Jan 19, 2007

Off to See the Queen

Late last night in the throes of a high fever my seven year old son started to ramble. Mommy? he asked in a voice that was measured and grave...You know that country where the Queen of England is? I wanna go there.

England? I said--putting a hand over his heart--feeling the heat and crazy pounding of his little chest through his flame retardant camouflage pajamas. It was 1:38.

That country, he insisted, where the Queen of England is...that country, that country, that country.

His eyes were open but distant. He was looking at me, and through me all at once.

The country is England, I repeated.

Yes the Queen of England, he said. It’s a different country--I wanna go there Mommy I wanna go, I wanna go there Mommy. The urgent beat of his heart mimicked the urgency of his demand. Like drums building up to a big finish.

Honey, we can go there, I promise. I said.

I want another country--can we go to another country? I wanna go NOW.

Honey, it’s nighttime you’re safe--you’re OK.

I wanna go to another country--he was on the edge of crying.

Sweetheart you’ve been to another country. Germany was another country. Ireland was another country. Remember? I’m not sure why I was going there with him. He was just so alarmed and distraught.

We’ll go to England, I promised.

Where the Queen of England is--he nodded.

An hour earlier he had woken me to tell me that children were falling off the bed. By the time I responded he had sort of snapped out of it though and chuckled--oh yeah he‘d smiled--when I pointed out that it wasn’t true.

He was really sticking to this Queen of England thing though and while requesting a trip abroad, an adventure, isn’t out of the ordinary for this inquisitive world-is-my-oyster son of mine, this was a particularly nutty situation. Did I mention he was scratching his wrist manically the whole time? I reached for his hand--the one that was itchy and looped my forefinger into his fist. It was intended to seem loving and motherly but I was really just trying to stop the scratching. To save this little dry hand from the other one. His aggressive hand started to finger my finger. Sort of grabbing it; sort of scratching it. That’s my finger, I said--lovingly, in the kind of regressive mothering tone you pull out when your older children are sick and could use a bit of babying.

I know, he said. He pulled my finger to his lips robotically, comically.

I want to bite it, he said, and started to sink his teeth into it. The comedy was over.

All of my margins turned icy. I yanked my finger away and shouted for my husband--who had squirreled the girls down to the pull-out couches when we realized at 11pm that my son’s temperature was 104.

My son didn’t flinch, just lied there regarding me calmly. He knew what he was doing and didn’t know what he was doing at the same time. It was as if his internal barometer of reasonable behavior had been reset somehow and all of his actions and ramblings were falling well within the new parameters.

When my husband arrived and I started to fill him in my son nodded along, agreeing with my version of events, not seeing anything wrong with them. Eyes open but the energy behind them something other than the usual lights and sparkles.

He wants to go to where the Queen of England is... I explained. My husband listened compassionately--bewildered in his sleepiness in the dark at the foot of the bed. He administered some fever-reducer and returned to the girls downstairs, leaving me alone with the kind of horror movie I don’t like. The ones with cracked-faced dolls and possessed blonde kids.

And what is it with the Queen of England anyway? Isn’t she the person that the total crazies mention all the time? Or is it the King of France? If you want someone you’re writing about to seem like a real nutcase don’t you have them demand to see, or is it be? the Queen of England? I picture someone with an open-backed hospital gown and a Julia Child-like trill of a voice spouting “I’m off to have tea with the Queen,’ in a white room full of droolers and wardens.

My seven year old probably couldn’t pick the Queen out of a lineup--so Disneyfied is his world of royalty.

In a rational moment--a rare flurry of practicality--I asked him if he had to pee.

No, I just did it, he lied. I just took a bath too, he lied, again.

I encouraged him to go to the bathroom and pee--again--I humored him. I welcomed the light from the bathroom, and the familiar back-to-normal sound of him peeing.

We slept with the lights on.

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