So my son came home early yesterday from school complaining of a belly ache. An hour later, his belly ache was spewed all over my living room floor. And the couch. And the hassock. And his hair. And my hands…
You get the idea.
Rather than bore you with the clean up (of which there was plenty) I leave you instead with a story about spew-’cause that’s how I roll.
Something cold and obnoxiously wet brushes against Judy’s sleeping lips, causing her to jolt awake.
“Newman!” she yells. Stupid dog. Judy risks a quick peak through sleep crusted eyes at the glowing red numbers, naively hoping Newman has woken her in the middle of the night, instead of mere minutes before her alarm was to go off, as was his habit. 5:58a.m. Of course.
“Why do I bother setting this thing?” she asks Newman. He just whimpers at her and cocks his head, lifting each paw slightly, urging her to get out of bed and tend to his needs.
“I know, I know! Hang on,” she mutters, reaching over and turning off the now unnecessary alarm clock. She fights back a monstrous yawn before she finally crawls out of her soft, warm bed, grimacing when she places her bare feet on the icy wood floors.
“I told you wood floors would be cold,” she says to the empty bedroom.
God, how she had fought Mark about these ridiculous floors before installing them two years ago. She had cautioned him daily about how chilly it would make the bedroom in the winter, and to please, please, put in the wall to wall carpeting Judy had wanted. But one look at Mark’s pleading eyes as he ran his fingers over the displayed floors in the shop, she caved. He could always do that to her; just flash those giant green eyes of his at her and she would have willingly given him the world. So now, like it or not, the cold floorboards were all hers.
“Go wake up Jake,” she whispers to the dog, who happily does as instructed, knowing he’d be let out soon after.
Judy hobbles into the bathroom and splashes a bit of cold water against her face. She fumbles around with her fingers, blindly looking for a hand towel that is obviously not there. Grumbling profanities to herself, she pulls at the sleeve of her robe to dry herself off.
Flicking off the bathroom light, Judy hears Newman jump to the ground from her son’s bed down the hall. His massive paws thumping loudly across the living room (the only carpeted room in the house) followed by the dainty click-ity-click of his nails against the kitchen tiles. His nose enters her room first, followed by his enormous torso. A spastic tail comes last, slapping against the door wildly.
“Is he up?”
He gives her a low grumble of a bark in reply, then high-tails it to the front door, turning around in small circles in his urgent pee-pee dance. Apparently Judy’s need for coffee was not high on his agenda.
“Calm down, you big oaf,” she mutters, pulling her robe tighter around her small waist.
After she lets Newman out, she starts shoveling coffee grinds into the machine. As it bubbles to life, she grabs her cup from the top shelf; the dainty red one with the white painted daisy Mark had given her on Mother’s Day.
Just as she places the pot against her cup, she hears it: a distinctive moan coming from her son’s room, followed by the words no mom wants to hear before her morning cup of coffee.
“Mom, I’m sick.”
Judy sighs and sets down her empty cup. Dragging her feet, she makes her way to her Jack’s room, flipping on lights in each room as she goes. When she turns the handle to his room, Judy swears she hears the coffeepot laugh at her.
The smell of sour milk overwhelms her as she steps into Jack’s room. Great.
One look at her son; all pasty white and clammy, and she forgets the smell of vomit and rushes to his bed-side to feel his forehead, which is of course, burning up.
“Okay, let’s get you cleaned up.” All she gets in reply is a grunt, as he flops back onto the bed, narrowly missing a pile of puke.
“Oh, no you don’t,” she warns. “No going back to bed in this mess. Come on, I’ll get you all set up on the couch.”
He offers his mother one shaky hand. With that one gesture, Judy is suddenly overwhelmed with guilt. She’s not strong enough to lift his eight-year old body out of bed and carry him to the couch like his father would have been able to do. Mark would have swooped in the second he had heard his son moan, would have scooped him up in his big, strong arms and carried him to ‘their’ chair. He would have rubbed Jack’s back in small, soothing circles, until Jack was lulled back to sleep. There they would sleep until morning. Mark would call the force, telling them he was sick and couldn’t come in. Then, they would spend the day curled up on the couch together while Judy went off to work. Although she would never admit it, she had been jealous of the bond the two of them had. After all, shouldn’t it be the mom who tends to a sick child?
This was the first time since Mark’s murder that Jack had been sick. How was she supposed to know what her son would need?
Jack leans against the side of Judy’s body, and the light pressure of him against her acts as a gentle reminder that he needs her help. He needs his mom. Judy forces herself to be present.
He slouches impatiently on the edge of the couch, while she lays out fresh linens. The snap the crisp sheet makes in the air startles Judy; just as all loud noises do now.
Outside, Newman starts barking his head off, ready to come back in.
“Don’t make me neuter you, dog!” she yells, eliciting a weak chuckle from her son.
Jack manages to curl himself up into tight ball at one end of the couch, letting out a few small, intermittent whimpers of pain. Not entirely sure what to do, Judy finds a blanket and tucks it around Jack’s shaking limbs and start rubbing his back trying to mimic Mark’s soft circles. After a few moments, his whining subsides and his eyes droop.
“Don’t worry, Mark. I’ll wash it,” she whispers, looking down at Mark’s coveted Red Sox blanket which she’d absently tucked around their son.
Impatient rumbles come from outside, so she moves a trashcan beside Jack, and reluctantly lets the dog back in. He thanks Judy by shaking snow from his coat all over her kitchen floor.
“Newman!” she hisses quietly, not wanting to wake her son. Newman ignores her silent wrath and rushes Jack’s side. He look back at Judy and whines softly.
“He’s sick, honey,” she says, and somehow, he seems to understand.
Newman licks Jack’s hand gently a few times before plopping himself down on the floor just underneath his master.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about this mess,” she says pointing at the floor.
That stupid dog. If it had been up to Judy, they would be living the high-life with a nice de-clawed tabby named Fluffy, but no. Mark had looked up at Judy with those big eyes of his, all sad and tragic; and it was decided.
They bought him when he was a puppy. All legs and drool, and about the ugliest looking thing Judy had ever seen. But Mark and Jack were smitten, so Newman came home and Fluffy stayed behind.
“Guess you’re staying home from school today, kid,” she says, folding her arms across her chest. She can’t help but brush a few of the dark stray hairs around his forehead, and as she does, memories wash over her. Memories of all the sick days they’ve had together on this very couch. The Campbell’s chicken noodle soup (which never seemed to have anything remotely looking like chicken in it), the glasses of flat Ginger Ale, the bribes to get the yucky pink medicine down, and ‘The Test.’
‘The Test’ was something Mark’s folks had come up with when he was sick as a child, and so, naturally, Mark passed it on. The morning after a sick day, Mark would play a game of chess with Jack to test the level of his son’s illness. If Mark won, Jack had to go to school. If Jack won, Jack could chose for himself if he felt well enough to go or not. It made absolutely no sense. Some days Judy would insist Jack was still too sick for ‘The Test,’ but Jack always protested. He wanted a shot at beating his dad, hot with a fever or not.
“Oh, Mark,” Judy whispers. “How am I going to do this without you?”
Newman’s wet tongue against her cheek catches her off guard, and instantly, Mark’s image floats out of her sub-conscience where he will linger until another seemingly benign memory beckons him to her again.
“Come on up, you big lug,” she says, patting the spot on the couch next to Jack. Newman complies willingly, all but forcing her off the couch as he does. Judy doesn’t take offense, but uses it, instead, as an opportunity to get some caffeine.
Pouring the coffee, Judy calls her office and waits for the machine to pick up, prepared to tell them; ‘Jack is sick. Please send over my files and I’ll work from home, yadda, yadda, yadda, but just as she’s about to leave the message, she looks back at her sleeping boys. The machine beeps in her ear.
“Hey guys. It’s Judy. I’m taking a sick day today.”
Putting down her untouched cup of coffee, she walks back into the living room, turns off the lights, pulls down the blinds, and climbs onto the couch, smooshing herself between the dog and her son. Judy closes her eyes and prepares for her first ‘Test’ move: Queen to B4.