The boy is lying on the couch in his red long-johns, the ones patterned with jolly snowmen. His temperature finally lowers enough for him to be antsy, goofing off with the thermometer, but still looking very small.
Sunday he carefully packed the giant wheeled duffle full of snow clothes and work clothes. Monday he woke at five a.m. and tried to go back to sleep, too excited. Ready for school early, he spent a quarter of an hour watching the sunrise over the harbor in the big front window, collecting extra hugs. At one point he leapt up to hug me and banged his forehead on my tooth—I took it worse than he did, seeing stars.
Then Brendan was whisked away to meet his third-grade class for five days on an organic farm, nearly four hours drive west from here. Madeleine and Scott dropped him off at school and I settled in to meet a Monday midnight deadline.
Six p.m., Brendan’s teacher called to say Brendan fell asleep at dinner (no surprise) but when he woke it was with tears, saying his head hurt. From my tooth? I wondered. We traded notes on how I treat headaches at home. Madeleine wrote her essay on Gilgamesh at the kitchen table, while I worked on my laptop.
10 a.m Tuesday, Brendan’s teacher phoned to report a fever of 102 degrees, and another kid Will was feeling sick, too. It seems half the class contracted the flu last week. Rebecca, the other adult chaperone, just nursed her own son through this, and offered to sit with Brendan in the living room of the big farm house. He wanted to stay, in case he felt better and could feed animals and go sledding. We all thought Brendan would be more comfortable sleeping off his fever than riding in a car.
1 p.m. Giant snow and ice storm predicted for morning.
3 p.m. Tuesday, the teacher phoned to say Brendan changed his mind and wanted to come home. Will’s family was coming to pick him up, and Brendan could ride with them.
4 p.m. The phone rang again with the report that Brendan’s fever was 103.8, and did I still want him to ride in the car for that many hours? Will’s parents worried Brendan’s fever would spike higher as they traveled, but they were already packed and ready to travel. We arranged a place for me to meet along the highway.
Strange, this feeling: it seems wrong for this boy to suffer a fever so far away from me. Tightness in my neck and shoulders, tightening further. I’d need to start driving by 11 to meet them. I was ready by nine, and pacing.
I’d never seen Brendan suffer a fever like this. He sleeps through fevers, not raging like his sister, who fights fever restlessly. I asked my friend Emily to drive so I could keep him company in the backseat, not wanting him to be alone in case he was shivering or hallucinating. And I fretted. I poured Brendan’s favorite hot tea into a thermos (9 p.m.) and pretzels, chewable medicine, a blanket, then I burrowed into some internet research to escape my furious worry.
11p.m. Forced Emily to speed to the meeting point. Worried us through a highway detour that seemed endless, though it only took a few minutes, the flashing police lights made me even more irritable.
12 midnight, Got the phone call to say Will’s family had pulled into our meeting place. A turnpike toll collector told us how to go into the next town to reverse directions on the turnpike but I insisted Emily U-turn illegally. (She waited until the last possible minute, still weighing options.) No sirens, and hopefully no photos of my friend breaking the law. (She is changing her license plates today, but I don’t think that would ultimately help.) We pulled into the turnpike rest station as Will’s mom pulled the giant duffle out of her trunk, and Brendan looked at me and waved from his backseat window. (He waved!) Emily threw the trunk open and grabbed the luggage while I opened Brendan’s door. He was clutching his teddy bear and fleece sleeping bag and stuffed dog, while he whispered, “Bye, Will. Hope you feel better soon.” We settled him into the back seat. Because he is Brendan the barrage of questions was not slowed by his fever. Why are we riding in Emily’s car? Because I wanted to ride with you in the backseat, so you wouldn’t be alone. Where are daddy and Madeleine? They are sleeping in case they need to go to school tomorrow. I asked if he wanted to drink the chocolate milk he was also clutching and he said no, but it felt good to hold the cool bottle against his forehead.
“And my fever is down to 101!” He talked to me the whole way home, keeping track of the minutes that passed as Emily drove. We saw a car pulled over by the police and I told Emily she could slow down, after all. The tightness released when I saw him, and he was not listless but lucid. We would be okay, and we just needed to get home. I lowered from near-panic to simple, basic worry.
He hoped it would snow all day, he said as he climbed the stairs. But he would be sad not to shovel.
Wednesday, we woke to what would be an all-day snow, beautiful white-out. Brendan made us vow not to shovel anything, and we all agreed. By evening, rain washed most of the snow away. Brendan had a few good hours without fever, but was too tired to go out for hamburgers and fries.
Thursday is sunny with blue skies, and a boy on the couch sniffling and fiddling with the thermometer. He is not well enough to be irritable. I am reading and tidying up around the house, making him drink any liquid I can talk him into. If he must be sick, I’m glad he is here, while he is still so small. How either of us will handle the next fever away from home is anyone’s guess. But I’m glad to be here, today. And glad for him, and the red long johns he will grow out of, any minute now.