The Other Work
Tim Horvath

I go to my general practitioner. I tell him, "I want new allergies. I'm tired of the ones I have."

He doesn't pause, doesn't make eye contact. "What are you allergic to now?"

"I don't know," I say. "Typical things. Commonplace things."

"Pollen?" he asks.

"Pollen gets me bad," I say. "Pollen gets me where it hurts. In the solar plexus." I pound what I believe to be, roughly, my solar plexis. My doctor purses his lips.

"Why don't we check your record," he says. He types something onto his computer keyboard, taps the monitor with one of those pens that can do-si-do with a screen, makes a swirling motion. I picture him as a child with a drawing toy, imagine that he's just learning how to make rudimentary shapes, and in a few minutes he'll be conjuring cartoon elephants, and in another hour rendering nimble caricatures of presidents, of notorious criminals.

"What's it say?" I ask.

He purses his lips again, his tongue protruding. "I can add pollen, but I don't see anything about allergies for you," he says. "No allergies to medications. No allergies to foods. No allergies to common fabrics."

"That's a category?" I say. "Common fabrics? What are the common fabrics?"

He shrugs. "Rayon, polyester, cotton, batik."

"Batik?" I say. "Batik is a fabric? I thought it was just a style."

"The dyes," he says, "can occasionally—very occasionally—trigger an adverse reaction. The program allows you to add certain categories manually. So that one's my own contribution.'"

This seems interesting. Has he an affinity for batik, I wonder? Is he staunchly anti-batik? Has he traveled, on a doctor's wages, to distant lands where batik is rampant, hum-drum as, hereabouts, denim? I decide to push things further. "What about some less common fabrics?" I say. "What about chain mail, hugging the skin directly? What about a tshirt heavy with the fluids of the fugu fish?"

Now he's looking puzzled. "How would that happen?"

"Let's say I ordered fugu at a restaurant, to impress someone, say, that I was wooing. I think we can agree that fugu is always related to wooing. Then say I chickened out and faked eating it, smuggling it instead into a napkin. Let's say I was drunk when I got home and forgot about it and laundered the whole ensemble. Picture the whole T-shirt/fugu combination, swirling around in the spin cycle in cold water to avoid shrinking."

"Shrinking the fugu?" he says.

Now I'm the puzzled one, but he's smirking, and I realize he's screwing with me. This is great, because now I know I can trust him, trust him not to foreclose possibilities before they ever spawn, while they're still nascent, foolish and hopeful.

"What about gluten?" he says.

"I don't want gluten," I say. "Everyone's got gluten. That's like a lifestyle. That's like a country. New Glutenia, where gluten is confiscated at the borders. The land all your respectable friends are relocating to. Gluten's the new gold rush, the next social media site. Except being off it will be being on it. No thanks."

"All right," he says. "I have lots of appointments lined up today. What do you want to be allergic to?"

"What about knots?" I say.

He rocks in his chair for a minute, then goes back to his computer. "How about the barrel sling?" He tilts the screen so I can see it. He traces it with the funky pen. It's not an unattractive knot—in its intermediate stages it resembles lips, then a man in a bowtie. "Looks like it wraps through that way, then you've got to pull this part…"

"Now we're getting somewhere," I say.

After a pause, he says, "What about a number? If you were allergic to a number…"

"Would I react to every manifestation of it?"

"Not every single one, I don't think," he says.

"83, say."

"It doesn't come up that often," he says.

"True," I say. "But when it does, it'll be like an ambush. I'll have to call 911."

"It's a good thing the number isn't 983," he says.

He's fucking with me again, and I can't help but think of him as a brother now. What he doesn't, couldn't understand, is that this isn't about an allergy at all, not really, for allergy is simply another word for love. What the body can't abide—what makes it shudder, break out in hives, in febrile shivers, in full-on anaphylaxis. What has to be expelled before it lodges too far in. Maybe she was born in 1983, or maybe she wasn't, but for now, walking out of the office, I'm going to pretend she was, and already, merely thinking of her, I can feel my neck start to quiver, esophagus swelling, windpipe growing tight, an epi pen at the ready, my throat on the verge of closing, and also on the brink of opening.

Tim Horvath lives in New Hampshire. He's the author of UNDERSTORIES, a collection of short fiction.

Read more of his work in the archive.

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