Warning: Blatant Phlegmagery Ahead

I’ve come to the library to work in quiet and comfort among people. As I open my notebook, I hear the gentle slide of books taken from shelves and then replaced, the whisk of turning pages, the humming of the heater, the far-away mumble of voices at the circulation desk — and the relentless moist sniffing of a middle-aged man reading a mystery novel on the other side of the room.

Maybe it’s the high ceilings of the library, or perhaps he’s simply enthusiastic, but these blasts of noise are unnaturally loud. They drown out a nearby child’s sudden giggles, crowd into my thoughts, and slime into my throat, giving me the uncomfortable feeling that I’m the one who needs a tissue.

To preserve the calm of the library and to save myself from the annoyance of my own repeated sniffles, I brought tissues. Is it rude to stand up, stride across the room, and offer a handful of Puffs to the man who has now progressed from wet sniffles to echoey snorts? I can see myself smiling kindly at him, offering him the handful of tissues, pointing out that he must be uncomfortable, phrasing it as if I’m the one doing him a favor.

But I picture his defensive reply to an offer gone wrong, and I can’t. Instead, I wait for him to leave, glancing between the leaves of the ficus that blocks most of my view. Like contractions, I time his snorts. They are seven and a half seconds apart.

This guy’s not going anywhere soon. He is now biting his fist and leaning forward, absorbed in a scene in his book. Occasionally he coughs. I make a mental note not to select that novel next; no need to make more than an across-the-room acquaintance with his germs.

Resigned, I burrow back into my writing, determined to focus.

Nearly four hours later, I gather my belongings and head for the door. It has been a productive day — in between my unfortunate companion’s lapses. As I near the circulation desk, I look up and notice in horror that I am just eight feet behind the sniffler, who is also headed for the door. I am plowing through his germy wake and, even worse, I have missed the opportunity to write without the soundtrack of his own making. I consider returning to my still-warm seat, reopening my notebook and immersing myself in plot and characters and quiet, but my time is short, so I follow him reluctantly, vowing to pack music on my next foray to the library, just in case.