Devout Rituals

     The light shines through the front window in the upstairs hallway, flushed saffron with the first spark of day. Muntin bars mark the window pane and divide the rays into patterned squares. The lace curtain stencils each space to paint a granny square quilt, a faint blush of virgin sun on the cream door. The grey grizzled beard of old man winter lingers on into March. Even after a sleepless night the slow thawing of metallic blue, bleeding over the precipice until it tumbles into the full golden nectarine of the new day, is a welcome sight.

     The mornings are still cold. Even though no one is out of bed yet the hum of the furnace makes the house seem busy and full. I always love the sound of the furnace kicking on. When the house was first built there was no furnace. There were only fireplaces to heat each floor. The old yellow brick chimney still remains but now it is plastered in behind the walls. A gas furnace was added years ago but the lath and plaster walls weren’t built to accommodate duct work so the house is heated by gravity. The high efficiency furnace pushes the heat up to the first level of the house. The warm air makes its way to the second level by rising through large round grates that open the first floor to the second above. The warm air pushes the cold air down the front and back stairs and the cycle (like the days) is repeated again.

     There is no grate in the floor of the front bedroom. That room is my room. Without the grate to let the heat rise up from downstairs I’m occasionally cold, even in the summer. It’s not the largest room but I chose it so I could have a bit of privacy. Sometimes, if there’s an accident on the highway, the traffic picks up a little but other than that the road is quiet and local traveled for the most part. In the winter, at night, I can hear the roar of the plow from miles away. The bed shakes as it passes the house. The winter winds howl and the snow and rain fall, all to no avail. Tucked into bed under the mound of quilts and afghans, with the hum of the furnace singing through the house, I snuggle down deeper satisfied we’re safe from the storms that swirl around us.    

     The day’s arrival puts an end to a second sleepless night. I had lain awake through the hours listening for his breath. His room is just down the hall. I had listened to his teeth grinding, the bed creaking as he tossed and turned and the sound of air passing in and out in sighs and whispers. He said he felt better before he went to bed but every hour or so I’d gotten up to check on him. Feeling for a fever, first with my hand and then gently brushing his hair back to press my lips to his forehead in the hopes of balancing out the ice in my palms. At one point he seemed to wake. Disorientated from within his dream he told me he couldn’t go first and I laughed and told him not to worry about it. His head dropped and he drifted back to where he’d never really left.

     I could tell he was better but I still listened, lying awake until dawn. The night before there had been no sleep for either of us. It had been a long time since he’d been really sick. When he was younger and he’d spend weekends away he’d often come home too tired (he would say too sick) to go to school Monday morning. There had been a string of four day weeks until I’d told him he would just have to tough it out. It was difficult but he’d pushed hard, for me and for himself. He’d gotten tougher or smarter, I wasn’t really sure which but the Monday absences had slowly petered out. 

     He was tired this Monday morning, but not unusually so. He’d made it to school and came home to roast beef with gravy and mashed potatoes for dinner and homemade brownies with a side serving of Cookies and Cream ice cream for desert. Right up to supper time he’d been fine, he was going to hockey, he was looking forward to one of his favourite meals. Then, just before the dinner bell sounded, he was violently ill and would continue to be all night.

     He hadn’t been this sick since he was very small. Strep throat had wrapped him in its own particular misery and we’d sat together in the doctor’s office while he vomited over his fifth outfit of that day. I hadn’t brought an extra one. I’d been so concerned I’d rushed out of the house and Lord knows it was hard to believe that there could have been anything left to still spew out from such a small body. The nurse didn’t try to hide her disapproval. I had just wanted to get him there to find out what was wrong. Later when were back at home and I was bathing him in tepid water, trying to bring his temperature down, I did my best to put it aside but it was too late. I knew I’d never be able to totally bury that fear, now that I’d felt it. I had thought I was going to lose him. He had been so sick and it had happened so quickly and I had felt that I was so helpless really to do anything.

     It was hard to reconcile the image of that roly-poly baby with the ashen faced teenager who stood in the kitchen apologizing. He hadn’t quite made it to the toilet and he’d forgotten, in his rush, to lift the seat. I soaked a face cloth in soap and warm water and washed his face and hands, reaching up to wipe his hair off of his face. After I settled him on the couch with a bucket I set about cleaning up the bathroom. My mind went back again to another night when he’d been unwell.

     At four he’d still been round and sweet faced. When I’d picked him up I must have squeezed a little because as his head reached my shoulder he leaned over and threw up in my waist length hair. He began to cry and I told him not to worry, everyone gets sick sometimes. Then both of us got into the shower, clothes and all. It must have been my imagination but I thought I could smell it for days afterwards every time I brushed my hair.     

     It was still the same, I thought, as I cleaned up the larger puddles with toilet paper. You’d think it would change. He swore as he was sick, man curses. I could hear him through the bathroom door. His new man’s voice was hoarse and surprised at the violence of his own body. I hovered outside the door wanting to help but trying not to embarrass him, this angular stranger gulping and retching in my bathroom. And then he opened the door and he was still my child, the bitter smell of sick and pale face, still mine, even though he towered above me. All that night I sat up with him, bringing him water, emptying his bucket and wiping his forehead. Worrying and watching and in the morning, when he’d weathered the worst of it, I allowed myself to rest but only for a bit.

     Through the day and into the second night I watched and listened though I could see that he would be alright. That moment of fear was once again lived through but it can never be conquered. The thoughts that kept me company through the night ruefully concluded, once again, that it is a terribly hard thing to take your heart out and let it walk free into the world without you.

     As the golden light of morning warms the hallway I lay listening to him breathe. The house is quiet and I inhale and exhale, matching the rhythm of my breath to his. My hands, resting on my chest under a mountain of blankets, feel a faint flutter. I know it’s only a phantom beat. My heart lays down the hall and one door away.

     I wait for his alarm to go off. I know he’ll hit snooze at least three times before he gets up. Most mornings, by the third time, I’m ready to brave the cold of my room and turn it off myself. This day I’m content to let him stay a little longer, maybe he might need me, just a little bit still. I watch the golden copper of dawn harden into the bright light of morning until I hear the sound of his yawns and sighs from the next room and then finally the bed creaking as he rises to greet another day.


15 thoughts on “Devout Rituals

  1. Very well written! Obviously by the hand of a very loving parent! I am glad (sort of) that I came up with a topical ramble but must admit, since scribing it, have been battling a psychological nausea!
    As an aside, I too love the sound of the firing furnace in the quiet of the night!
    Well wishes to the patient!


  2. I could certainly picture every bit of the scene you wrote.  Youa re such an excellent writer….  Hope he is feeling better now.  How well I remember my kids being little and ill. 
    Oh, on the Burma Shave signs…  Have to realize most cars didn\’t travel more than 30 or 40 miles an hour in the 30s and 40s and one probably only met a car once every 10 miles or so…  a lot differen tthan the traffic today..
    hugs, lottiemae


  3. Hey, that was a (grate) story and I hope your boy is feeling better. I am the nurse maid at my house because mom the RN cannot handle vomit . It doesn\’t bother me in the least . I really liked the description of your house and especially your room .
    see me mother can still talk like dat bye and I picked up on your bet you dollars to donuts ting eh


  4. and I swear to Christ The comment sheet was completely empty when I came and I was the third poster when all the dust settled . It isn\’t a contest guys ..jeez… or is it?


  5. ………./|/|/|/|///)……..(((^O.O^)(/)…….())(….>…)(/))))……((///)\\..~../(/((/)//….(///))//¯¯Y¯¯\\.\\(//)))))…(//()(|..|APRIL\\..\\(////)//))..(//)/)).| .|.ALL..\\..\\)(//(//)………..\\  \\..dAY.\\..\\……(¯¯¯\\…\\_|/¯¯\\__\\_______oooooo……..)===ºººº====0000=======)……(____/¯¯¯\\__/……../…./………\\…\\..__./._/………….\\._.\\__(____ /……………(_____)   haha leaving my mark ~ as i pass on thru great space ~ drop in sometime say hello;)


  6. Hot Darn you are a good writer and a good parent.  I am totally impressed.  My grandmother had one of those houses where the grate was on the floor and oh I remember it so well. 


  7. @Pappy
    The furnace just fired up and it is a great sound, all nice and homey.
    My son is feeling perkier and back to cleaning out the fridge. I think he\’s trying to make up for lost time.
    Wow. It\’s sort of hard to conceive of that type of traffic. I live about 10 minutes from a huge highway that sees sometimes 100\’s of 1000\’s of cars a day. Burma shave signs would never make it there!
    Lord Jesus n\’ tunder der bye I\’d recognize dat eccent anywheres
    (as I already mentioned the ex father in law is quite the lyrical linguist). Speaking of "grate" stories I\’m looking for one to replace the 14 by 12 inch basement grate that someone broke last week. Old Victorian cast iron and the best quote I can get at this point is $130 for the grate alone…not such a great grate story… groan
    My hubby can\’t handle even the thought of vomit…he\’d just add his to the mess so it\’s best that I handle anything that smacks of "yucky"lol 
    Nice pic
    I think I\’m probably pretty much the same as most mothers. My husband says I worry too much but I\’d rather be safe than sorry;) 


  8. Even in describing your anguish, you write beautifully my dear Lorna.
    Please forgive this comment comes as it comes late.  Too late perhaps to send well wishes to your boy, but nevertheless I\’d much rather now revel in his recovery and the recovery of his teenage appetite than spend solemn words on hopeful wishes that do little to sooth a mother\’s aching heart.  I\’m glad that things appear to be well again in the House o\’Doone.  May you never suffer a sleepless night for which there is just cause; may your sleeplessness always reach such fortunate ends, for while we cannot help but fret and worry about those whom we love, it is far better for these laments be wasted than to turn out justified.  Were such fearsome powers ever be given to me, I would forever banish such suffering from your abode.
    Peace, love, and happiness to you.


  9. @Simon
    Warm wishes and kind words know no time table. Thank you Simon.
    lol I think that might depend on the mom though. ;P
    Sorry about the delay. As you know I\’ve fixed it up.
    Our children never stop being our children no matter how big they get. =)


  10. Gawd, I love you and your writing!! Can I say that? I LOVE YOU!! YOU ARE SO AMAZING!! You really out to look into publishing a book of short stories. HELLO LORNA!! Our calling is always what we do best . . . not only would you feel great about yourself, you would actually make some nice coin too!! Look at Lee, she stepped out of her comfort zone, and wrote a letter to the paper, now look at her go, there\’s no stopping her!! I really think you should take this seriously. I will wait patiently for your book to come out. I CAN\’T WAIT!! Okay it\’s not just an idea now, I think you have to do it!! Okay you decide what you would like to do. I just get so excited when I think about people doing what they love and are good at for a living. This just may be the dream you never knew you had, and if you DID know you had it, then what the heck. . . What else is there to live for except going after your dreams. If you were your own daughter, and you saw this magnificent talent!! What would you tell yourself? I believe in you!! You really do have a gift in this area. Just seriously think about it. And if the happiness doesn\’t drive you, think about all the money you could make. Okay, I\’ll stop now!! But I didn\’t forget that I LOVE YOU!! YOU ARE TRULY AMAZING!!


  11. Oh and this once I was sick while we were camping and we were about to head back to Edmonton. I was like 19 (approx.) at the time. I was throwing up in the out house with the door opened. And I wished my Mom was there to rub my back or something. But I couldn\’t yell for her because I was throwing up, and you know how that is with the dry heaving and the pain and your stomach wanting to leap out with everything else. Anyway, just then I felt my hair being pulled back and held gently in a hands embrace. It made everything better. When I finally got to turn around . . . it was Tina, my little sister!! That was a special moment. Who would have thunk it, that such a wonderful memory could come from vomiting!! Anyway
    Oh and. I do not know what your house looks like, but everytime you describe it, it sounds like exactly what I long for. I love old Grandma houses. I wish Mike did too, but old stuff reminds him of being poor as a child. Anyway, one day we\’ll agree on something that gives us both a warm cozy feeling!! CIAO


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