Bless You – A short story by India Roberts
“Thanks.” Benjamin sniffles, eyes streaming and as red as gleaming strawberries in the sun. A tickle ignites far back and he rolls his raw eyes before it comes. 3, 2, 1… sneezes. Two this time, quickly, like the momentum of a seesaw.
“Thanks.” It’s curter this time, short. The day is hot and suffocating and even the mosquitos move lazily, a slow insistent buzz hovering around their heads, easily batted away with a lethargic hand. Not even lemonade cools Benjamin down; just settles, bubbles shrinking and flattening until the drink is as still as he is. He can feel another one coming and he tilts his head back, willing the tickle to dampen. No luck.
“Please shut up, Eli.”
“What? It’s a standard response.” Eli says.
“I’ve sneezed eleven times in the past five minutes, your first ‘bless you’ should’ve applied to all the others after it.”
“Well not everyone sees it like that. Besides, I’m the one who should be telling you to shut up, your sneezing was getting on my tits even when it was only once an hour.”
“So sorry, I’ll have a chat with my immune system later.” replies Benjamin.
“Please do, and pass on all of my bless you’s, I’m not sure if they were getting through.”
He lobs a stray piece of lime at Eli and pinches the bridge of his nose, willing away another sneeze.
“I guess it serves me right for coming to Spain anyway. Hayfever is a very English condition.” Benjamin says.
“Yeah. Can’t stay home forever though.”
“Why did we have to come to Ibiza? You know this whole thing isn’t for me at all, why did you make me come?”
“I- it’s good for us. Socialising?”
“Eli, we haven’t spoken to anyone since we got here apart from your broken Spanish to the hot waitress. I think you told her you wanted cheese in your coffee by the way.” Benjamin scoffs, his sore eyes and sniffling nose momentarily forgotten.
“Everyone does it. It’s like a rite of passage,” says Eli, “I was wondering why she gave me brie this morning.”
“We don’t do this though. We don’t go out on weekends that we can’t remember.”
“Maybe we should, Benjamin.”
“I don’t know. They must do it for a reason.” Eli says, furrowing his eyebrows and swatting at a mosquito on his leg, already drunk on his blood. The heat makes the tops of his ears redder than the rest of his body and Benjamin thinks they’re almost as bright as the lighthouse they went to see yesterday. Eli follows the mosquito trailing up his arm and sighs. “Forget the waitress, the only thing that can’t stay away from me are these fucking vampire insects.”
“Ah, so sad,” says Benjamin, “Maia only just broke up with you anyway. It’s probably a good thing that your only relationship right now is with a fly.”
“Mosquito. It’s not an equitable relationship; it only takes from me.”
“Sounds exactly like your last one.”
“Hey!” Eli knocks the book out of Benjamin’s hands and spills lemonade onto his towel. The laugh bubbles from Benjamin like simmering water in a pan.
“Here,” Benjamin passes the bug-spray to Eli and watches as he sprays at the mosquitos like he is trying to drown them in mid-air. “Keep ordering cheese and the ladies won’t be able to stay away.”
“Don’t take the piss.” Eli says, and his scowl almost reminds Benjamin of when they were younger, and their dad would wrench away their chess set and lob them a football.
“What shall we do tonight then?” he asks.
“The website says the strip’s a ten-minute walk away.”
“Great, you go and I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“What? You have to come with me.”
“I’m not going.” says Benjamin.
“Try new things.”
“Because tonight I’m going to re-watch Breaking Bad in an air-conditioned room with a Fanta lemon.” Benjamin says, his smile smugly plastered on his face as he dreams wistfully about his hotel.
“Sounds good actually.”
“It will be.”
Eli pauses, his heat-swollen lip hostage between his teeth. He traces the path that the mosquito took on his arm earlier and looks out at the blurry line between the sea and the sky.
“Fine,” Eli sighs, “we’ll stay in but we’re going out tomorrow.”
Benjamin grins and claps Eli’s shoulder and digs his fingers into the nape of his neck like their dad used to do. Eli twitches away. Benjamin sneezes.
“Bless you.” Eli says, with a scowl.
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