Why is it that I crave Mum whenever I feel ill? Those viruses that knock you sideways, and chain you to your bed, willing but unable to move. Those are the times when I think – if my Mum were by my side, everything would be just fine.
I dream of that woman – a mother that asks me what I need, and changes my sweat-soaked bed after a couple of days. A mother who brings me grapes – red grapes, the one she remembers are my favourite. A mother that sits with me when I’m fed up, so we can watch a film together, with the sound turned right down so it doesn’t make my head hurt. She’s a mother that tells me stories of her life, and opens up in the intimacy of my bedroom, and this time becomes precious, and horrible, or horribly precious.
She calls into the office for me and says that she’s my mother and can confirm that I’m unwell. It’s serious, she tells them, and I may need to rest for a while.
She’s a mother that cancels her appointments, so she’s available if I need her. She’s a mother that doesn’t answer her phone when we’re talking, because she knows I need her, and she’s wants to be near me. It’s just a virus, but she’s a mother that cares, and she knows how to care for me.
I dream of this woman, in my deep and feverish sleep.
And my real Mum? If she were here she’d be telling me to pull myself together, dust off the fever, and get the hell back to my desk.
“You’ll lose your job with all this time off,” she’d say, “a whole day feeling poorly, and you’ve only been there six months.”
She’d light a cigarette, inhale as if it was her last, and sink into a diatribe of motherly discontent.
“You fill us with worry, your father and I. You’re fragile, you get ill, we’re at our wit’s end.”
“If you’re not ill,” she’d continue, “you’re having some sort of crisis – your boiler’s stopped working, you’ve rejected another perfectly decent boyfriend, or you’re off on a holiday somewhere dangerous.”
“You know you’re sending us to an early grave.”
She’d pace the room, light another cigarette, make a coffee, but be too stressed to drink it. She’d see my father walk past the kitchen window.
“Barry, your daughter’s ill, she hasn’t gone to work today,” she’d say.
My Dad would appear; “She’s ill? Tell her to eat some meat, that’ll sort her out.”
“You’ve to eat some meat,” Mum would relay back, as if I hadn’t heard, “A steak, with potatoes and gravy. Followed by apple pie and custard.”
And then I’d feel a twinge of love, and know that she cared.