By Larry Centor

Published by
The Urban Legend magazine
, October & November 2002

*** BOOK I ***
*** BOOK II ***
*** BOOK III ***
*** BOOK IV ***

*** BOOK I ***

He was an ordinary man -- average build, not tall, not short; brown hair, medium length; brown eyes, no distinguishing features.

He had the usual complement of eyes, ears, nose, hands with fingers, feet with toes covered by plain socks in unadorned loafers, or white sweat socks and white sneakers in his leisure hours.

He had a solid, well-paying job at a mid-size accounting firm in New York, and went about his life quietly and unobtrusively. His few friends would have agreed that Jon Rafter was, "a nice, ordinary guy."

It was an ordinary day in the ordinary life of an ordinary man when Rafter walked into a liquor store near his office -- and his life changed forever.

He had just enjoyed a quiet luncheon at his favorite restaurant -- La Habichuela -- three-bean salad, shrimp and beans in a brown bean sauce, and a glass of white wine. The wine reminded him that he should buy a bottle of red for dinner that evening; a friend was coming over, and she would enjoy it.

There were two other people in the liquor store when Rafter walked in -- an older man looking at the bourbons, and a young lady at the wine racks. Rafter walked up to the counter and asked the clerk for, "A bottle of Baton Rouge soixante-neuf, please."

As the clerk turned away from Rafter, and the door, two men walked in, vaguely threatening, perhaps because they wore masks and brandished large hand guns.

"Nobody move!"

The older man and Rafter froze; the young woman gasped and clutched her handbag to her chest. The clerk, turning, hesitated, started to reach...

"Don't even think about it!"

The clerk froze.

"Everyone in the back, on your stomachs, hands behind your head. No moves. No sounds. You," pointing at the clerk, "in the back with the others. Don't do nothin' stupid, and maybe no-one gets hurt."

The guns were convincing. Rafter got down on the floor with the others. He thought he heard a whispering sound, but he couldn't be sure who it was. Rafter was not a particularly brave man, certainly not a coward, but not inclined to be a hero when the guns were stacked against him. The floor is better than a bullet, he rationalized, fully aware that a bullet was a distinct possibility regardless. But rushing a gun, two guns, two large guns, without some weapon was impossible.

Rafter was understandably tense. He began thinking about those war novels he had read, the ones where some dogface loses control of his bodily functions when under fire for the first time, or the last time.

He remembered a novel about airmen flying bomber missions over Europe during World War II, and how they "bit washers" when the ack-ack opened up. The reference was, of course, to the washers around the bolts holding the airmen's seats in place. Rafter tightened his entire body as he heard one of the thieves come around the counter and start rifling the cash register.

"One move from any of you and you're dead," said the large gun watching over them. "Dead!"

Rafter definitely heard a sob. The older man said, "Please, my wife, she's sick, I..."

"Right, you just came in here to get her some medicine. Shaddup, or you'll need more than medicine."

Rafter tightened up some more, fighting to control himself, his lunch, his breakfast and the coffee and bialy in-between.

"Look at 'em. Didya ever see..."

Rafter felt himself losing control. He was afraid he had embarrassed himself. Suddenly, he heard a crash, then another, then silence. He tightened up some more, fighting a losing battle for control, but at least convinced he had retained his ultimate dignity. After all, he was only human.

For two full minutes, minutes that seemed like an eternity, Rafter lay there afraid to move. Finally, he risked a careful glance at the older man laying just behind him and slightly to his left. The man seemed to be unconscious.

He lifted his head a bit higher. No sound. Nothing. He took a chance and looked all around. Everyone seemed to be out cold. Craning his neck, he saw one of the thieves flat on his face.

Rafter got up slowly, slowly. Everyone was unconscious. No explanation, but Rafter wasn't stopping to figure it out. He kicked the thieves' weapons well out of reach, dialed 911 and reported the holdup, then quickly left the store. Like many New Yorkers, one of his first thoughts was to stay as uninvolved as possible. Later events would prove his decision fateful.

He didn't notice that the blind panhandler outside the liquor store passed out when Rafter opened the door, as did the man's seeing eye dog who simply groaned and hung his head on the pavement.

Three prowl cars arrived within ten minutes, great response time in the city where "emergency" is a most common noun.

The first cops on the scene opened the door, gasped in unison and staggered back, barely staying on their feet. One yelped in a strangled voice, "Gas!"

From there on it was fairly routine -- with the invaluable aid of protective gas masks, of course. The thieves were apprehended, and were obviously without a clue as to what had happened. The clerk and two customers identified the perps. And all three wondered, "What happened to the other guy?"

They all agreed they had been overcome by a powerful gas that had nearly paralyzed their nasal and throat passages, causing them -- and the perps -- to black out.

Following an examination of the participants, and an analysis of an air sampling thoughtfully taken at the crime scene, the police lab concluded, "Unconsciousness resulted from extremely noxious gastro-intestinal emissions from source or sources unknown."

He was the individual the tabloids had heroically dubbed, "The Puffer."

And so it began.


*** BOOK II ***


Melody Gerass was a beautiful woman -- not in the conventional sense perhaps, but when she walked down a street, entered a room, smiled, said hello, you knew you were in the presence of a special someone. It was that obvious.

The one person who didn't see that magic was Melody herself. But that was about to change.


It was an incredible May morning in New York. It had rained during the night, and the rain had cleansed the air, giving it a freshness rare to the city. Occasional clouds drifted lazily in a high, bright blue sky. Walking past a tree-lined street on Manhattan's East Side, Melody could even hear birds chirping.

The people she passed on her way to work seemed happier than usual. Some were even smiling and nodding at complete strangers, a usually suspicious act in the New York that existed in the minds of most of the city's dwellers.

Some distance behind Melody, a young man was strolling toward his job, enjoying the rare beauty of the morning. He was a typical New Yorker, looking everywhere without seeming to look, seeing most of the world around him.

The luncheonettes and newsstands were doing their usual business. Retail shops were just opening, hoping to catch some early business before the quiet mid-morning stretch. Storefronts were being swept casually. It was that kind of morning. You had to get to work, but if you had to be a few minutes late, today was definitely the day.

Later on, the young man would be hard-pressed to recall just what drew his attention to Melody; he was perhaps 20 yards behind her. Suddenly, there was an audible click in his brain. Most New Yorkers recognize the signal. Something is not quite right. Alert!

He looked around. Nothing seemed wrong. He continued walking. Melody walked past a florist with a display of plants outside. The young man couldn't tell one plant from another, but he did notice that all of the flowers were drooping by the time he reached the storefront.

An idea began to work its insidious way into his mind. Reflexively, he focused his attention on Melody as she continued down the street. She crossed at the corner, and turned right onto a quiet street lined with brownstones, each with a small tree in front, the city's concession to a need for greenery, a tiny sense of the suburbs amid the concrete vastness.

It was a street he would not normally have turned on, and had she been aware of his presence, Melody would certainly have been concerned. But given the beauty of the morning, and a generally careless nature, Melody continued on her blissful way.

A bird dropped out of one of the trees. The young man froze, allowing Melody to walk ahead another 20 or 30 yards. He watch carefully, absorbing the scene.

A super was out sweeping the front of his brownstone as Melody approached. His dog was inspecting the tree in front of the building, for apparent reasons. Melody passed by. The super stopped and grabbed a railing to steady himself. He shook his head a few times, reached into his back pocket and took out a handkerchief. He wiped his streaming eyes, hacked a few times into the handkerchief and then glanced at his dog who had rolled over on the small plot of earth and was clearly whimpering.

The young man resumed following Melody, because that was exactly what he was doing by now. He knew what was happening, or at least he was pretty sure. She turned again when she reached the avenue, walked midway down the block and entered an office building.

He had only seconds to act.

Reaching into his back pocket, he rushed into the building just as Melody was about to get on an elevator.

"Miss! Miss!" Several women, including Melody, turned -- all with a look of alarm on their faces.

He rushed up to her, shoved the wallet at her and blurted out, "You dropped this in the street."

Melody surprised, startled, took the wallet without thinking as the young man hurried away. "But this isn't my...I didn't..." But he was gone.


Melody still hadn't regained her composure by the time she reached her desk. She sat down and stared at the wallet. While it wasn't hers, it certainly belonged to someone. There must be some identification inside, she thought.

Moments later she was on the phone.

"This is Jon Rafter. I'm not available at the moment, but if you'll leave your name and phone number, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you." Beep!

"This is Melody Gerass. You don't know me but I have your wallet. If you would call me and identify it, I'd be happy to return it to you. My number is 212-538-1746."

Rafter got the message as he had obviously hoped he would. He dialed Melody's number. "Ms. Gerass?"


"This is Jon Rafter. You called a while ago about finding my wallet. I'm really glad you have it. I can't tell you how worried I was."

"Can you identify it?"

Rafter quickly ran through the contents of his own wallet, right down to his Red Cross blood donor card.

"It's obviously yours," said Melody. "How can I get it to you?"

"I only work a couple of blocks away. Perhaps I could come by your office and pick it up. I'd like to thank you in person."

"I'll be here all morning."

"How about 11:45? Then I can go right on to my luncheon appointment. If that's all right with you."

"I work for Cobblepot, Fatshard & Yokum at 551 Fifth. The 19th floor. Just ask the receptionist for me."

"See you at at 11:45."

She hung up and went about her daily routine. Suddenly she stopped. I didn't tell him where I worked. How did he know it was only a few blocks away? She worried about that for a few minutes before concluding that Rafter must have figured he lost his wallet somewhere in the immediate area. She went back to work.

Rafter was at Cobblepot, Fatshard & Yokum promptly at 11:45, albeit with a great deal of trepidation. He had only had a glimpse of Melody as he shoved the wallet into her hand, but that glimpse had already become a bead on his personal string of memories, never to be forgotten.

"Good day. Mr. Rafter to see Ms. Gerass please."

The receptionist was corporate pretty, a look that was supposed to translate into an image of efficiency, an image that was often misleading, particularly in New York. She was wearing a corsage. Probably her birthday, thought Rafter. "One moment please," she said crisply, giving him her best corporate smile, the one that politely said, "Who cares?" 

Moments later, Melody entered the reception area, looked at Rafter and, "You're the man who..."


"You gave me the wallet."

"Please let me explain."

"Why...what...why would you do that? Why would...? It was your own wallet."

"Please," a bit more insistent. "Let me explain."

"I don't understand. Who are you? What are you? What is this? I don't..." Total confusion. Absolute incomprehension. Rafter noticed the flowers on the receptionist's corsage begin to droop. The receptionist showed faint beads of perspiration, and her eyes were beginning to roll. Rafter knew the signs.

"Can we talk in private, just for a moment. I can explain."

No response. He walked toward a corner of the reception area, the corner furthest from the faint young lady at the front desk. "Please, Ms. Gerass. I'm really quite harmless. Just a minute or two."

She followed after him, glancing about, oblivious to the state of the receptionist who was beginning to rock woozily in her chair.

"I..." she stammered.

He interrupted. "Do you recall the liquor store holdup around the corner about 10 days ago?"

She looked at him blankly.

"The one where the police used gas masks to capture the robbers? It was in all the papers. And on TV."

She continued to stare at him, but some of the shock seemed to be wearing off. Her eyes were focused on him. "Are you talking about the robbery where the crooks were found unconscious?"

"Yes, that's the one."

"What's that got to do with this?"

"They found out why they were unconscious," said Rafter, "but they never found out exactly what the source of the..." He hesitated. "What caused them to pass out...where the agent came from." He knew he was near babbling.

She was staring at him, a hint of red -- just a hint -- rising in her cheeks. "They, the papers, called him..."

Rafter looked her directly in the eyes. "I am the Puffer."


Why am I here? she thought. This is a madman. He's a hero because some people passed out from him. Is this man safe? He's a nut. I'm nuts.

"I know this is going to sound peculiar, but we have something in common."

"What could we possibly have in common? You don't even know me. Until you pulled that wallet stunt, I had never even laid eyes on you."

"It was the morning. It was perfect."


"I was walking to work when something struck me as odd."

"I struck you as odd?"

"No. To be perfectly honest, I hadn't even noticed you yet. I just knew something was wrong. And then I spotted the 'incidents.'"

"What incidents?"

And over a cup of coffee, several cups of coffee, and a Danish -- and finally a banana split -- he told her about the dead bird, the drooping flowers, the super and his dog. He even mentioned the receptionist and her corsage.

Somewhere in the telling , along about the florist part, Melody's ears began to turn red. The glow spread down her cheeks, and as Rafter continued his story, he could see it traveling down her neck toward her modest but delightful cleavage. He stopped in mid-sentence, daydreaming about Melody's spreading blush.

"You're suggesting that what we have in common..." She stopped, unable to complete the thought.

He finished it for her, " gas." And he smiled.

Now totally crimson, she reached for her water, took a sip, choked, sputtered and started laughing -- until the tears started to roll down her cheeks.


Melody and Jon dated a while, then married. It was a marriage of the usual smiles and occasional tears -- and roars of laughter you wouldn't believe.


*** BOOK III ***


When they thought back to their wedding, and the preparations that had to be made, when they thought back to the care that had gone into every step, when they recalled the anticipation of everything that could possibly go wrong -- and the odd thing or two they failed to anticipate -- the roar of the laughter quickly turned to a sea of tears, tears of uncontrolled mirth. 

For the wedding of Jon Rafter, aka the Puffer, and his fiancé, Melody Gerass, was fraught with the potential for embarrassment.

It has already been chronicled how Jon became the city's heroic Puffer, and how he met Melody. This is the story of a man and woman in love, aware of the problems their love created, and determined to share their love with their closest friends.

A discussion one evening after a pleasant dinner.

"You know, it might be better for everyone concerned if we were married down at City Hall," started Jon.

Melody turned toward him. "I had always planned on a traditional wedding. You know. White dress. My mom and dad walking me down the aisle. A reception afterward."

"Melody, you know how much I love you, but do you realize what could happen. I became the Puffer by chance. And I've learned to control my power, for the most part. I've used it to try and make this city a safer place."

She looked at him, knowing what was coming next.

He hesitated, then continued. "You haven't mastered control of your emotions yet. When you get excited, when you're particularly happy or particularly sad, you express yourself."

Melody cast her eyes downward.

"And woe to anyone near you when you get emotional. Remember, I've seen birds fall out of trees from your joy with a simple spring morning. I've seen cats weep when you've turned in anger."

She looked at him. "You never saw a cat weep."

"It was only a tear or two," he admitted, "but the cat definitely wept. And the dog passed out completely."

"What are you trying to say?"

"I think it's going to be extremely difficult to pull off a wedding without a hitch."

"I think we can do it," she said. "I'll even wear specially scented panties."

He looked at her, reached for her and the discussion was over -- at least for the moment.


Murray Mantel was the caterer for Temple Beth-El, a small but prestigious synagogue on the city's upper east side. He sat across from Jon and Melody with a rising sense of foreboding.

And while neither the Puffer or his fiancé were particularly religious, they were both imbued with a sense of tradition, of continuity. There had never been any real question but that they would have a traditional wedding. Their problem was to anticipate problems without letting Murray Mantel know what those problems could entail.

"The rabbi said that any special arrangements we wanted to make with regard to flowers or decorations would be your responsibility," said Jon.

"I can assure you," said Mantel, "that the arrangements are always tasteful. No one has ever complained..."

"We know that," interrupted Melody, "but we'd like to make sure that the floral scent is uh, perhaps a bit heavier than what might be considered normal."

"Heavier? What do you mean heavier? You want the place to stink from flowers?" He was turning a bit red at the ears.

"What Melody means is that we really like the smell of the outdoors, the scent of fresh flowers. We'd really like to have the ceremony outdoors, in a park or botanical garden, but that's just not practical. So-o-o-h, what we'd like is a woodsier smell. Perhaps you could get a few dozen pine-scented air fresheners and sort of, uh, spread them around the sanctuary."

"Air fresheners? Woodsy? Why not a..." Mantel regained control of himself. "You want woodsy, you got woodsy." The smile was definitely forced.

"Now for the reception itself," started Melody. "I think you ought to spread air fresheners throughout the room, but they must be inconspicuous. Perhaps you could place them inside the central floral arrangements on each table."

"And we want large pine branches tastefully lining the walls to complement the outdoor theme," added Jon.

Mantel was barely in control. "I really don't see how pine branches can be thematically displayed at a traditional wedding. You want strange, I'll give you strange. But at bizarre I draw the line. No pine branches. This is a temple, not Sherwood Forest."

Jon backed off. "Then what do you suggest we do to have a more outdoor effect?" he asked.

"I really think you've done quite enough. I'll make certain there are plenty of flowers -- and air fresheners. If you'd like, we can give each lady a small corsage, and each man a carnation."

Melody smiled. "That's an excellent idea. Could we also give the women little bags of sachet?"


The meeting ended a moment or two later.


She was a vision.

As her mother and father started to escort her down the aisle, tragedy struck.

"Oh my god," muttered Melody, nearly choking on the words.

"What's wrong dear?" asked her mother.

But, of course, Melody couldn't confide in her mother. She had been so excited all morning, under so much pressure that her system had gone totally out of control. Fortunately, few people were around her, the bridal room had plenty of bouquets from friends and relatives, and Melody was wearing her specially scented panties. But she had decided to change them at the last moment, just in case. Then Jon had come in, and, and -- she simply forgot to put on another pair of panties. And here she was, walking down the aisle on the most important day of her life, her wedding day -- without panties. Which, of course, need not really be a problem if I can control myself, she thought. And if I'm not lifted up into the air -- like on that chair.

And with that thought she felt herself losing the battle, as in her heart she knew she must. Her mother wrinkled her nose as they continued down the aisle, and keeping her smile intact, muttered, "Someone just farted."

Melody stumbled. Her father steadied her. Jon, already under the canopy, started back toward her. As he reached his fiancé, he looked at her, saw the look of desperation and smiled gently.

"Someone definitely farted," said Melody's mother.

As Jon took Melody's arm, he whispered, "A smile is just a smile."

She looked at him blankly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Did it work?"

"I forgot my panties."

"Me too!"


"I'm not wearing any underpants either." All this conversation on the few steps to the canopy.

"Why not?"

"I yam what I yam," mimicked Jon.

"Yes, but the whole world doesn't have to be in on the secret." They had reached the canopy, and ascended the steps to where the rabbi awaited.

The ceremony was traditional. The bride walked around the groom seven times, flatulating quietly twice. They exchanged rings, said their vows and Jon broke the glass, first try, to the "mazel tovs" of their guests, and one squeaky from Melody. Then they kissed for the first time as man and wife, and Jon felt his bride's control go completely as she hushed up one from the depths of her being. She seemed unaware, but out of the corner of his eye Jon noticed the rabbi stagger down the steps, a puzzled look on his face, the tips of his mustache drooping.

As they left the sanctuary, Melody kissed Jon briefly and said, "You'll have to excuse me for a few moments." He understood.


It would be fair to say that the reception went off without a hitch, that there were no incidents. It would be fair, but it wouldn't be accurate.

Murray Mantel, without ever knowing the why, had tastefully decorated the ballroom with an abundance of fragrant floral arrangements. And he had spotted scented air fresheners under the base of each and every table and behind the draperies that decorated the walls.

It was almost enough. Almost.

Jon and Melody were able to greet their guests without incident. Melody seemed relaxed and in control, until the band played that number. You know, the one during which first the bride, then the groom, then other members of the bridal party are lifted in the air on a tottering chair as the guests clap and cheer, "Mazel tov."

They got Melody up into the air without any problem. After all, she was a slender young lady. But Melody had a slight fear of heights, aggravated by the tottering chair -- that tottered more as she hushed one, then a second.

The four men holding the chair felt their knees buckle in unison; the guests thought it was a step in time to the music, and they too started buckling their knees. The four men holding the chair looked at one another accusingly. All four were convinced it was one of them.

Jon, watching, sensed what was happening, mouthed to his bride, "A kiss is just a kiss."

She look at him, smiled and hushed a small one. They lowered her to the ground. There were one or two other hushes and squeaks during the reception, but no one suspected Melody.

And after it was all over, and most of the guests had left, Melody's mother came over to her and whispered, "I think it was your father."



*** BOOK IV ***


It would have been reasonable to expect that Jon and Melody Rafter would be eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. Eager would have been too mild a word, however. Frantic would have been more accurate. Panic-stricken would have been right on the head.

Jon Rafter, in his crime-busting alter ego, was that highly unusual master of scents -- the Puffer. His wife, while not a crime fighter, had odoriferous capabilities comparable to those of her husband. Her powers were at the bottom of their concern.

Melody was out of control.

Her husband had learned to use his awesome gift to fight crime not long after he discovered the consequences of his gastrointestinal emissions. He understood that to flatulate was a normal and acceptable bodily function, best exercised in private, particularly when you had the power of the Puffer.

Rafter's flatulent powers were so far beyond the norm that he was capable of affecting the course of history with a single misfire. One puff in the wrong place could conceivably trigger a chain of events that would forever alter the course of mankind.

If it was idiomatic that, "For the want of a horse, a kingdom was lost," then it was equally accurate to state that the Puffer held the fate of mankind, if not exactly in the palm of his hand...well, you understand.

His first encounter with crime had made him aware of the power with which he had been endowed. Once the newspapers had dubbed the unknown hero who thwarted the liquor store holdup "The Puffer," Rafter had vowed to use his gift for good.

In his quest to control, to harness his power, Rafter quickly realized that the potency of his emissions was directly related to the fear factor. Since he had never before encountered a situation as frightening as the holdup, he had never really been in a position to make him aware of the phenomenon with which he had been endowed.

To prove the correlation between his fear and his flatulent index, Rafter subjected himself to a number of tests, equipping himself with a camcorder to view the results.

First, he rode in the first car of a triple loop roller coaster appropriately named "You Only Die Thrice." Rafter, who never rode roller coasters simply because he didn't enjoy being frightened, scanned the tape immediately after he had gotten, somewhat shakily, off the ride. Although, in truth, he already had a strong hint as to what had happened.

"Hey Harry," yelled one of the ride's starters as the string of cars finished its run, "What happened? Everyone's out cold -- except that guy!" The riders revived moments later, apparently none the worse for their experience.

"All I remember," said one young lady of about nine, "was that as we were coming out of the first loop, I felt like I was swallowing my nose. That's the last thing I remember."

"That's perfect," said a middle-aged man. "I couldn't describe it better. If you could combine burning plastic with the smell of rotting fish, you would want to swallow your nose. The godawful stench. That's the last thing I remember."

No one else recalled anything about the rest of the ride, and Rafter's tape showed that he was the only one conscious after the first loop. Despite the warnings his stomach was giving him, he boarded the coaster again, this time in a middle car. And this time, predictably, everyone behind him passed out midway through the first loop; everyone in front of him remained conscious.

The draft, thought Rafter, carried the puff backward. There was no forward dispersal. This would be a fact that he would have to contend with later if he was to be an effective crime fighter.

Next, he took a walk through one of the city's more notorious neighborhoods. He quickly realized, however, that he had little personal fear of being confronted. In an emergency, a puff will probably protect me, he reasoned. Because I believe that, I'm not frightened.

Just then a shot rang out, then another, and two more. Everyone on the street scattered, hit the ground or ducked down behind cars. Rafter almost forgot he was the Puffer; he nearly lost it all. But as he was doing a 180 to the sidewalk, he was gratified to notice that everyone in his immediate vicinity had apparently passed out.

Later that same day he started playing "chicken" near a busy bus stop. As the bus swung into the sidewalk, he would see how close he could get to the moving vehicle. While he knew there was little real danger if he was reasonably careful, still it was exciting. And several people waiting for the buses did swoon a bit, moan and gasp, but all in all everyone stayed conscious.

No question, there is a flatulent fear index, concluded Rafter. Now as to the packaging.

The details need not be pursued at length here. Suffice to say that Rafter equipped himself with a crude but effective gas collection device. By repeating his roller coaster experience, he was able to collect the essence for what was to become his Puffume Kit.

Varying potencies were noted by a simple letter sequence with "A" being the deadliest. "A" was capable of instantly rendering unconscious any breathing being within a 50-foot radius of its dispersal. "B" would have a staggering effect, causing people to react as if they had a sudden acute allergic reaction; the effect of tear gas is an appropriate parallel. "C" just stunned an individual; he or she merely went into a catatonic trance -- stupefaction as a result of exposure to putrefaction.

All this, however, is prolog for the Puffer, who was yet to make a major impact on law and order in the city. Of more immediate importance was the difference between Rafter and his wife.

Whereas Jon was generally in tight control of himself, Melody was basically a creature of emotion. Lovely as she was, intelligent as she was, she gently puffed her way through the emotional events of her life. And while Melody never reached her husband's near-death powers, she was capable of causing damage to small animals -- particularly birds, which frequently tumbled out of trees when she passed. People became extremely dizzy, but only occasionally passed out, and then only briefly.

Melody could not control herself. Jon loved her and had learned to live with her variation of their commonalty. He loved her unreservedly, so her idiosyncrasy didn't bother him. Or perhaps nature had endowed him with a defense against his own potency. How else to explain his retaining consciousness on those occasions when he had puffed under pressure?

Their wedding had been an odd affair, with everyone suspecting almost everyone else of fighting the thousands of flowers for some sort of bizarre attention. No one, but no one, suspected the bride. Rafter didn't suspect anyone; he knew. That's why there were all those flowers.

By and large, Melody and her gentle puffs were scarcely noticed. She did take cosmetic precautions that lessened much of the impact. But now she was about to give birth -- natural childbirth.

"I know it's your choice," said her husband one evening late in her second trimester, "but with a c-section, we wouldn't have to involve anyone else. You'd be out."


"Melody, the doctors, nurses, hospital staff -- they'll all have to be told. We can't risk a catastrophe."

"Dr. Calter already knows." She looked at Jon, tears beginning to well up in the corners of her eyes. "I had to tell him."

"Let me guess."

"It was during my first examination, when he touched me." The tears were streaming down her cheeks. "He passed out. I never made anyone pass out before." She was wailing. "But I want to have my baby by natural childbirth. I know it's crazy, but I want to experience the birth of my baby. And I want you with me."

And that was that.

Except for the preparations. It sounds anticlimactic, but everything went off without a hitch -- almost. Melody agreed to have labor induced several days before her due date. She was partially encased in a specially adapted oxygen tent that had its own air supply and venting system. The doctor, fully apprised of the possibilities, had arranged for a separate air supply for himself. With any luck at all, he would only have to use it for a few minutes at a time.

It would be more interesting to report that Melody had rendered all the precautions useless with some outrageous display of emotion, particularly during the pushing stages. Such was not the case. Tent and masks worked admirably.

Labor was successfully induced. After just two hours, David Adam Rafter made his debut at 7 pounds, 15 ounces -- and perfect, thank you.

Oh yes, while he was being cleaned up in the delivery room, the nurse washing him suddenly felt faint and asked for assistance.

"It was just a little puff of gas," she recalled. "I don't know what happened. Maybe it's hereditary."

Two days later, Jon and Melody -- and the baby they inexplicably nicknamed "Noodles" -- went home. The practical nurse they had retained to help Melody for a couple of weeks left after two days.

"I can't," she explained. "I just can't. I'm sorry."

Melody sighed, went into Noodles' room, picked up her infant son and said, "Dad and I love you, and we'll figure something out. I promise."

Then, as if to bind their relationship, mother and son gently puffed in unison.

©2001 Larry Centor