? Running downstairs she called for her mom. Finding Mary Katherine in the kitchen she promptly grilled her on any details she may have on the elusive Ralph. “Well, I believe he’s 12 or so… right around your age, Maddy, and let’s see what else… I don’t see him much, kind of quiet and keeps to himself but very polite. His mother and I go shopping sometimes and he always runs to help us with our bags. Very nice young man. Why?” Mary Katherine shot her daughter a knowing look and tried not to smile as Matilda yelled “thanks mom!” over her shoulder as she ran back to her room. “Think that Robertson boy may have a crush on our Maddy?” Jasper asked his wife. “I don’t know, but our Maddy sure does have a crush on him,” she winked at her husband.
Over several months Matilda and Ralph continued to exchange notes, candy, pictures (Matilda was careful not to send the one with chocolate smeared all over her mouth that her dad thought was hilarious), more dandelions and other trinkets. They even held hands through the box on several occasions. There was just one problem, each time Matilda asked Ralph to come over he would write back some silly or flimsy excuse. She couldn’t understand it. After about the 7th excuse, in a fit of anger, Matilda destroyed the box Ralph had made her and vowed to never talk with him again. Refusing her parents plea to give him another chance, Matilda spent the next few weeks in totally misery.
On a bright Sunday morning, Matilda and her family were having breakfast when they started to smell something strange. Looking everywhere for the source of the odor, Jasper eventually got on a stool and stuck his nose to one of the heating vents in the ceiling. “Gas!” he screamed! “It’s gas!” Just then the fire alarm in the building started to scream. Trying not to panic, Matilda’s parents sprinted around the apartment and finding an old motorcycle helmet from Jasper’s bachelor days, they crammed it on Matilda’s head, flipped its visor down and quickly exited the building. Standing outside, surrounded by all their neighbors, Matilda waited with everyone for the fire department to arrive.
“Hey Maddy,” Ralph was tapping her on the shoulder. “I just wanted…hiccup…to…hiccup…say I’m sorry… hiccup… for not coming…hiccup…to…hiccup…see you…hiccup”, he managed to get out in-between his chronic hiccups. “It’s just that…hiccup…I have these …hiccup…stupid hiccups…hiccup… and…hiccup… I was afraid…hiccup… you wouldn’t…hiccup… want to be…hiccup…friends …hiccup…if you had…hiccup… to listen to…hiccup… me croak like …hiccup…a frog …hiccup…whenever I tried to talk…hiccup…,” he finished as he nervously toed the ground.
“What? I can’t hear anything with this silly thing on,” Matilda said tapping her fist on the helmet. Smiling, Ralph grabbed a pen out of his shirt pocket and after scribbling something on the palm of his hand held it up to Matilda’s visor, “I’m sorry”.
From that point on, Ralph and Matilda were inseparable. He visited her every day in her room and she barely even noticed his hiccups after the first day. On Matilda’s 16th birthday, Ralph came to her house with a huge grin on his face. “I’ve been …hiccup…working on these …hiccup… for the past four …hiccup…years, and I …hiccup… finally think …hiccup…they are ready. Happy …hiccup…birthday, Matilda,” Ralph leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek before handing her a small package. Opening her gift, Matilda’s eyes suddenly grew wide and looking up at Ralph, she asked, “are these what I think they are?”. Grinning, Ralph took the specially crafted glasses he had slaved over for almost five years, and carefully placed them over Matilda’s head. “They are a …hiccup…special kind …hiccup…of glass that …hiccup…dissipates the sun’s…hiccup… rays… they…hiccup…form-fit to your …hiccup…face so that …hiccup…no light can get …hiccup…through. What do you …hiccup…think?” he asked with a trace of anxiety. “I love them! Let’s go outside!” running to the door, Matilda hesitated before throwing it open. The light dazzled her a little at first and then she noticed another surprise waiting for her just outside the doorstep. More than 300 dandelions had been arranged to spell her name in the grass. Picking up one that was just about to lose its seeds, Ralph handed it to Matilda. Bringing it up to her mouth to send the seeds and their parachutes on their merry way, Matilda stopped short with a funny expression on her face,
“Oh no! They…hiccup… the glasses …hiccup… don’t work! I’m so …hiccup…sorry Matilda, quick …hiccup… let’s get …hiccup…back inside,” as Ralph started pulling Matilda inside she stopped him and laughed. Confused, Ralph looked back as Matilda shrugged her shoulders and said, “Allergies.”
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: I could not for the life of me stop sneezing today. It was like every half hour and I was starting to get super tired of it. For those of you who don’t know, I sneeze in threes. Always. Sometimes the third one takes it’s sweet time, but sure enough just as you are ‘god blessing me’ out comes the last one. My sneezing fit today reminded me of when I was a kid and how I would tell all my friends that I was allergic to the sun, and that’s why I sneezed every time we went outside. See? I was even a storyteller as a wee child. Or so I thought. In trying to figure out how to spell the sound of a sneeze, I looked up the word ‘achoo’. Turns out my tendency to sneeze when I go from a dark space into sunlight is an actual thing… and get this, it’s called ACHOO syndrome… I kid you not. ACHOO syndrome or, Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helioophthalmic Outburst syndrome affects quite a few people, as does Photic Sneezing, including yours truly. See, this blog is entertaining (right?!?!?!) and educational. If you wanna learn more about this fascinating syndrome here’s a link (granted it’s Wikipedia, so take the info with a grain of salt):
TWO: Today my lunch hour (read: time I try to blog at work) was interrupted by a knock on my door and a strange request. Poking my head into the hallway, a faculty member asked, “do you smell that?”. Pointing my snoz into the air I took a big whiff but smelled nothing (and that’s saying something since my office is directly across from a human anatomy dissection lab…yeah, for real). I followed her around sniffing the air in different areas and finally in her office I faintly smelled gas. We decided it was coming from the building’s ventilation system. Still don’t know what the deal was with that… just thought it was funny that part of my day was spent sniffing the air like a hound dog.
THREE: The name, Mary Katherine is in reference to my boyfriend’s lovely mother, who we have the pleasure of dining with tonight. Hope you enjoyed your margarita, Mary!
Love & Squirrels.