He woke up lethargic and feverish, complaining of a stiff neck and a headache. I hated for us to impose another day on Mama Norma after she had already been so generous. “It’s probably just a cold,” I said.
Mama Norma wasn’t hearing any of that. She said we would stay an extra day, and fixed him up nice in front of the living room fire. She kept him supplied with so many hot teas and broths that I think he spent all his waking hours with a cup in his hands. When he still complained of feeling stiff and headachy, she gave him tea made of aspen bark, then she heated some chile in cooking oil and I rubbed the resulting mixture into his neck and shoulders. I rubbed a little into my own aches and pains, too, and found the heat pleasant, but it didn’t seem to do much for Ishkin.
I helped out around the house as much as I could, cleaning dishes, scouring pots, and minding the girls so they wouldn’t be underfoot. When I read to Ishkin in the afternoon, the children clustered around me in curiosity, and when Ishkin fell asleep, I helped the girls with their letters and numbers.
By dinnertime, Ishkin was worse. He wouldn’t stop grinding his teeth, and he was having trouble swallowing the broth Mama Norma gave him. She watched him struggle and choke, then mopped his chin. “Has he been injured recently?”
I started to say no, but then I remembered the pitchfork. Mama Norma and I looked at each other.
“What are we supposed to do for it?” I asked.
“Antibiotics, and a lot of prayer.”
“Do you have antibiotics here?”
“No. But if you take him west. . .”
I had been hoping to avoid any cities. They're too full of gangs and crime, and I know from experience that people looking to do you harm don’t have to trump you in skill, only in numbers. But when I looked at Ishkin’s flushed face and rigid jaw, and heard the grinding of his teeth, I knew I had to take him to a hospital or die trying.
“If you leave first thing in the morning and make good time,” Mama Norma said, “You might be able to get there while he can still sit his horse.”
“I’ve got some rope. I can always tie him on.”
“I’ll see if I’ve got anything around here that we can give him to bite on so he doesn’t ruin his teeth. Rubber is best, but a leather strap will do, if we can’t find anything better.”
Tonight Ishkin is tossing around, unable to get comfortable, poor kid. We’ve dosed him with wine and a cannabis tincture that Mama Norma says we can take with us. It helps a little, but in the dim light of my solar lamp, I can see his lips curled back in an awful grimace, and I can hear his teeth gnawing away at the leather strap between his teeth. He’s sweating so much I expect the sheets to be drenched before morning.
I wish there was more I could do for him tonight. I tried again to massage his stiff muscles, but they’re becoming so hard I can’t dig into them without hurting him.
We’re leaving in the morning, and I hope we can get to a hospital in time.
I need to turn my lamp off now. Ishkin’s eyes are sensitive, and the light is hurting him.
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