And when they were down they were down…” ~The Grand Old Duke Of York, English Children’s Rhyme
We’ve only barely walked in the door from a ripper weekend in Walhalla where we rode the old NA Class Locomotive along the Walhalla Goldfields Railway and walked the bush trail to the Horseshoe Bend Tunnel and visited the Walhalla Cemetery to view the hundred year old grave stones baring the names of entire families when Archie’s nose starts leaking like an old cow’s teat and Lewis launches a monster of vomit all over the kitchen floor.
The last song we were listening to in the car was the children’s classic The Grand Old Duke Of York but I’m almost certain that this was not the cause of the sudden outbreak of illness, (because as a family we find it to be an uplifting song which rewards the astute listener with its punchy beat and suggestive lyrics at the same time that it projects a sense of order and predictability about the world and an awareness that we’re part of a collection of souls reacting to the peaks and pits of life in a uniform and, most likely, biologically predetermined way,) and so after ruling out any out-of-date or badly cooked foods I explain to the boys that the culprits are most likely bacteria inside their bodies which are so small that it’s impossible to see them without the assistance of an electron micrograph.
When Lewis asks me how they got inside him my heart melts at his innocence.
‘Be quite and vomit,’ I tell him.
‘Did they fly in me?” he says, midstream.
‘Shhh, don’t talk while you’re vomiting,’ I say, patting his heaving back, ‘You sound like Chewbacca… silly.’
Reservoir Mum is trawling through the emerging contents of Archie’s nose with a box of tissues when she says, ‘Tyson feels hot… and my throat’s a little sore.’
Outside I hear a noise which I find hard to distinguish. A strong wind, thunder perhaps, or the furious flapping of one hundred thousand vampire bats. No, it seems to hold more weight… it’s either the poisonous rolling after-cloud of a recently dropped nuclear bomb carrying nothing but the promise of death and devastation towards me, or the sound of hours, days, of my life being torn away from me as I spend the rest of the week charging selflessly into the bodily explosions of my family’s overwhelmingly contagious pestilence.
It seems that the latter is true. My entire family is sick and I have only had an hour’s sleep spread over several attempts as each time my alpha waves begin to give way to delta waves the cry of a child shocks me from the warmth of my godly-warm doona to the early winter chill for a fresh explosion of vomit, or a chesty coughing fit or a writhing achy wail. I’ve been changing sheets, pillow-cases and pajamas and emptying buckets and filling water bottles, replenishing tissue boxes, and administering Nurofen while rocking the boys and rubbing their backs and soothing their minds with clever lines like, ‘Almost there mate’ and ‘It’s okay, Daddy’s here’ and ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’, and the exhaustion has me buckling over.
As I rub Archie’s hair to help him relax I begin to nod off and I think of a half-nude David Hasslehoff eating burger off a cold floor with his eyes closed-over in drunkenness and I know how he feels. (I know how you feel, poor David!)
I wake to Lewis spewing again and find that I have fallen asleep on Archie’s head. After checking his ear for the appropriate circulation and my forehead for an ear-print I take the bucket and its contents from Lewis’s bed, place it on the floor, have a quick glance at the clock – 5.10 – and place my head on Lewis’s stinky pillow. I put my arm around him and my hand falls on his Kermit The Frog teddy. It feels wet. I throw it casually off the bed and when I hear it say, ‘Choo-choo, shithead’ I know I’m on the verge of complete meltdown. The house is finally quiet. Sleep is a possibility. Images flash before me randomly as my mind shuts down.
I’m driving the Walhalla Gold Field train and with my head outside the window scouting ahead for danger I am aware, without even turning back, that Reservoir Mum, Archie, Lewis and Tyson are riding separately in each of the four carriages and are relying on me for their care and protection. Reservoir Mum’s carriage is infused with a soothing lemon-sip throat lozenge fog. Archie’s carriage is a big tissue box which serves to absorb mucous before it even appears, and he has an endless supply of fruity cough-lolly drink-boxes to slurp from. Lewis’s carriage is a big bucket of Maxolon and Tyson’s carriage is a giant lactating boob. Up ahead there is a sign saying, Wellness 2 km and being joyfully overwhelmed by my ability to get my family through this tumultuous time I begin to sing…
‘Oh,the Grand old Duke of York, He has ten thousand men, He marched them up to the top of the hill, And he marched them down again.’
I scream out triumphantly as we enter the town of Wellness but again I hear a frog-like voice say, ‘Call me Duke, shithead’ and there’s Kermit, sitting on the front of the engine. He has a large handlebar moustache, is wearing a grand military jacket with very shiny buttons and is carrying a golden cane. He looks very dignified and I can’t help but feel a level of admiration, but as he says, ‘You’ve defeated the symptoms, Daddy, not the illness’ the mouths of my family are forced open wide and ten thousand tiny Kermit the Frogs are spewing into the air in four bee-like lines until they merge and regroup, full-sized, hovering behind the Duke. His men have suffered a temporary defeat. They’re down but they’ll be up again when they find a point of entry into their next victim – me.
I put the breaks on and the train skids to a halt and as the ten thousand Kermits make their way towards me I search desperately for the reverse lever but it suddenly occurs to me, for some reason, that I’ve never driven a train before and that there might not actually be a reverse lever. When I hang out the side window for another look I see the Kermits are already entering the train and the Duke is sitting and winking at me like a short-circuited robot, ‘Choo-choo shithead,’ he says. ‘Choo-choo.’
The Kermits turn microscopic and as I don’t have a microscope I am rendered helpless. ‘Choo-choo’ he says, again, reaching out to tap me on the head with his golden cane, as I feel his men charging the entry and exit points to my body so that they can breed and grow and overwhelm my immune system with the sheer weight of their numbers, ‘Choo-choo, Daddy.’
‘Choo-choo, whaty?’ I scream, as my temperature rises and my nose begins to run.
My throat burns a fiery red as I yell, ‘What do you want from me?’ and just as I’m about to surrender to The Grand Old Duke and his ten thousand men I hear Lewis’s voice and my eyes open.
‘Daddy,’ he says, tapping me on the head.
‘What the fffff….’ I say, looking at the clock. It’s 5.55am. ‘Hi mate. How you feeling?
‘Good,’ he says. ‘I want breakfast.’
Reservoir Mum wakes and finds me staring out the kitchen window giggling and singing, ‘And when they were up they were up, and when they were down they were down…’ There’s banana peel in the toaster and I have a pair of Tyson’s pants on one foot.
‘You should really go to bed I think,’ she says. ‘You look terrible.’
“Hey!’ I say, attempting to give her a hug.
She recoils. ‘You stink of spew. There’s snot and vomit stains all over you,’ and after reaching up to feel my forehead, ‘Jesus, you’re burning up.’
‘I’m just so hot for you… I feel fine,’ I say, with a hyena laugh, before popping the toaster, placing the banana peel on a plate and saying, ‘Here, sit at the table and eat your breakfast.’
She grabs my face with her hands and tells me again to go to bed and even though it serves to focus me I still feel as if the rhythm of the Duke has me on puppet strings and I begin dancing in front of her and gyrating, as I sing ‘and when they were only halfway up they were neither up or down’ and I am suddenly very aware of how Marvin Gaye/Tom Jones sexy I am and I lean towards her mid air-thrust to say, ‘I’m going to sing this next time we’re making looooove…’ and, with all the Austin Power’s seduction I can muster, finish with …. ‘baaaby‘.
Reservoir Mum looks, sighs, and pushes me towards the stairs to bed as she says – so nonchalantly that I almost believe her – ‘There won’t be a next time, baby.’
But we all know the truth, don’t we…