Temperature pushing 100. Shaking, nauseated, dizzy, and a little green. He sleeps for nearly 13 hours, so motionless at daybreak I have to rustle the blanket to make sure he’s breathing. When I call the school, they tell me Flu B has been making it past the vaccine.
He sleeps on. Sometime after 10am, he creaks out of bed and shuffles to the kitchen with a blanket draped over his shoulders. I am parked at the dining table plodding through cut-rate wifi to VPN into work. As he passes, I look up at his sallow face and ask him how he’s feeling.
“Sick,” he rumbles, his voice dipping even lower than the adolescent tenor which is emerging with increasing frequency these days.
I push the laptop away and follow him into the kitchen.
He shrugs. Even standing at my full height, I have to look up at him. The feather above his lip. Darkening hair falling across his face. He clocked 13 hours of sleep while this quasi-flu was busy digging hollows under his eyes.
He gets out a bowl and considers the applesauce. “Maybe in a little bit,” he says. He leaves the bowl empty on the counter and fills a glass with fizz and bubbles. He takes it and lumbers back to his room.
I surrender to the ponderous VPN and return to grades and course registrations. In the bedroom, I hear his body adjust then readjust the blankets. A few moments of quiet. Then a cough. A hack, a three-quake rattle, a struggle for breath, a sigh.
The same measure. As familiar as his laugh or the way he says my name. That signature sound from his first birthday when he picked up a vicious bug and was sick for weeks. From sleepless nights in toddlerhood, the hack shaking his crib. From his bed on the floor of my room, startling both the dog and me awake.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard that cough. It brings me a kind of comfort, which disconcerts me. He’s sick and it stinks. But he’s also sick where he’s safe. Where his cough strikes a familiar chord and engages his mom’s most primal urges. He’s sick where we have the good fortune to stay home together, secure in a paycheck and insurance and clean water and a quiet bed. He’s sick where I can stay near, ready when my boy’s appetite for applesauce returns.