Mother’s Medicine

by Ian Watts

Jonas was ill again, the poor thing. I heard his coughing from the kitchen: wet and heavy, like a prizefighter’s blows against a sopping blanket. He needed me. He needed his mother. I lifted the gas lamp and went swiftly to his bedside.

When I found him, his body was as damp as his coughs had sounded: a sweat-slick creature, cool to the touch and pallid in his complexion. What was the phrase? “A face only a mother could love,” and I did. My brave boy, fighting to sit upright as his ribs shuddered, without even the suggestion of complaint. My son, my soldier.

“Sorry to wake you, Mama,” he said, and I shushed his apology. This episode had been particularly hard on him; only the barest hint of an impression was left on the mattress as he shifted his weight. I’d make sure he ate well, once his strength was back.

“I’m here, I’m here, not to worry,” I cooed. Dabbed at his brow with my handkerchief, smoothed his distressed curls with a doting hand. “Who’s my light? Who’s my shining star?”

“I am,” he wheezed, and dared a smile. One side of his mouth crooked farther than the other, giving his grin a lopsided shape that reminded me of his father. Jonas’s father had been a beautiful man – beautiful, and faithless. He’d walked out of that house eight years hence, never to return, leaving no trace but the babe in my belly. I didn’t mind. He’d left the child, and the child would always be mine.

I stroked his face, pinching that outsized dimple. Not hard enough to hurt, never, but enough to leave no doubt Mama was there. She’d always be there. “Time for your medicine, love.”

Quickly, quietly – mustn’t make a clatter, mustn’t leave him long – I stole back to the kitchen. Filled a cup with milk, already heated – warm, like a mother’s love. Removed the formula from its hiding place in the pantry, measured carefully (one, two, three, four drops) and stirred it in. Not too much this time; judging by his weight, I’d been too eager. The old dose would kill him before long, and I’d not let him leave me like his wastrel father had. No, I intended to keep him there. In that bed, in that house, under my watchful, loving eye. Forever.

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