Nana: Like many of my other recent fics, this was written for dncontest, a community on Livejournal. The prompt this time was 'children'. Anyway, this is from the point of view of Mikami's mother, who I call Atsuko. Enjoy!
Sue The Alarm Clock
The alarm clock blares at six in the morning, and Atsuko wonders briefly if she can sue the damn thing for assaulting her ears. It doesn't take long for her to realize that it's an inanimate object, and you cannot sue inanimate objects, but all that makes her want to do is sue it for making her stupid. Oh, her pre-coffee thoughts rarely make any sense.
She drags herself from the warmth of her bed, sheds the lingerie that she's not sure why she wears. It's not as if she's sleeping with anyone but herself—okay, she's had a night or two, but it's rare that men want anything to do with her child-scarred flesh. These days, her nightly solitude is rarely interrupted for anything but Teru's nightmares. They occur with eerie predictability, every Saturday night at 11:30. Atsuko doesn't work weekends, and by 11:30 she's in bed, but not sleeping, and she doesn't have to worry about suing the alarm clock in the morning. 11:30, Saturday night, is when she's at her most relaxed, and she doesn't know how Teru can possibly time his nightmares, but he does. Times his illnesses, too. Teru has never once had to stay home from school—he'd always be sick over the weekend, or during breaks. Summer vacation always seems to involve a never-ending parade of colds. Teru never lets anything break his routine, and he fits weakness into empty cracks. And so, when on a Tuesday morning in November, Atsuko hears a gagging, hacking sound coming from the bathroom, she thinks that someone's broken in. Because it isn't her, and Teru just doesn't do that. Not on a school day, anyway.
"Is someone there?" she asks, reaching for the phone with shaking hands, in case she needs to call the police. Maybe it's her sister—she has a tendency to barge in without asking, and she's supposedly pregnant, so that could explain the vomiting. Or, it could be a drug-crazed burglar, puking up a bad batch of mushrooms. It could be Teru, too, but it isn't Teru. Teru wouldn't do this. She heads for the kitchen, grabs her sharpest knife, and tiptoes shakily into the bathroom.
All thoughts of shroom-scarfing criminals and irritating sisters fly out of Atsuko's mind, and she tries her best to hide the knife. The culprit is, in fact, her eight-year-old son, and he's hunched over the toilet whimpering and spitting up the last of his sick. "Teru…?" she says, placing the knife in the sink so that he does not think she's come to kill him. She'd think the same, if someone wandered into the bathroom while she was in there, brandishing a weapon. She asks if he's alright.
The question is pointless. It's painfully obvious that Teru is anything but. His glasses are hanging awkwardly beneath his nose, slick with sweat and vomit. He's paler than the white floor tiles that he spent Sunday bleaching, and he's panting like a dog. "What's wrong?" Atsuko asks stupidly, plucking the glasses from his filthy face and cleaning them off in the sink, moving the knife to the bathtub before she does. "You sick?"
Teru nods miserably, gripping the toilet bowl with trembling fingers. Just as quickly as he agrees, he shakes his head, insists in a raspy, congested voice that he's just fine. "I j-just, I just, I…maybe I ate something funny, I…I'm okay." As if on cue he flies into a coughing fit, his tiny hands scrambling to contain the germs. "That didn't mean anything. I'm okay. I um…need to get ready for school now…"
Atsuko tries to cock an eyebrow and winds up raising both. She tells Teru that he should stick with his original answer, tells him he looks like hell. "Let me check if you have a fever," she says. "Do you remember where we keep the thermometer?" Teru shakes his head, and it seems that even this is too much effort for him. After some perfunctory rummaging, Atsuko gives up on the search and kisses her son on the forehead, finds the fever with her lips. He flinches at her touch, and this makes her want to kill him. Instead she says, "you're sick, babe…this is really inconvenient, though, I can't take off work today, I need those hours or I can't pay the rent…well, you'll just have to stay home by yourself. Will you be alright?"
Teru shakes his head again, and Atsuko knows this is not in response to her question. Of course he'd be alright alone, and if he wouldn't he would never admit it. No, Teru's shaking his head about something else.
Twitching limbs lurch him into standing position, and he hits the lever that flushes the toilet. When the vomit doesn't completely disappear into the swirl he goes even paler than before. "It always works after one time…" he rasps, as if this is important. "I can't…I mean I don't want to flush it again, but I can't leave it there, I…" His ridiculous train of thought is cut off by another coughing fit. Atsuko fills a glass of water, hoping that he'll take it and not pitch a fit about which glass it's in, or the fact that the water isn't filtered. He doesn't even notice she's offered it, so this isn't a problem. She puts it down. "Sorry," he mumbles, sniffling loudly. "I'm okay. I have to go to school now. I'm sorry for taking so long and making a mess, I—" Cough. Yeah, no, he's not going to school.
She tells him this, and as expected, Teru does not react well. Between coughs he tells her that he can't stay home, because he never misses school, he has an exam that day, and even if he didn't, he never misses school. Besides that, his classmates are depending on him. "If something happens while I'm gone it'll be my fault, the other kids need me there to protect them…" He stops, hands flailing slightly as he tries to determine which part of his body to grab at. "My head hurts…" he mutters, hero stance shriveling as quick as it came. "My stomach too…and my chest…I have to go to school, though, I should…should wash my hands first because of germs, and brush my teeth…"
"Teru, just go back to bed," she says, rolling her eyes and searching the medicine cabinet for some kind of fever reducer. There's nothing, since she herself hardly gets sick, and Teru only does during breaks from school. Apparently the kid doesn't have flawless control. Probably hates himself for that. "You must have the flu or something, and you won't be any use to anybody if you're as sick as you seem. You won't learn anything, either, and you'll get everybody else sick, too."
"N-no, Mom, I don't have the flu, I can't, that would take up too much time, it's just a cold. I can't breathe through my nose, so that has to be it." Atsuko rolls her eyes again, wondering if it's possible to injure them in this way—it's her reaction to almost everything that Teru says. She tells him, as calmly as she can, that such things can easily be symptoms of the flu as well, and that it doesn't matter what's wrong with him, he isn't well, and he isn't going anywhere. The kid is practically in tears by this point.
"I'm leaving," she says coldly, taking the knife from the bathtub. She doesn't entirely trust her son not to use it on her, even though that fear is totally ungrounded. The kid's a psycho though, so it's not surprising that he was born to someone with a little neurosis of her own. Not that Atsuko's vague paranoia is anything like Teru when he gets going. She's glad he's too sick to unleash his usual OCD brattiness. He'd be screaming if he had the energy, he'd be kicking her fucking shins. Teru is apparently quite composed and mature in public, but when it comes to his mommy he acts half his age. Right now, he seems excessively disturbed by the fact that she's leaving the room, but he makes no move to stop her. The lack of effort forces her to come back on her own, once she's put the knife away. For some reason she always melts when he stops caring. "Please go back to bed," she says, not as quite as insistent as she wants to be. "Come on honey," she pleads. "Do you want me to carry you?"
He nods, tears streaming down his face in earnest now. There's nothing Teru hates more than screwed routines and being sick. She doesn't want him out in the world like this, especially not if he won't make any concessions for his illness, if he'll go on imposing his morals on the other kids, overexerting himself, getting himself killed…no, that's ridiculous. He won't get himself killed. She'll kill him before he does, kill anyone who tries to hurt him.
Atsuko lifts her son, noting as she does that he's gotten quite heavy. She hasn't actually picked him up since he was in kindergarten, and he's grown significantly since then, but it still surprises her. And it surprises her even more when he ropes his arms around her neck and presses his cheek to her shoulder. Apparently she's more than just a pack mule, here. Apparently he actually wants physical comfort. This is rare enough to shock her, and if Atsuko were more easily moved, she would have dropped him. Instead, she walks to his room, arms twitching with the strain, and deposits him into bed. His sheets are stained with sweat and vague traces of vomit—clearly the kid's had a bad night. She hopes he won't notice the filth, and he doesn't. His eyes flutter closed, open briefly, and close again for a spasm of coughs.
"Call me if you start feeling worse," she murmurs, draping night-blue blankets over his shivering form. "I'll bring a bucket in, in case you need to throw up again, and I'll get you some food and water—but after that I've really got to go. I'm late for work as it is."
She does all that she promised, and heads out the door, guilt slamming through her skull like a cat who's tail has been stepped on. It's rare that Atsuko feels like a mother towards her son, rare that she feels much for him at all. They've had plenty of mornings marred by fights and neurosis, and she usually storms off to work wanting to kill him. When he wakes her up in morning shrieking louder than her alarm clock about how she apparently moved something in his meticulously organized bedroom, she wants to throw him across the room. Or sue him. When he won't listen, when he does everything in ways that seem backwards and nonsensical, she calls him on it, screams him out.
But she hates watching him in obvious pain, hates watching him besieged by something she knows he can't handle. Somehow, doing the best that she can for her kid makes her feel like the worst mother in the world.