‘I feel terrible.’
So did I. I had been screaming for milk for a good minute or so now and still I found my mouth devoid of that familiar taste. ‘Oi!’ I shouted, angrily. ‘Why is there no milk pouring into my mouth this instant!’
Mother staggered into the bedroom. ‘I feel dreadful, too’ she moaned.
Her as well. ‘Milk! Now! Otherwise I am going to…I am going to…’ What? What could I threaten them with to jumpstart them into action? ‘I am going to… start screaming the minute I hear that cork pop this evening.’ That seemed an appropriate threat. The last time I had done that, Mother and Father had looked as disheartened as if they had found out they’d won the lottery but lost the ticket.
‘The baby needs feeding,’ mumbled Father, his voice muffled by the cover he had pulled over his head.
At last, someone had finally realised what I was requiring. ‘Thank you,’ I replied.
‘You’ll have to feed her,’ said Mother.
‘Me? I can barely stand up. You’ll have to do it love.’
‘I can’t. I daren’t move too far away from the toilet.’
‘Do you think she’ll wait?’ asked Father, doubtfully.
Did he think I’d what? Now, this really was unacceptable. Standards in this house have always been questionable; more than once Mother has kept me in the same babygro a night and a day in a row, too lazy to administer a change. Of course, she would tell a different story: ‘It’s like wrestling a bad-tempered snake. I just couldn’t face it today.’ And I can’t be certain but I have a feeling that there has been the odd occasion, at 3am, when Mother and Father have caught a whiff from my nappy and promptly shut their eyes again, feigning sleep. But I have let these things pass, put their blunders down to their inexperience and, quite frankly, their obvious idiocy. But I wasn’t going to let this go. I screamed robustly.
‘She’s not waiting for anyone,’ confirmed Mother over the noise, and dejectedly, Father went off to prepare my milk.
I watched as Mother dragged herself back into bed and for the first time I noticed that she didn’t seem herself. Her face was grey, her eyes bloodshot and she looked as if she hadn’t slept for a week. Mind you, Father, returning to the bedroom, wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests any time soon. He looked horrendous; he’d gone to bed in his thirties and woken up in his seventies, by the looks of things.
I wondered what was behind their obvious maladies and I did not have to wait long for the answer.
‘How long had those prawns been in the fridge?’
‘I dunno. I thought you’d bought them the other day when you popped to the shop.’
‘I went to the newsagent’s. Whatever made you think that I’d bought them there?’
‘I dunno. Gosh. I guess they’ve been in there…for a while.’
‘Didn’t they smell funny?’
‘How should I know? You know I don’t have a very good sense of smell. Anyway, you tasted them and never noticed.’
‘That’s because I couldn’t taste anything other than spice. There was so much I could hardly see for crying. Talk about hot.’
‘If you didn’t like it, you should have said.’
‘I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.’
‘Maybe it wasn’t the prawns.’
‘It was the prawns. I feel horrible.’
‘Me too. I was sick about five times this morning.’
I finished the last drop of milk and at last was sated. ‘Perhaps she’ll go back to sleep now,’ suggested Mother. Not likely! I was full of vim and pep, ready for a busy day ahead. I had set myself a challenge for the day – I believe it is always good to have goals. I had my eye on the giraffe on my play mat – I was determined that today would be the day that my hand finally made contact with it. I had put a solid five hours work in yesterday and my fingers had come tantalisingly close to the little’s giraffe’s feet. I was so close to victory I could almost taste it.
Father carried me slowly downstairs, leaving Mother behind in bed: ‘I’ll just have half an hour,’ she called down after him; even I could tell from her tone that she was lying. I was pretty appalled, if I’m honest, at her laziness. I was also unimpressed by Father’s own slovenly attitude. I noticed he was still garbed in his pyjamas. ‘You could have got dressed,’ I chastised him firmly. He pretended not to hear.
All was well for a while. Father was lying prone on the sofa, the bin beside him which I had seen him retch into a couple of times. I tried to tut in disgust but then remembered I hadn’t actually learnt that particular skill yet. Instead, I preoccupied myself with Mission: Giraffe, a course of action which engrossed me for quite some time. Then, I don’t know what happened but quite suddenly I turned on the giraffe. Abruptly, and without warning, it occurred to me that I hated the giraffe with a passion.
‘I don’t know what I want to do now,’ I screamed loudly. ‘But I want to do something other than lie here next to this hideous object. Get me away from it now.’
‘Help!’ called Father, pathetically. No response. ‘HELP,’ he tried again.
‘I’m sleeping,’ said Mother, nonsensically.
‘Your turn,’ said Father, firmly. Well, as firmly as a man who had gone an unfortunate colour of green could.
There was the sound of movement upstairs and then a thud, thud, thud as Mother took heavy footsteps down the stairs. It took me a moment to recognise her. Her hair was wild and her eyes dark. She’d obviously been sleeping heavily.
‘That’s the last time I make prawn surprise,’ muttered Mother, bitterly.
‘That’s the last time I eat your prawn surprise,’ responded Father, earning himself a stern look from Mother. There was some hope then; she hadn’t lost her ability to scold.
Father sighed. ‘Do you remember the old days? When being ill meant a day on the sofa.’
‘And not having to move for anything.’
‘And lying under blankets, watching-‘
‘Excuse me!’ I interrupted, loudly. ‘When you’ve quite finished your trip down memory lane,’ though I found it quite bizarre that they were recalling past illnesses with such fondness ‘I have a rather pressing issue in the nappy department.’
‘Oh. And the baby needs changing,’ threw Father over his shoulder as he made a hasty exit back up the stairs.
I have to say, I really did not think there was any need for Mother’s histrionics. Gagging and claiming that she was ‘going to throw up.’ And her comment ‘that’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen’ was completely unnecessary. I registered my annoyance strongly.
‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘I’m calling Mum.’
Half an hour later, Grandma and Grandad were marching in.
‘Well look at the state of you. Up you go to bed. You look dreadful. What on earth have you been eating? You haven’t been cooking again have you? I thought we’d agreed you weren’t going to do that anymore. Not after last time. Let me feel your temperature. You’re burning up. Up, up, up you go. And you’re not to come down til you’re feeling better. I’ve got everything under control here.’
Grandma was like an incoming whirlwind. In almost one move, she managed to get me settled happily in front of my mirror with my beloved RoRo at my side; clean away my nappy which Mother – allegedly – was too nauseous to do herself, and take care of the ‘patients’ with glasses of cold water and cooling flannels. Grandad trailed behind her, exuding calm and patience and unwavering support.
I watched in awe. But there was something quite familiar about their actions. I realised what it was – they reminded me of my own parents, running around after me, feeding me milk and wittering on about utter rubbish. And then I realised something else. This would be me, thirty years from now, being mollycoddled like I was, well, a baby again. I mused upon this for a moment. Blimey, would I never have Mother and Father off my hands and off my back? Probably not, I admitted. And actually, I thought I might be ok with that.
‘I was going to make a sandwich,’ suggested Grandad. ‘There’s some prawns in the fridge. Want one?’
The look Grandma gave him could have freezed water.