I wake my son up at 7am. Its a school day. He groans a little. He moans a little bit more. He flops back the covers and shows me his face which is the palest white and tinged with pink. Its a very subtle change to his normal colouring but there is a change all the same. I lean in closer and feel his forehead. He suddenly seems younger than his 13 yrs.
'What's the matter?'
'It's hard to swallow. My throat hurts. I feel a bit achy'
I tell him to go back to sleep and quietly closing the door I leave him in peace.
I phone the school. There is a history trip the next day, one that he has been looking forward to and has commented on endlessly during the past couple of weeks. I speak to matron, at school, who says there is 'something going around'. He gets crossed off the list. I know he will be disappointed.
I pop out to the shops to get some milk. I also pick up a pack of 4 pains au chocolat. Something nice for him to eat when he wakes up - if he is hungry. He would usually have toast or porridge but porridge seems too heavy for someone unwell and toast too throat-scratchy.
A couple of hours later I go up again and he is awake but subdued. I feel his head - he is a little warm - and tell him he will have to miss the trip tomorrow. He doesn't say anything.
'Are you hungry darling?'
'Pains au chocolat?'
'I think I could manage...a couple'
I pop them in the oven and turn it on. Within minutes the house is filled with the sweet smell of chocolate and pastry. I manage to remember to take them out before they burn. I have developed a knack for burning toast and this happens most mornings. Its almost expected of me. I always manage to start another task before the toast is ready, then I forget, and then its too late. No-one even comments when the smoke alarm lets off its familiar shriek and I then hurl myself up the stairs madly flapping with a tea-towel to shift the charcoaly drift.
My son stays in bed for most of the day. He becomes a voice that calls out periodically for water or food or a little conversation. I spend my time running up and down. Sometimes the dog gets into the spirit of things and follows me, cantering back and forth. Or else she hangs around the upper landing and monitors my progress by watching through the banisters. It's a pleasant enough day, and by evening my son is clearly much better.
'Can I have those last two pains au chocolat?'
'No, they're for breakfast'
'I'll have toast for breakfast...so can I have the pains au chocolat now?'
'No, have some toast instead...'
Things start to get tetchy. It always happens when we have been cooped up together all day. He announces that he wants to go on the school trip. I explain that he can't, he has already been crossed off and anyway the school won't want him infecting everyone so he should stay at home another day and return when he is 100%. He says the infectious period has already passed. The argument begins to get heated. No matter which way I try to approach this I seem to be falling short of a valid answer. He does seem better. We decide to get up early, get to the school well before the coach is due and see if he can go.
First thing in the morning and he is fine, sitting up in bed within seconds of waking and eager to get going.
I go downstairs to make breakfast. The pains au chocolat have gone. I start to make toast. My son arrives in the kitchen, dressed for school but his manner is edgy. Outside it is as black as the dead of night.
'Mum, just drop me at school and go, don't hang around chatting to anyone. I'll sort it out'
'I can't darling, I have to get you signed in, we'll have to find a teacher just to check that they actually still want you on the trip. Then I'll go'
I seem to cause my son immense embarrassment. Its either the way I dress or my voice or how I interact with others. I do it all wrong. He says I also manage to smile inanely at his friends or to stare moronically. And apparently I 'creep them out'. He runs his hands through his hair and looks at the ceiling.
'Oh god! just try not to talk to anyone then...and don't call me darling'
The smoke alarm goes off. I scrape the burnt bits off the toast and patch-work together what is left with butter and marmite. I confidently assure him I will be as quick and monosyllabic as possible, I won't communicate with any of his friends, I'll keep my eyes down, I won't call him darling and I'll get off the premises as soon as physically possible. I easily remember how my own mother would some times drive us to school wearing a coat thrown over her nightie. It seems funny now but my sister and I were mortified at the time. And anyway, I'm nothing like as bad as that.
We are at the school by 6.45am and the grounds are shadowy and shrouded in silence. Teenage boys and girls are wandering around in secretive twos and threes, they loom, like the un-dead, in and out of the darkness and go to and from various doors. There is no coach to be seen and certainly no teachers. In fact I can't see any adults at all.
We wait outside one of the main school buildings. I didn't have time to wash and dry my hair earlier and as it was sticking up on one side I stuck on a small black felt hat, pulling it down over my face, but now I discover that it is pulled down so low that in order to see anyone I have to keep throwing my head back and screwing up my eyes as each person passes by just to check to see if they are an adult or a child.
'Look at you!' he hisses 'you're such a weirdo!!'
A large coach then begins to crawl majestically up the school drive and from all areas more children begin to emerge. But its still pitch black and it seems a little odd that there aren't any teachers around. We stand together but apart. The gap hurts.
And then at last, out of the darkness, I see a man approaching. He is coming from the kitchens and is carrying a deep tray filled with apples, bottles of water and packed lunches. I am so relieved to see another adult that I throw back my head, squint under the brow of my hat and give the man a big smile. From 2 feet away I can feel every nerve-ending in my sons body dehydrate, shrivel and permanently dry out.
The man turns out to be the history teacher. He is just the man we want. He seems pleased that my son has made the effort to come in and says that yes, of course, he can still go on the trip.
I notice that my sons fists are clenched into tight balls but I don't think I've done too much wrong.
I turn to say goodbye reminding myself to keep it short and to the point. I'm now thankful I can hand him over safely and that I haven't caused him too much torture. I lean back, peer out from under the rim of my hat, squint, smile and limit myself to two words.
He gives me a look with a total lack of expression and shakes his head negatively from side to side in a very slight slow manner. He starts to walk away with his teacher.
I smile inanely...then, realising my gaff, I stare moronically after him.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn.