Birdie suspected she was running low on the milk of human kindness. And what little she had left smelled as if it had gone beyond its expiration date. Gerald was clearing his throat approximately every three seconds, and the sound of it had driven every discernible fragment of concern from Birdie’s soul. She had the mounting urge to solve his throat problem with her own two bare hands. If that wasn’t a dearth of “milk of human kindness”, she didn’t know what was.
Birdie truly did feel sympathy for Gerald’s predicament. Intellectually, that is. His throat was scratchy, his sinuses were draining, mucus was crowding in. He was coming down with a cold. She understood his uncontrollable urge to clear his throat. It was a natural body response. She remembered what it was like to try unsuccessfully, “just one more time”, to clear one’s throat. She was well aware that no one’s throat clearing mechanism was equal to the body’s ability to produce phlegm. She knew all these things. But the sound of it stripped her of patience and compassion. Having to listen to Gerald trying to clear his throat over and over put her teeth on edge. And what made it worse was the repetitiveness–like a dripping faucet. It was nerve-stretching torture for Birdie.
Moreover, Birdie knew all this throat clearing was just the beginning. Gerald didn’t like putting chemicals into his temple. She couldn’t say, “Take some NyQuil!” and get some relief for both of them. So, whether it was clearing his throat, coughing, snorting, hawking, or spitting, Birdie would have to vicariously experience it all. “Surely,” Birdie thought, “suffering through the sleepless nights and gag reflexes that Gerald’s symptoms induce in me is enough to curdle anybody’s milk.”