Sorry I couldn’t talk on the phone last night but I can’t hear or speak very well right now; we will have to content ourselves with internet communications until this godawful cold is gone. There have been times where my condition felt it was going to be permanent, a mood not lifted when I opened the door to Pete a couple of days ago and he actually leaped backwards at the sight of me.
I looked in the mirror, for the first time in days, wanting to be able to accuse him of being overdramatic, but the sight reflected back at me assured me his reaction was genuine; I, too, was startled, though his remark that Halloween was last weekend is one he shall be hearing about as soon as I am well again.
My eyes felt as though they were being held in place with thumbtacks and they were red and shrunken into skin that was grey and sagging. I’d lost six pounds in five days due to a diet of ginger ale and toast, when I could eat at all; my teeth itched for some inexplicable reason and made eating a strange and unpleasant experience. Besides which, everything I ate or drank felt as though it was beige, like oatmeal, and like some people I have known. Matted clumps of hair hung on either side of my gruesome visage, topped with one of those hats that feature hanging flaps for the ears. My lungs were so full that my breath felt as though it only went as far as the bottom of my neck. The worst aspect of this condition was losing my hearing.
Will I ever again will I hear Laurie Anderson sing Sharkey’s World, or hear the sound of Amici’s yowling or Pete’s slippers shuffling across the floor? I wondered in those long days before Pete came home. Was there to be for me no more the noise of Velcro, or the ATV’s whining by on the trail behind the house? My world had become as silent as snow.
When Pete made himself enter the house, I stood directly in front of him and said Please face me when you speak and if you can hear me, squeeze my hand twice.
He was all concern then, inquiring as to whether or not I had been to see a doctor and if so, what was my prognosis. I told him I have been online, finding my symptoms not uncommon to the common cold and this was simply a matter of time and rest. He insisted he drive me right away to the clinic; too weak to resist, I went. The doctor said my symptoms are not uncommon to the common cold (the itchy teeth puzzled him a bit) and that it is simply a matter of time and rest. We drove home, Pete muttering about being glad our medical care in the Yukon is inexpensive seeing as how the doctors are so blase about an illness which looked to be a path to certain death.
Home again, I went directly to bed, pulling the duvet over my head and sinking immediately into the first good sleep I’d had in a week; possible, I think, because Pete was home and would take over the domestic chores. Not that the domestic chores are many, but the cat needs food and a clean litter box and some attention, and the trailer needs to be cleaned up.
My last conscious thought for 10 hours was resolving to have real domestic chores when I was healthy again. I would bake bread regularly, making enough for the freezer. I would iron sheets, search and try new recipes like ox tail soup and steamed groats, and I would learn to make my own soap.
When I awoke it was to the smell of pizza and coffee and the sound of a hockey game, the latter noise penetrating even my mucus-stuffed head. Clearly, Pete was taking advantage of the current state of domestic affairs to indulge himself in his very own tastes, happily disregarding his ailing wife; indeed, did he even remember I was here? He knew the smell of coffee was high on my list of nausea-makers, and surely he could not have forgotten my remark early in our relationship regarding men who watched televised sports? I’d told him such men ought to be declared dead and their estates probated.
Staggering to the bathroom to run a tub full of steamy water, I noticed the sparkle of recent cleaning. The towels on the rack were fresh, and the floor had been swept and scrubbed. Maybe we were not going to be candidates for Can This Marriage Be Saved I thought, sinking gratefully into the hot water.
The sleep and the soak made me feel and look a lot better; there was proof of life, after all. Pete looked surprised to see me up and tidy, hastily pouring the mug of coffee into the sink and offering to make tea. The entire house had been cleaned to perfection, the pizza on the counter looked good, and the hockey game on the screen blinked off before I could say a word.
After we’d eaten, Pete announced he’d invited Jim and Laurie over to watch a hockey game; he’d already made my excuses, certain I would be happier in bed than up and entertaining guests. So certain had he been of the shape of the evening to come that he’d stocked the fridge with beer and bought an extra pizza. Wanting to offer some recognition of his efforts on my behalf, I agreed to go back to bed and leave him to his little party. The couple were not among my favourites anyway; though they were nice enough folks, it was just that I didn’t have much in common with them other than a membership in the same species.
So it was that I was contentedly abed, with tea and a good book and new hope for a full recovery, when the guests arrived. When Pete brought them to the door to acknowledge my presence and wish me well, I noticed they had brought their two young children with them. The feeling of well-being vanished; these kids were known to be rambunctious and uncontained by parental authority. They were the kind of kids that one knew would grow up to be the sort that wrote dirty things in clean places and would never earn a high school diploma. They were a living breathing argument for the practice of placating irritable gods with child sacrifice.
I hissed at Pete, motioning him closer as the guests left to get beer and chose their seats for the game.
What are you thinking, having those kids here? was my sibilant question. Are you mad? At the very least, think of your poor cat at the hands of those little monsters, and your freshly cleaned house.
They couldn’t get a babysitter, Pete whispered, and I didn’t know until they got here. It’ll be OK; I’ll give them some ginger ale and chips and they can play a game or something. He looked anxious, seeing his dream of a sporty, convivial evening vanishing, and the real possibility of a wife not only sick, but irate, looming over him.
He left, and I lay there tense with expectation, waiting to hear the sound of breaking dishes and the futile shouting of desperate parents. Moments later there came a hesitant rap at the bedroom door and before I could respond, two little faces appeared and were quickly followed by two little bodies – on the bed with me. One of the little bodies clutched a dangling Amisi, who though limp, did not appear to be at all distressed by this undignified transport.
We’re going to keep you company, the boy announced. We are good at sick people, the girl said. Our granny was really sick for a long time, and then she died. Can we watch your TV? She grabbed the remote and clicked it on before I could respond, and the screen flickered with a familiar cartoon. We like this one, the boy announced as the kids and the cat all settled into place.
Well, as it turned out, Spongebob Squarepants is a pretty good show; we all laughed and enjoyed it. The kids knew of another channel where they would be showing Spongebob and we watched that, too. Then they fell asleep, and soon afterwards, so did I.
Some reputations are so undeserved, don’t you think?
Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.