My mother cupped my little face when I was sick and cradled my pitter-patter heart in her arms, when she held her soft face next to mine. Her lips were full and red and left lipstick on my forehead when she kissed me there. Where other boys might swiftly move to brush it away, I didn’t care to wipe away the mark of love from my wistful face. Kisses were gifts that salvaged fragments of light from the darkness and being sick, meant all the more might come. It is therefore unsurprising I suppose that while my mother was fraught with worry, my diagnosis with scarlet fever, was greeted by me with more than just a touch of happiness. Being sick brought me special attention.
Not just attention, but dedicated, greedy, selfish, all to myself motherly love, that would otherwise have to be hard fought for; in the melee of the madness that was our home. Sure I was ill. Very ill it transpired, but bizarrely it was not just sufficient for the doctor to check me out, our neighbours on either side were invited to give their considered opinion also. Mrs. Boyle was a soft woman, a bit deluded and slightly without substance who really tended to just nod in agreement with everyone else. Mrs. Kelly by contrast was a harsh country woman with a face that had cracked stones, a gravelly smoker’s voice and a pair of intrusive nosey hands that felt like ice.
The blankets were pulled back as the giant women in head-scarves examined me from the end of the bed. My mother volunteered my naked chest and back for examination and in later life I understood their process of sharing and caring, helping to educate each other about the symptoms and dangers of such disease. In that moment it was only an embarrassment, but part of the price for alone time later with my mother, feeding me soup and triangle sandwiches with the crust cut off.
Besides, I had suffered worse humiliation the time that I caught me little boy-man bits in the zipper of my trousers. It wasn’t the pain and the struggle to get the door unbolted when my mother came running at the sound of the screams that I remember most. No, when between us we couldn’t release my soft flesh from the trap of the zipper, the next logical step for my mother was to bring in reinforcements in the form of Mrs. Boyle and Mrs. Kelly. Oh sweet lord the humiliation, as I stood there while they took turns kneeling to examining the trapped protuberance with a view to releasing me from my predicament. I have shut out the final moments of that episode, perhaps with good reason.
In the height of my fever, I was by all accounts a small boy with massive hallucinations. I screamed and cried, imagined creatures all over me and slept in fits and starts. I recall one particular awakening after a bad night of feverish nightmares. I opened my eyes to see my mother’s face on the pillow beside me. Her lipstick seemed less bright and her mascara was less than even. My Mam was breathing ever so softly and I was cradled in her arms. I could smell her face make-up, the most comforting smell imaginable just inches from my tiny little nose. Her hair smelt of lacquer as it always did and I watched her sleep.
My Mam was a strong woman who dealt with much adversity, but in that moment as I examined her face like never before, she looked vulnerable, older, tired. I recall it made me sad and I carefully raised my hand to touch her cheek. She barely moved. I had kept her awake all through that night and she was exhausted. My hand looked so small on her face and I swear she smiled for just a second when I touched her. A lump formed in my throat. Her face was so cold and I was all snuggled beneath the blankets wrapped in her arms. I wanted to cover her shoulders but I was trapped by the blankets and her weight.
Older boy tears welled up in my eyes. They weren’t supposed to be there. I was only supposed to have little boy tears, the ones that come from a grazed knee or maybe even a selfish tantrum. These were the wrong tears. I shouldn’t have known or seen the things I knew and saw, but I did and big boy tears trickled from my little boy eyes. Each eye shed a single tear that individually and in their own time, rolled across my fevered cheeks and button nose. I remember looking at my Mam as my hand rested on her face and feeling those two, very solitary tears I whispered,
“One for you…one for me…”
This is an extract from Max Power’s new novel ‘Little Big Boy’ was released early in 2015.
You can find all Max Power books on amazon as e book or paperback http://www.amazon.com/Max-Power/e/B00LGPWHN6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1