Fever on Good Friday

Sean Williamson

Theodor’s fever broke on Good Friday. We had fallen asleep on the couch. Theodor was sweating under a blanket. I was twisted up in a hot afternoon dream: standing on the empty patio at Jess and Oscar’s house in Milwaukee, on an overcast day. We are laughing belly-straining laughter. What else about the dream I can’t recall.

            On that same patio, a few years ago in real life, I stood up as a witness in their tiny wedding and read a quote from Bob Marley. They didn’t have a baby boy then, but he’s big now, Jess sent me a video of him running down the hall in his diaper, dragging a handful of balloon strings, balloons bouncing against each other in the air.

            When I woke, Theodor was soaked with sweat next to me, eyeballs flitting under closed lids. Just a couple days before this, I read an essay about a man who lost his tiny daughter because a brick fell off a building in Manhattan. There is so much dread in parenthood. It is easy to amplify. Just go ahead and tell us what happened, a thing we all know could happen. And we’ll weep at the devastation of a house fire. Forever keep our eyes up, for falling bricks, for grills and satellite dishes, for air conditioning units, raining from the sky. Watch our baby’s fever’s rise and fall.

            We are the hot engines that run our lives. Sometimes we are maintained and fueled. Sometimes punished for nothing. My family is in Wisconsin, living their good lives. They must be in pain, too, but so far away. Is anything worth not being there? Theodor’s eyebrows shine with sweat. Damp ringlets of hair stick to his forehead. He was just a baby once.

            When should I call the doctor? Is this serious enough?

            Washing the dishes and preparing dinner keeps the nervous barf from my mouth.

            One time, at the Walgreens on Metropolitan, Theodor ran away from me across a busy parking lot. I chased him down and twisted his shirt in my fist. Sawyer, the smaller one, was confused and tucked under my other arm. Theodor struggled to free himself, from me, from my fist pushing him against the car.

            “You can’t do that!” I screamed looming over him.

            “Why?” he cried.

            “Because I need you. That’s why!”

            Fruit flies tumble in the air above the sink. My neck and head sting and are sore.

            Sawyer, who was napping in his bedroom stumbles out and cries for want of everything, but will settle for frozen berries. I sit him at the table and before long he looks like a wild baby, just done gorging on road kill. Then he goes naked into the bath.

            Heather will be home soon, and traffic brushes down the street below the apartment. It’s loud like it’s always loud. My mother and father are putting new carpet in our childhood home, they told me. The old carpet still holding hairs from a family dog, dead ten years now.

            If a bubble were to pop in my brain, what would happen to my boys? To the chicken cooking on the stove? To Sawyer in the filling bath? Could they make it another forty minutes until Heather unlocked the door? Don’t we know all the horrible things? Haven’t we listed them in our minds? Christ, how can I make this life go? How can I keep this engine running?

            “Dad?” Theodor says, groggy. “What are you making?”

            “Hi, baby. I made chicken and broccoli and applesauce.”

            “I’m hungry,” he says, then slides off the edge of the couch, then waddles to the kitchen.

            I touch his head. It’s still wet but much cooler. I bend down and put a thermometer in his armpit and it reads 99 degrees, which we can all live with. “Sawyer, are you OK?” I ask.

            Sawyer squeals from the bathtub. There’s better music now.

            Theodor bobs his head back and forth and sits sleepy in the dining room nook, hair drying in a hilarious shape. I fill his construction-themed plate with chicken and broccoli and applesauce, some in each section. He is so hungry and eats everything. His plate fills again. I lean in the doorway between the bathroom and kitchen and assign each one of them an eye. They are happy. More applesauce and all his broccoli without asking. My eyes are hot with tears because he is hungry and smiling and eating, because it’s not for me. Because he doesn’t remember how much I need him, does he?

Heather and I kiss at the top of the stairs and I rush out to my night restaurant job. A crowd walks slowly down the middle of Woodward. Voices chuck a song into the air, cop cars lead the way, bleeping and blipping. Drummers bang out a march. From the back, they chant some Catholic song in Italian. At least I guess it’s Italian. Thousand-year-old women walk with black shawls around their heads. Men push a glass case down the middle of the street. Inside, Jesus lies in a bed of flowers. Following, men in tan suits push the statue of a woman, a pale specter, head bent to the side, in a black hooded robe. They chant and the pale woman looks down at me, my headphones around my neck, dirty high top sneakers, wearing shorts for the first time of the year. I turn my back and outpace them down Woodward. But they follow, Jesus and the specter, the police and the Italian vampires, chanting, “What do you think you’re getting away with?”

Sean Williamson’s feature film debut, Heavy Hands, was an official selection for the 2013 Raindance Film Festival (London). In 2018 he released the audio storytelling series, BLIGHT: Stories in the Key of Decay and Repair. Sean is a Wisconsin native living in Queens with his partner and two sons. His work has appeared at The Millions, Juked, and Maudlin House.

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