"You have lot hair.....Gonna take lot time......"
I lie motionless and wait for her punchline,
So begins most visits to the salon whence I trim up my groucho brows. I know it works because after his wife was done attacking my face husband beautician pronounced I looked better. "As opposed to gorilla style earlier I ask?" swapping any frail attempt at a femminist discussion for defensive sarcasm. He laughs. Then another lady swoops in and I open my eyes again, sensing someone else in the room, to find six eyes smiling down at me and my hair. They chat in quick Vietnamese. I hope they are just discussing waxing techniques but can't shirk the feeling they are actually having a good ole laugh at my hairy genes. Took me back to a gynaecological visit some years ago, where I agreed to students being allowed into the room before I had time to actually realise that within a breath they would swarm in, ten eyes scrutinising me. Very very closely. Geesh. Oh I'm not gonna beat around the bush (beg your pardon), I'm feeling sorry for myself. Tail between my legs. Shuffling about with that look on my face. Surprised the boys haven't kicked me out yet. There's always tomorrow...
I put it down to several things. One, boy is running a fever. He is still head-standing, jumping from sofa to sofa, then alternately cuddling up against me, clinging on for hugs and generally looking at us puppy-dog-feed-me-chicken-soup. Last night I checked him for the nth time sticking a man-sized thermometer into his ear and being aghast to find it creeping steadily towards 103 and above. I watched his delirium as his glassy eyes opened and his hands played with some invisible something or someone just before him. I sat, his hot little hand in mine, till the fever broke and he sweated himself back into sleep. Hour later he is sat bolt upright, one liners to dad who has just come home, ordering a marmite slathered tortilla please mum. We sat there we three, picnicking in bed (dad on the chicken, mum on the houmous, boy on the marmite) till just past midnight, when thankfully we all fell into slumber easily. This morning fever was a distant memory until lunchtime when it came back angry once again for attention. We trotted down the way to urgent care where a kindly nurse welcomed us, stuck a swab down the boy's throat receiving an evil look from him in return, "Doctors don't usually do that!" he hissed making absolutely no effort to mask his venomous expression. I have a chilling flash-forward of teenage tornados. We wait for a little while for the doctor. He enters, a small, slight chap, all Arkansas drawl, slight Dickensian hunch. With a little too much enthusiasm he offers 10 days worth of antibiotic for the boy as an injection instead of a week or so's course. I politely decline, erked somewhat by the glint in his eye, but more so by the detrimental effect I know it will have on Boy who forgets almost nothing, including the type of toothbrushes we were using in Detroit last february. To have an injection today would make it an uphill battle to ever return I know this for a fact. We opt for the slow and steady approach. Sam strikes up conversation with him, specifically taking care to inform him that everyone in the show is taking turns to be ill. He is not off the mark. Now that news of Sam's strep will be bandied about everyone will positively avoid us like the plague. Actors and their throats. I can say that because I am one of those hypochondriachal types who sniffs and sprays and burns every natural lotion and potion she can get her hands on. Especially when I am working. I think I remember how to do that.
So long has it been that I have been beavering away in my evening solitude that I feel the beginnings of stirrings and yearnings for a home. Dad and I realised, that some weeks ago, this town was to be our last before heading to upstate new York for christmas and then Blighty to start our new year. A few weeks ago this changed when husband accepted a final contract that will take him to mid May. Boy's and my plans are still uncertain though I imagine a certain amount of backwarding and forwarding to london town will be on the cards. I think it may be about time I contribute to the household and get myself one of those job thingies. Groupie-hood must have a sell by date at some point, even if, on tour to date, I have written the most in my life, have half a show of my own and a bit more of a novel I set out to finish. Who would have thought it would take so long already? I have found I work much better with deadline. I like to harrass Cory by seeing how close to my column deadline I can get every tuesday. This week, with husband at sound check and interviews, I avoided confrontation with Boy by enlisting his help in editing my thoughts down to 600 words (he is a whiz on that ole delete button). It was worth it. At the end, when I had read it to him he turns to me all chocolatey earnest, "That was good mum. Really really good mum. Sooooo good." In the end it seems, my ego is still of a healthy size and kept in check but barely. Hey ho. I suppose a pat on the back is not always a bad thing. Especially when the crick in your neck is still throbbing and you keep getting waves of viral weak-at -the-knees feeling.
But enough of the moans already, if your idea of a main street includes a used/out-of-print bookshop, a good coffee haunt and a tasty Mediterranean ma n’ pa joint then Fayetteville, Arkansas, our home for this week, is for you. Two flight day took us from Durham North Carolina through Dallas Fort Worth - stopping there just long enough to inhale a surprisingly good Tex Mex. Landing in North West Arkansas, four sidesteps to the left takes you to baggage claim, four to the right to rent-a-car. Quietest airport in the country. Not a roar of an engine. No impatient taxi horns. Just streaming sunshine casting luminous country idyll across the parched yellow grasses of the surrounding rolling hills. Driving down Healing Springs Road, through the hamlets of Cave and Elm Springs (population 1,044) we carry on along cow, horse and sheep lined country roads to Tontitown (say that after a few). At University of Arkansas’ campus we catch their huge football stadium open on the road side - the sight of it full, likely to rouse even the un-inclined into a sporty frame of mind.
First stop? Walmart. The educated know that the mega chain started right here in Arkansas. According to two fellow Brits we luncheoned beside, Walmart is responsible not only for importing large numbers of visiting British workers but also for the significant funding of the thriving local arts centre.
Highlight of our first foray at the Walmart Super Centre (open 24 hours for insomniacs and night workers) was a brief interchange with a young gal looking not much older than 20, behind the counter of McDonalds, who tells us her children are affectionately nick named Mc-Babies on account of one of them almost dropping out of her by the fryer three months early. Her sing song swooping Arkansas twang and sleep-deprived free skin, belies the fact that she lives with four of these said children - all under six. Instead she smiles, twinkles at Sam, brings our snack to the table. Back on the floor mothers heave over-flowing Christmas trolleys about and we spy one dad with a hang over moustache, loading up with potatoes, five young blonde boy ducklings swimming behind him in equally descending height.
Back home watching Burt Ive’s Rudolph, our eyes dart from screen to Boy’s, alternately boggling out of his face with delight and terror, and wonder whether we had underestimated the effect a felted abominable snowman puppet from 1964 has on the four year old psyche.
Next morning, Dad out on a last minute TV interview, I play soccer mum to Boy, Chrysler mini van no less, negotiating his barrage of questions whilst trying to remember how to drive on the wrong side of the road and read my phone’s map at the same time. Just past Shagbark Boulevard (one for the Brits) we arrive at Williams Center and befriend Lynne-Lee (5 going on 40) who tells us her life story in those lilting Fayattevillian tones. Post gym we scoff Armenian grilled delights downtown then spend an hour trawling through antique books on Dicken’s street, hefty chunk of our weekly budget used for a copy of Life Magazine from 1928 with a special on Vaudeville, amongst other delights. Boy described everything in every book he leafed through loud enough for Canadians to hear. Now back at home, his armless Shakespeare plastic toy is a race car driver in a convoluted story - think Miami Vice meets King Lear.
It's not all down and out in our little cave. Christmas tingles at my toes, pinkish sundown glow at our window. Secret santa gifts to wrap and exchange before greeting snow capped Walworth for the holidays.