I felt the sneeze welling up behind my nose, so I quickly turned, just barely remembering to hope that no one or nothing would be where my sneeze trajectory would traverse. But hope wasn’t enough.
I turned to sneeze, and it cleared my sinuses so powerfully, I was tempted to focus on the effectiveness of that sneeze rather than on the mother. And the baby. My vision was just coming back to me when I realized just what it was that my eyes saw.
I just sneezed on this baby.
And not on the shoulder. Not on the arm. I sneezed directly (but without malice aforethought) on the face of this woman’s new child. For a small fraction of a second, I caught the face of the baby as I sneezed onto his face, and he reacted pretty normally considering the social magnitude of this faux pas—his face was stunned, he had a small pause to comprehend what just happened as much as a baby can comprehend this, and then he began to cry loudly, most likely due, in addition to many, many other things, to the sudden shock and the loud noise I just made, inches from his face. I looked to the woman holding him. His mother was absolutely appalled. Disgust was painted, nay, sculpted, on her face—in the form of excess sneeze debris.
Very unfortunately, I began to chuckle. This is how I’ve always reacted to non-lethal mishaps that I’ve witnessed or experienced. I’ve learned to enjoy how ridiculous the things that happen to us can be, to take it all in stride. Somehow, this felt like the perfect and the worst time to laugh. Perfect because this seemed as ridiculous as a scenario can get. I mean, what. are. the. chances.
Worst because this was a Christmas party. It was a semi-formal event. Professionals, coworkers, families, and significant others were all here, dressed better than they would for a dental appointment (but worse than they would for a gala).
“I. Am so. So. Sorry.” I tried to plead to this woman holding a wailing baby, wiping my nose with a napkin from my pocket.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” She whispered very loudly at me. She may as well have yelled it loudly. There was nothing else the people around us could assume she said to me at that moment. What else can you say to someone who sneezes on the fruit of your loins?