“Gesundheit,” she said. “I think you need to see a doctor. I’ve noticed you are constantly sneezing and you have a runny nose.”
By then, she must have been three feet tall. Why doesn’t anyone else notice? he thought.
“Have you noticed that you’re always sweeping?” he asked her defiantly.
“Yeah, there seems to be a lot of dust gathering around lately. Do you think it’s that African dust people talk about?
I think it’s you he wanted to scream. But then he felt as if a hand, a large powerful one was taking him by the throat. He started gasping. She hurried towards him. He shook his hands. He wanted her to get away. He knew she was causing his allergy. But her tiny diminishing body kept trying to help him. He plead in his mind for her to get away from him. She was frantic. “What can I do?” she twittererd while flapping her arms about in desperation.
Finally, he saw her run towards the phone.
He died from an allergic reaction to dust mites, the doctor concluded. She, in turn, bought a powerful vacuum cleaner, and kept dusting herself away.
Lying in bed, Mara regrets the dusty living room, the detriorating bathroom ceiling, the crumbling kitchen tile. Each room speaks to her, beckoning like children that need. The broom, once as loved as her husband, now stands, its bristles receding. Friends, family, strangers gather around her, at first ginger as if the bed were an urn, keeping her at bay. Some drift at the door, their awe noisy. Most wear masks, knowing enough about the dangers of her atmospheric dust. But they touch her anyway; because they can't help themselves, they touch, hands leaving ridged imprints. No matter; she is wane and all phantom bone. She has given too much. How much of her will remain? She is everything, but nothing: shroud, dander, snowflake, she carries only a memory of skin.
A priest imagines her kiss and fine particles of the thought linger, furtive, unsure, on his lips, taste salt, regret, ammonia. Now. what. The words slip out of her ebbing teeth, and people, just people, lean in, thinking the long slope of letter and sigh is meant for them.
My late husband Paul used to flick his cigarette, spreading its ashes all around the house. “Use an ashtray, honey,” I asked him time and again. “It’s just some harmless dust, dear,” he would mumble with a smiley puff of smoke. The next thing you knew he was flickering his cigarette once more.
Last week he died from lung cancer. During his final days he demanded to be cremated. Now that I found out how to open the urn, I might as well spread his ashes around the backyard. I bet our cacti and our dogs won’t object. After all, its just some harmless dust.
I promised I would never get rid of his ashes. That when the time came I would make sure they were carefully mixed in with my own.
But life had other plans for me, so one night I quietly disposed of his remains as I emptied the dust from my new, powerful silent Hoover…
haven’t gotten a complaint yet.