Skylar had a thought which appeared every time they started coughing: why did coughing hurt so much? So much pain yet it was the most practical, and natural, way to dislodge something in the airway.
"You okay back there?" John asked after Skylar gasped for air after their third coughing fit.
"I guess." Skylar shrugged. "How come you guys aren't coughing so much from excess spit?"
"Are you sure it's excess?" Emily turned down the radio a couple notches as she spoke. "Or is it going down the wrong pipe?"
"Pipe?" Skylar rubbed their throat and tilted their head.
"She means are you breathing in your spit? Or swallowing it?"
"There's a difference?"
"Yeah." Emily turned in her seat and pointed to her throat. "Air is supposed to go down your trachea to your lungs. While solids and liquids go down your esophagus to your stomach."
"Uh." Skylar scrunched up their face. "How do I know where it is going?"
"It should be automatic." Emily tapped her neck. "There's a flap called the epiglottis, which should cover your trachea when you swallow."
"Oh... Where is this flap?"
"Past the back of your tongue."
Skylar closed their eyes and opened up their senses to sensations going on inside this new body of theirs. Talking a deep breath in, they felt something, to things twitch near the back of their mouth. One high and one low. Skylar paused their breathing and swallowed. The high thing wiggled similarly, but the low thing twitched from a slightly different part of their mouth.
"I think it is working."
"It is pretty easy to mess up though." John said as he pressed on the brakes, approaching a red light. "If you try to breathe and swallow at the same time, it can go a little haywire and cause coughing fits."
"Then why are the two tubes connected anyway?”
“Evolution.” John and Emily said at the same time.
Skylar took another deep breath through their nose. The air rattled through the mucus, some of it collecting in the back of their throat. And it was the start of Skylar’s fourth coughing fit.
“Oh, that one sounds nasty.” Emily leaned over and grabbed one of the empty pizza boxes. “Here spit into here.”
“In a box?” John asked.
“Well do you want her to hock the loogie on the seat? Or the floor?” Emily thrust the box towards Skylar before John even answered, which was a reluctant agreement.
Skylar spit into the box, the thick off white, opaque liquid sat atop the grease marks. “Ew.”
“Shut the box unless you need to spit some more.” John glanced in the rear view mirror.
“I’m good… for now anyway.”
“Then keep it close to you just in case.”
“Feeling better?” Emily asked.
“When we stop next John can get the allergy pills from the back, maybe the pollen has you all stuffed up.”
“We’re almost home.” John added as he turned into a residential neighborhood.
Word count: 497