© Clare London
I opened the door just a fraction. “How are you?” I whispered, solicitously.
“Fuck off,” came a garbled snort. The body in the bed was buried under the quilt, head hidden deep under several pillows.
“That bad, huh?” I swallowed down the burst of excitement in my chest. “I rang work – I’m taking the day off. You need me here instead.”
“I need you to fuck off.”
I ignored the request, of course. Illness makes him, cranky, y’know? He’s never so aggressive with me normally. Well – he is, sometimes. In a different context. Where it’s more than welcome… Anyway, I know it’s not that, don’t I? He’s lost his appetite for all sorts of things over the last 24 hours.
I’d smirk if I didn’t know how much it’d infuriate him. Perhaps I will, anyway.
I held the door fully open with my butt as I wriggled in with the tray. “Lunch is served! You must keep your strength up. Plenty of cool water, and some chicken soup –“
“Hate fucking chicken soup.”
“It’s best for sickness,” I said briskly, putting down the tray and wrenching one of the curtains back to let in some light. “It’s easy on the stomach. Builds the energy levels up.”
There was an angry moan from the bed. “Shut that fucking curtain! Energy levels perfectly fucking OK –“
“Energy levels most definitely not OK,” I said, firmly. Hadn’t I offered him his usual favourite for breakfast this morning? Not food, exactly… just a warm, eager mouth, down between long, smooth thighs, limbs soft with sleepiness and relaxation. And hadn’t I been scorned? When I got over the shock, I realised how low he’d been for the last couple of days; noticed the crumpled paper from a pack of painkillers beside the bed; heard the slight rasping of his breath when he tried to cough.
My heart sang; my healing skills cracked their knuckles!
I reached for the quilt and flicked it expertly off the curled-up body. He was huddled up at the head of the bed, dressed in nothing but an over-large, washed-out tee shirt. A comfort item, if I wasn’t mistaken! The string of expletives that greeted my invasion was imaginative, and in some Latin language that I wasn’t too familiar with. “Sit up!” I said, sharply. “You can eat something, then I’ll check you out, and then you can sleep some more. Don’t you want to get better?”
“Want you to –“
“I know, I know, fuck off,” I finished for him. “Your language is deplorable when you’re ill.”
“I’m not f- “
“Yes you are,” I snapped.
There was a small, sniffling noise from the head under the pillow. The body wriggled a bit on the crumpled sheets, as if searching for the haven of the quilt. “Yes,” it whimpered. “I am ill.”
I grinned with triumph. That was always the first hurdle. Illness makes him cranky, right? But it also makes him vulnerable. I don’t often get the chance to see that.
The body stuck out a hand, and made a pathetic grasp to regain the quilt. “But I’ll be perfectly OK soon…”
“You will be,” I announced, “with my help and care!” I whipped the quilt up into the air in a flurry of small feathers, and settled it back down again, smoothing it out over him. “That’s better!”
A groan came from the bed. A stray feather was spat out. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
Of course I am, I thought, but wisely I kept it to myself. Instead, I hauled his head out from under the pillows, pressed him up to a sitting position, and plumped the pillows up behind his back. I smoothed the quilt again, and reached to do the same for the damp locks of hair that clung to his forehead. “I like to look after you, OK?”
He batted my hand away with surprising enthusiasm. He was scowling. Looked very cute. “Don’t want you fu-“
“I know,” I sighed. “Just let me wipe your face, you’re all hot and bothered -“
I ducked to the side as the wet flannel sailed past my ear and fell with a squelch on the carpet. “I could get the doctor in if you’d prefer,” I said, slyly. There was some more swearing, mainly about the f* doctor and most of the f* doctor’s antecedents. But he withdrew his flailing hand; it was a minor victory.
He coughed, painfully and rather too obviously, and threw himself back on the pillows with a sigh. “Just let me die in peace, OK?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Cut the melodrama! It’s just flu. A few days rest, with me looking after you, and you’ll be fine.” I reached for the other item on the tray. “Now let’s just check your fever, and we’ll see where to go from there -”
The wail from the bed was a mixture of fury and pleading. “Not the fucking thermometer! I refuse to take it, OK? I’m hot, right? I can see that – I can feel that. Don’t need your hands up my shirt and that stick down my -”
The rest of the protest was lost in a gargle and a gagging noise, as the thermometer slid in over his tongue. I clamped his lips together with my fingers and counted patiently. He hadn’t actually bitten through one yet, but I knew it was only a matter of time.
“Gnrhhh!” he growled, fiercely. I could probably guess the sentiments, even without the vowels.
I tutted, and then peeled it out of his mouth. I sighed with my own mixture of sorrow and delight. “Much too high! I’ll have to fetch some cool water to sponge you down. And you must drink more water. I’ll keep the light low to rest your eyes; no unnecessary talking, that cough is bad and you must rest your throat. Tablets four times a day; nothing but soup for a while. I’ll sleep here on the chair, to be near in case you need me.”
I bustled round the room, letting down the blinds, smoothing that quilt again – what did he get up to underneath it, to ruffle it so often? – and fetching the flannel to wring it out. There were assorted grumbles and wheezes from the bed – a pathetic combination of bad temper and self-pity. He rolled over and buried his head under the pillows again. I just sat patiently beside the bed with the soup bowl on the table beside me, ready to feed him some spoonfuls.
There was a short interlude. He gave a couple of strangled coughs. I could imagine him pursing his lips, as if he thought that would keep the medicine at bay.
“You still there?” he groused, his words mumbling into the feathers.
“I told you to fuck off. I’ll be OK. Why do you have to sit there like that, anyway, like some kinda nurse? I’m a grown man. You’ll just catch the germs, and make yourself sick as well.”
I kept quiet. I straightened the thermometer on the bedside table. I fluffed up the top tissue in the box. I stirred the soup gently, watching it cool.
There was another mumble, but a curious one this time. “So what are you wearing?”
He shifted a little on the bed, so that his head emerged, and an eye peeked round to stare at me. The room was dim again, but his gaze ran up and down me. “The nurse’s outfit, hmm?”
“To the job, the tools,” I said, rather primly. I tugged gently at the short white dress where it snagged up around my seated thighs; I loosened the laces at the neckline. I knew my cap was straight on my head, because I’d surreptitiously checked when I passed the mirror on his side of the bed. I uncrossed my stockinged legs, because that was probably a very unprofessional pose to take in the presence of a patient. I watched his eyes follow the movement, and I softly sighed. I’d wanted to get one of those pocket watches to pin on to my sharply-pressed apron, so that I could hold his wrist and take his pulse, but there hadn’t been one come up on ebay just yet…
His eyes glittered. He coughed again, but he was impatient with it this time. “Sponge bath you said?”
The look in his eye was all too familiar. I was a little disappointed with the way this was going. I’d been looking forward to a few more hours of caring; I’d read up on some methods of lowering temperature and soothing sore throats; I had a new selection of medicines that were cluttering up the bathroom cabinet; I’d begged up some recipes for various soups and broths and soft fruit compotes…
“I could be ready for that in a minute,” he murmured. “You want to take my temperature again?”
I tutted, and wished again I had that pocket watch. “It’s too soon after the last reading. And you should be resting that throat, you should stop talking…”
“Make me,” he growled. He was shifting again in the bed, and the quilt was plumping up in a rather alarming way around his hips. “Come stop up my mouth. But not with the thermometer! Come take my temperature again, but find some other willing orifice…”
I moved the soup out of the way none too soon. His hand was fast, and my outfit was way too short to put up any defence. Amazing, how a fever can give a body such additional strength!
I’m sure the pocket watch would have given me more gravitas; allowed me more professional respect! It’s difficult to remember the Hippocratic Oath when you’re pinned down flat on your back on the bed, with a thermometer clutched in one hand and a damp flannel in the other, and with no idea which one to use first. Despite a multitude of imaginative suggestions being hissed into my ear…
He was laughing, and coughing, and it served him damned well right.
I could see the f* quilt was going to need a whole lot of smoothing again, too!