|"And you're sure this will be enough?"
The glow from half a dozen electric lamps cast a warmth around the room you don't feel as you stare at the middle aged man and wait for the answer.
"Yes, yes, for the thousandth time, yes." The man's voice is rich and smooth but showing the first signs of irritation. 'The customer is always right' only goes so far.
With a slow nod you seal the deal and pick up the small blue cloth bag, noting a surprising weight to it as you place it securely in your inside jacket pocket. You unconsciously pat its small bulk to reassure yourself and begin counting out money from your wallet.
"A pleasure doing business with you, Sir." The man is all smiles again now as he clutches his money, all traces of his former irritation are gone.
You feel a little giddy, despite leaving the shop, and the warmth of its lamps, for the cold dark of the city outside. You pat your pocket again, embracing the thrill of hope flooding your veins in a way you haven't felt for seemingly years. The mere thought of being so close to your goal is almost overwhelming.
As the brief rush leaves you, reality closes in and you remember your location. A dark alley, in a dodgy part of town. Not a safe place for anyone, especially a man with something so precious in his pocket. You fasten up your coat tightly against a chill wind and bury your hands deep in outer pockets, trying hard to keep your shoulders back to maintain a larger frame and not appear an easy target.
"Did you get it?" Calls out an anxious voice as you arrive home and slam the door on the cold night outside. Rebecca, your love, stands there in a simple wool shift, white with small pink roses embroided on the hem and cuffs. Her long honey coloured hair is fastened up in preparation for sleep, although no sign of weariness shows in her gentle brown eyes. They are alight with a hope.
"Yes! I got it!"
She rushes to you in relief, catching you in a fierce embrace as you both slowly begin to let yourselves believe it might soon be over. You pull yourself back, helpless to spend a last second admiring her face, before snapping away from it and focusing on what needed to be done.
"Is he asleep?" You ask, as you clasp Rebecca's hands.
"Yes, but lightly, the moans in his sleep are even louder than before."
Rebecca leads you upstairs, and into a dark room. Immediately a low muttering can be heard, and as your vision adapts to the dark you make out the small form sleeping fitfully on the bed.
'My poor Markus', you think to yourself. 'Hold on. Papa's here to make you better.'
You move carefully through the darkness, coming to the edge of the bed and taking a seat. With urgent care you pull out the package from your inside pocket.
"We'll need a glass of water, a spoon, candle and a wet cloth."
As Rebecca rushes off to fetch those things, you look down at your son. Ten years old, he's already beginning to develop the look of the man he'll one day become. You can't help but smile as you see where your harsh features have been generously softened by Rebecca's influence in the boy's face, and the gentle honey of his hair. A handsome boy, he'll be a devil with the ladies in a few years, you tell yourself, finding tears falling openly from your face even as you smile at the thought.
Rebecca returns and hands you what you need, placing the candle on the bedside table. You waste no time, and pour the contents of the blue bag into the glass, stiring it thoroughly.
"Take this, keep stiring it. Don't spill any." You know you're being abrupt, but Rebecca simply nods and takes the glass. With the warm cloth in hand, you slowly lift Markus up, cradling him in your arms. His pyjamas are soaked with a fever sweat. You murmur his name as you let the cool cloth refresh his forehead. His eyes slowly open, struggling to focus at first, shying away from the sudden light.
"It's ok, Markus, Papa's here. Papa's got you."
You take the swirling liquid from Rebecca, noting its blue colour now, and lower the glass to Markus' lips.
"Drink this, my boy. It'll make you better, but you need to drink it all!"
As soon as the glass is in place he starts drinking, and you breathe a sigh of relief, fearing a bad taste would have made it a fight to get it down. A flush of colour enters cheeks pale from weeks of illness, and you feel a surge of hope. It is working!
"That's my brave boy, keep drinking now."
A harsh knocking on the front door downstairs makes both you and Rebecca jump in shock. You glance down at Markus, he is about half way through the drink. The knocking comes again, even louder and more insistent. It couldn't be them, surely? Perhaps a neighbour needing to borrow something, but they wouldn't bang the door like that?
Icy claws grip your spine rapidly chilling the hope that had blossomed there so briefly. If it is them, then you need to run, take Markus and just run. But he needs to finish the medicine or the whole thing could be a waste. You turn to Rebecca, hoping for some kind of plan to appear in her eyes, but she just looks scared, caught between an urge to hide and the need to stay and protect her son.
What to do?