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March 27, 2008

The Midnight Cough

You hear it. First, from a distance. Then it breaks through. You are dumped out of the island hammock that is REM sleep. You do not open your eyes but you roll them. Cough, cough. You pull the pillow over your head. You count. Five, six, seven— Cough, cough. She had it last night too. It never stopped. Not until she stood up. It’s postnasal drip, you can tell. Cough, cough. Nine seconds that time. Maybe it’s slowing. Cough, cough. You should get up. You might as well. It’s not going to stop. Would your husband get up if he were here? Not in a— Cough, cough. Will she wake up her sister? Why do they sleep in the same room? It was your husband’s idea. You could shoot him. If she wakes her up— Cough, cough. Get up. You gotta get up. Where are you slippers? It’s so cold. What time is it? Don’t look, you shout to yourself without speaking. Don’t ever look at the clock in the night. That insomnia article said— Cough, cough. Get up. Get up right now. Put an end to it.

You are up. A little lightheaded. You move towards the hall. Were you always this stiff? Is this why they say parenthood is for the young? Cough, cough. There is no cup in the bathroom. How could there be no cup in the bathroom? The cleaners. Why do the cleaners always take the cup—it’s like they hide it, along with your face lotion and your kitchen sponge— Cough, cough. You are down the stairs, in the cabinet, at the fridge. You press the cup against the door. The light—don’t look at the light. You’ll never get back to sleep if you lookCough, cough. You are upstairs again. In the bathroom again. You have to turn on the light over the sink. You keep it low. Where is the Tylenol Cough? What’s this…Robitussin…from 2004. Is that expired? I’ve gotta throw some of this shit out. Cough, cough. Why do we have so much Motrin? Oh yeah, Costco. God, I haven’t been to Costco in years. Well, here’s some Tylenol Flu. Bad idea? Cough, cough. It’s all you’ve got. The little measuring cup—where is the little cup? Goddammit. How many little cups have we gone through? Don’t get mad, you say gently to yourself, it’ll wake you up. Cough, cough. You take the open bottle to your kid, oh and here’s a lozzie. That’ll help. You're at her bedside now. She’s hot and red. “Claire, honey, take a sip…”

CRY (as if dropped-the-ice-cream) “Okay, have a little water. Sit up. Two hands, there you go. Now,” you say as you bring the Tylenol Fl to her lips, “just a sip of—“ CRY (as if car-running-over-toes) “Claire, honey, you have to just take a quick sip so you can sleep—“ CRY (as if lion-charging–her-full-on) “Okay, forget it.” You put down the Tylenol Flu dramatically. “Have this lozzie.” Whimper. “It’s the lozzie or the medicine,” you say to her in the dark. “It’s too spicy,” she half-whispers. You tell her this is the minty kind. She succumbs. “Okay good. Okay lie down now.” Stroke, kiss.

You walk quietly back to your room and slip back into your bed. Still warm. You are so happy to be there. Silence. You imagine her sucking her lozzie on her side and then her back. Silence. Is she okay? Is she choking on her lozzie? You want to check. The coughing wasn’t that bad. You should get up. You are crazy. She is five. She knows how to suck a lozzie. Silence. She could swallow it whole. She could die. Tonight. Just so you could sleep. More silence. Did you put the cap back on the Tylenol Flu? What if she drinks it? All of it. Silence. You know what’s coming. You looked into the light. You know what time it is.