I would have thought that nothing could wake me. I had sunk into a blank, motionless sleep. The kind that belies existence. This was partly in defense against the extreme cold and partly due to the very specific kind of exhaustion that comes from traveling over dirt roads in a van with children. Since I had started the road trip, I’d been falling asleep at nine o-clock and waking in the morning with no feeling of having passed the night – so deep were my somnambulant sojourns. So how I could have awakened in response to Murphy simply shifting position on the mat next to my bed is a mystery.
He rolls over. I wake -- sit up in bed, the cold smacking the exposed skin on my wrists. On my neck. I look down at him. His blanket has fallen off of his legs, still in sweatpants. I reach down to pull it over him. He shifts again.
On the twin bed across from me, Pat rolls over. “What is it?” he mumbles.
“It’s Murphy,” I say. “Something’s wrong.”
“What is it?”
“Something is wrong.”
“He just moved,” Pat says, rolling away again and pulling the blankets over his head.
Maybe Pat is right. I lie back down, pull the blankets back up past my chin, locate the hot water bottle with my feet, and breathe.
The blackness of the room has its own temperature, which is colder than the indigenous cold of the room. It’s fucking freezing. Cold on top of Cold. Why didn’t I bring a ski jacket and long johns? Why? Because it’s fucking India, that’s why! Who thinks of India as being colder than outer space? It’s like we’re in a cabin on fucking Pluto. No, one of Pluto’s fucking moons. I cross my arms over my chest under the blankets and slide them under my armpits.
Animals howl. What time was it?
I look down at Murphy. He’s sitting upright in bed. I can feel him more than see him. I hear covers being cast aside. Movement in black on black. Murphy staggers to the bathroom. I fling my blankets off, lurch from my bed to the bathroom, and hit the wall, finding the switch. Murphy is already at the toilet bowl. How did he find it?
His back arches and he heaves. Splash. Echo against the cement walls. Silence. I put my hand on his back, “Are you OK?” Heave. Splash. Gasp. “It’s OK. It’ll be OK.” Silence. Gasp, gasp. Swallow. I touch his hair. He leans back from the bowl. “It’s OK.” Back to the bowl. Heave. Splash. Echo. He’s only seven. Why isn’t this me? In the cold. In a strange bathroom. I could do this. It should be me. My eyes sting. My throat is hard.
Murph heaves. Splash. Echo.
I sit on the edge of the tub. Put my hand back on his hair. He breathes hard. “It’s OK. Are you OK?”
“Yes,” he gasps. Why isn’t he crying? I would be crying. I would be calling out.
Pat appears at the door, “Do you need help? You want me to do this?”
Yes, I think. “No,” I say. I have to do this, I think. I can’t leave him. I’d never sleep through it anyway. And Pat could sleep through a nuclear attack.
“All right,” Pat mutters. “I can do it. Wake me up if you need to.”
I hear him stumble back to bed and I turn to Murphy who is breathing heavily. Put my hand on his head again.
“Do you think you’re done?” I ask.
“I can find a bag or something to take to bed.”
He nods again.
“OK,” I say, standing up.
Murphy stands. Wobbly. I take his hand. Walk him to his mat. Kneel on the floor and tuck the blanket around him. I can still feel the cold. In the roots of my hair, on the cement against my toes. But I don’t care. I kiss Muprh’s pillowy, wet cheek. I rise and sit on the edge of my bed. He is already asleep.
I could feel awful about this. I want to feel awful about this – but that’s too passive. Too easy. I choose something else. Practicality. If he throws up in his sleep, in bed, it will be worse. The violence of his heaving and the amount of bile that came up, tells me that this isn’t over. There’s more.
Either I’ve gotten used to the darkness or it’s gotten somewhat lighter. God knows what time it is. I turn to look at the outline of Pat’s body, swathed in several blankets. I consider resenting him for sleeping but I can’t muster real feeling.
Practicality. A pan. A bag.
I get up, feet smacking the cold cement, and return to the bathroom. Light on. In the corner, I see two buckets. A smaller one hanging inside the bigger one. These are for bucket bathing. Can I use the big one for Murph? What if the hotel doesn’t wash it thoroughly? It’s icky to use it for vomit and then return it to the bathroom. That’s not…
Fuck it. I’m using it.
I grab the big bucket, flip off the light, and feel my way back to my bed. I kneel down and find a spot for the bucket next to Murphy’s head. I touch his hair. “There’s a bucket right here,” I whisper. I can’t tell if he hears me.
I pull myself up to my own bed, burrow under the covers, and wait. It’s impossible to sleep. I hear howling and rustling outside. Something skitters under the window. I become aware of being surrounded by activity that is impervious to nighttime. Maybe even taking advantage of my family’s surrender to insistent, inescapable sleep. I feel predatory intent.
We’re on the edge of a tiger park for fuck’s sake. Of course it’s predatory. Maybe there are no guests here because they’ve all been eaten. We are the last meal to be had for days until the next unsuspecting guests roll up, jazzed by the charming write-up in Lonely Planet.
OK. This is bullshit. I need to sleep.
I look up. I accept the black. Float, float, float in the black.
Rustle. It’s Murph. I’m up. He’s at the bucket. I put my hand on his back. He heaves. Gasps. Heaves again. His back straining.
“It’s OK, my love. You’ll be OK.”
He hangs over the bucket. Why is that all I keep saying? “It’s OK.” What does that have to do with anything? Am I saying that it’s OK to vomit? Maybe. Maybe that’s what I’m saying. Or maybe I’m saying that it’s OK to feel awful. It will get better. This happens to everyone. Is that what I’m saying?
Or maybe I’m telling it to myself. It’ll be OK. Your children will be healthy and healthy in spite of this moment – in spite of what it looks like now.
Heave. Splash. Gasp.
There can’t be more left. My God he barely consumed anything.
Murph pulls away from the bucket, sinks back into his covers.
“I’ll get some Kleenex,” I say. I tread the now familiar path to the bathroom. I don’t put on the light. It must be lighter now. I pull the paper on the toilet roll. Tear it off. Bring it back to Murph. He’s sleeping. Or seems to be. I dab his mouth. I look at his face. He is perfect. Eyelids relaxed. Blonde hair shining. Is that moonlight?
How can he be simply go back to sleep?
I crawl back onto my bed, sit upright and cross-legged, pull the covers up to my waist. Maybe I should get my hat out of my backpack. My head is cold. I should get some sleep. I’ll be dead for the safari at 5:30. Should I wash the bucket and bring it back? What’s the point?
Look, it’s clear. Murph’s not going to be able to go on the safari. There’s no way he’ll make it. I’ll stay back with him.
No. No. He won’t want to miss the tigers. He has to go on safari. What if Spencer sees a tiger and not him? I couldn’t stand that. The disappointment. I can stand the vomiting. I can stand his frustration, his anger, even his dismissal of me. But I can’t take his disappointment. I can’t separate myself from it. It’s excruciating. He has to go on safari. When he sees a tiger it will all be worth it.
Solved. We’re going.
I look down at him. He hasn’t moved.
What am I? Fucking crazy? Drag him on safari so I don’t have to bear the pain of his disappointment? How fucking selfish is that? Let the kid sleep. Rub his back all day.
But the tigers. He was so eager. So excited. He practically plotzed when he saw the stuffed toy one in the rotunda.
Damn it’s cold.
Maybe I should lie down again.
Murphy’s retching and my self-recrimination continued in concert until Pat’s borrowed cell phone beeped and a woman’s voice in a British accent announced, “It’s time to get up. The time is five o’clock. It’s time to get up. The time is five o’clock.” I reached down to touch Murphy. He was already awake.
|5:30 AM, Tiger Safari|