기침

I know exactly where this cold comes from. It was two weeks ago on the subway, while the fluorescent cars were howling through the subterranean night, and wobbling, screeching over the clattering tracks, spitting sparks into the cement walls blurring darkly past the windows—it was then, as I stood against the electric doors reading my thick volume of Prescott, that a man (yet another faceless cipher) whooped, hacked, and hurtled all his life out into the air, retching with such force it seemed he was ready to tear his whole throat inside-out, and vomit it onto the floor, a bloody pile of innards and red guts—a splash of flesh.

He sat at the coveted edge of the bench, and gripped the cold steel bars for everything he was worth, writhing, throbbing there, as if lashing himself to the rail of a ship in a storm, with mountains of the coldest water crashing together high up in the lightning…

He flooded the air with his green microscopic spores. They wheezed out of him as if out of some infectious fungi. And I, happy, healthy fool that I was, locked up in this airtight fluorescent casque, breathed them in…

So now it is two weeks later and I cannot open my mouth without descending into a fit of paralyzing agony. I tell my wife it is beautiful outside, but then before I know it a dry itch comes at the back of my throat, I try to swallow it down, soothe it with spit, but that only encourages it, and it blooms in an instant and forces me down onto my haunches like a beast, where I hack and roar, hurtling gobs of phlegm out in every direction, crying, flushing, tearing up.

It is the proverbial Asian cough. Asia, land of disease and sickness, will catch you sooner or later if you come here—I cough as I write this, two contracted notes of percussive music to accompany a fart in the key of f-sharp major, and the pudgy baby sleeping on the beautiful belly of my beautiful wife (also sleeping) kicks his legs and flexes his little pink toes. How light a sleeper he is. How he revels in bolting out of unconsciousness at the bells flying involuntarily out of my throat—as if I’ve swallowed an alarm clock. I cannot suppress this ringing. I force my face into pillows, like a woman trying to muffle her orgasmic groans as she masturbates in a room with thin walls, I stuff myself into couches, towels—anything that is at hand. It is highly inconvenient.

But the baby wakes.

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