When I was a little girl, around, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight years old, I picked up one of those childhood illnesses. I’m not sure which one it was. All I know is, that I had an extremely high temperature.
It was so high that I started hallucinating, seeing heads with no bodies and matchstick people doing strange exercises over by my mum’s wardrobe.
It freaked my mum right out, I can tell you.
The problem is: it didn’t stop there.
After that illness, any time I had a low grade fever, I’d start hallucinating again.
When I was a kid, I’d get sick and then, you know, hallucinate. And my mum would become unglued.
I’d stay healthy for a while and then I’d pick up a cold or a sickness bug and then suddenly I’d be shoving away floating faces and yelling at stick men and my mum would be ruing the day she ever gave birth to such an oddity.
When I was 17 my hallucinations and I moved out. We moved around a bit and then settled down in a little house, in a little village.
My fevers and my hallucinations had become more of a biennial event, so, in general, I kept them pretty much to myself.
Then my first husband moved himself in.
He stayed overnight, left in the morning and returned in the evening with some clean underwear. He stayed the night again, then left in morning and returned with a chest of drawers, for his clean underwear. He stayed the night and then left in the morning and returned in the evening with pretty much all of his stuff.
He, luckily, was only confronted by my visions three or four times, as he trotted his stuff right back out again after about seven years. He found it all a bit odd, but to be honest, he was more exasperated by my lack of interest in wearing two identical socks simultaneously, and the fact that my tool kit consisted of: a hammer, a bag of carpet tacks, Blu-Tack and some felt pens. The latter concern was not unreasonable. After all, when he went to the loo and yanked on the toilet tissue, it was surely fair enough, that he was horrified, that not only the whole roll, but also the holder and a heap of plaster, came flying towards him.
Looking back, I could have yelled at him for destroying my handiwork with his man-strength.
Instead, I was too busy explaining that that rubbery stuff really was Blu-Tack, despite it not being blue. That, I had cleverly coloured it in with the felt pens so it would match the wall colour.
He did not share my enthusiasm. Instead, he went around dismantling things and replacing them with screws and something called ‘raw plugs’.
It took him a good couple of years to stop shaking his head and to appreciate my talent.
I remember the exact day quite clearly.
We’d been housesitting for my parents for a week as they’d taken a holiday. We’d fed the plants and watered the cat.
On their return I wanted the house to be spick and span. So I did all the washing, changed all the bedding, scrubbed down the kitchen and the bathroom, I even popped out to the local florist and bought flowers as a distraction from the smell of polish. All I needed to do was hoover and wash the floor.
I got the hoover out and sucked away on the deep pile carpet in the hall. Then I entered the kitchen, with the brand new cushioned linoleum. I paused for a second, and then I heard a horrifying noise. The hoover, it turned out, had different settings depending on how deep the pile of your carpet was, or in this case, wasn’t.
I pushed and I pulled but the gurgle persisted so I switched the hoover off.
I lay it on it’s back and then glanced at the floor.
I think my heart actually stopped for a second as it sunk in.
The bloody hoover had sucked a chunk right out of my mum’s new, extortionately priced, linoleum.
Driven by lack of linoleum funds and a healthy amount of fear – my mum is not a person you want to piss off – I raided every drawer in the house until I found, no, not felt pens but crayons.
Felt pens wash off. Crayons are wax. Linoleum is frequently washed.
And so I went to work, crayoning the upper linoleum pattern onto the lower linoleum backing with as much haste as my shaky hands could muster.
My first husband, knowing my mother, went into a full blind panic.
When I’d finished, and tested and retested my work, with a mop and bucket, I stepped back and asked him, “What do you think?” I saw that fleeting you-are-my-heroine look flash across his face and I knew, I just knew that all my Blu-Tack colouring-in had been in preparation for that precise moment.
We hurriedly finished the house, desperate to make a quick get away before my parents’ and siblings’ arrival.
I may be mistress of fraud with a crayon but I cannot lie through my teeth, even if my life depends on it.
We were close to leaving when my parents showed up. So close. We were almost at the back door, in the kitchen. Which meant that the subsequent conversation took part, in it’s entirety, in the kitchen. We enquired about their holiday and made our ‘we need to go ASAP’ excuses, and the whole time, the treacherous cat, stared at the crayoned hole in the linoleum. The same cat that I’d just watered for a week tried to give my game away!!
Years passed. My mum renewed her lino. I renewed my husband. And life trundled along.
My second husband eradicated my sock nonsense and bought himself a bumper tool kit. But the real icing on the cake was that he arrived in my life complete with a full blown cat allergy.
I aged and developed various ailments. The children kindly brought home and shared around all the bugs, nits and noroviruses that they could catch at school. The frequency of my fevers increased steadily, to every few months, rather than every couple of years.
And there had been a new development. With an even slighter rise in temperature, I found myself having restless nights and on waking that I’d turned upside down in my bed. Yup, suddenly I’d wake up in the morning and my face would be, well… facing my husband’s hairy feet.
On Sunday, our youngest child woke us up at 4am having grabbed an illness which ran pretty much like this: vomit, 40°C fever, bad headache, sore neck; which thus sent us into a tailspin, having already gone through one child fighting against meningitis. So we did the mega-alert, test-the-temperature-every-fifteen-minutes for any increase, thing. Actually, we were so anxious that we checked every five minutes. For two and a half hours. Then we started to notice a decrease, so we gave her some Nurofen and some water, and tried to sleep a little.
Her illness developed: sore throat, tissue boxes worth of snot, nose bleeds, a sore eye. The child, who normally puts the bounce in the word bounce, lolled around on the sofa.
Her fever stayed fairly steady for three days.
Three whole days.
For three days, she breathed her hot breath into my face as I stuck the thermometer in her ear and nursed her brow.
For three days, she passed me snot filled tissues and empty glasses so I could replenish her water.
For three days, I was filled with dread because at 38°C, I feel the need, somehow, to cuddle up to my husband’s feet. For three days, I despaired because at 38.5°C, I visualise hovering heads and exercising matchstick men.
What on earth would 40°C mean for me?
On the fourth night, one feverless child lay in her bed and slept soundly. Her mother, on the other hand, kept waking up, thinking that, at any moment, she would be violently sick. Then the feeling would subside, she’d lie back down and snooze again.
At around 4am she found herself sitting, bolt upright in bed, thrashing her arm wildly. Her stunned husband called out to her, “Are you having a nightmare again?”
“No.” She said matter-of-factly. “There’s a scarecrow.”
Because she could quite blatantly see a green grass (rather than brown straw) scarecrow, pogoing in the middle of her bed.
Now I know what happens at 40°C. I have an even better imagination.