The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2011 Results

Kevin the Recalcitrant Migraine

Copyright © Jo Virgona 2011

I awake to the sound of my partner creeping down the stairs. Creaking stairs that groan in protest of 30 years of traffic. He knows Iím on the couch, propped up at 45 degrees, heat pack shielding my eyes from the dawn light and looking for all the world like a dazed alien thatís crashed through the ceiling and landed, distorted, in a crumpled mess. He heads for the kitchen. Best to leave well enough alone when Iím in migraine mode. Migraine mode is a term I use to describe that regular 48 hours or so where I switch from cruise control to damage control. Juggling medication to maximise periods of lucidity, calculating times that I can realistically retreat to a dark quiet space before having to pick someone up from soccer or the skate park.

In my vague post medication haze Iím aware that my migraine has retreated to his room but left the door ajar. But IĎm cautiously optimistic that, after two days, he might find some other distraction with which to amuse himself.

I say my migraine, not the migraine because I own it. It belongs to me. I say he because, honestly, I could not imagine a woman being so persistently annoying over such a long period of time.

I know my migraine. Not as a friend, someone I might look forward to chatting with over a cup of coffee, or call when desperate to share a juicy piece of gossip. Nor is my migraine an acquaintance I might nod politely to in the lift, and perhaps enquire after a mutual friend. But he is not a sworn enemy either, though I would be ecstatic if he left the building, I have never said: 'A jihad on my migraine.'

My migraine is an interloper, a freeloader. An unwelcome guest that will not move out no matter what hints, inducements or distractions I dream up.

My migraine is called Kevin.

Kevin has been living with me for most of my adult life with varying degrees of impact. There is a bizarre comfort in knowing he is there. I might not like him, but I know whoís renting the room. I know his habits, his likes and dislikes, the things that annoy him and the things that appease him. Over the years Kev has changed his routine, so that every time I think I have him sussed, he does something unpredictable, and I learn all over again. Still, if I must have a boarder, better it be Kevin. I have a nagging fear that he might get a hankering for a sea change and his room be taken up by some squatter who would cause me even more grief. There is something about the devil you know that is strangely reassuring.

Kevin keeps odd hours. Days, even weeks, go by when he mopes in his room with the Ďdo not disturb' sign on the door. I wonder what he gets up to. Playing WII perhaps, or blogging on some debilitating illness website. 'The amusing anecdotes of Kevin, the recalcitrant migraine...'

Then suddenly he fires up the lawnmower at ridiculous oíclock, waking me from a restless slumber. Other times he might slip an Iron Maiden record onto the turntable, slowly cranking up the volume until he finally distracts me from whatever thoughts or activities in which Iím occupied. As boarders go, Kevin is not very considerate. Heís not the type to sneak in after everyoneís asleep, being careful not to slam the door.

Though Kevin has been around for over two decades, I was only aware of him sporadically for the first few years. He was like an unwanted gift, a garish kewpie doll or scary totem your uncle brought back from New Guinea on his last visit.

Once he had my attention, Kevin became predictable for the one and only time in our relationship. He preferred, I learned, a certain time of the month. Soon I came to know his routine and could plan well around him.

Kevin went on an extended leave through two pregnancies, during which time I all but forgot he existed.

When he came back, he brought his heavy metal collection, an assortment of drilling equipment and a couple of jack hammers. Kevin was annoyed at being evicted and meant to show it.

At some point, my GP introduced me to Wonder Drug. Wonder Drug stopped migraines in their tracks. Whenever I invited Wonder Drug over, Kevin retreated to the safety of his room, only to emerge when Wonder Drug declared his work was done. After a number of years of this unsatisfactory standoff, (and during which time I introduced Kev to Son of Wonder Drug, whom he liked even less), I resolved to evict Kevin, once and for all, without resorting to the consequences of more pregnancies.

I tried various diets: dairy free, meat free, wheat free; though for an Italian the act of eating rice pasta is a sin I shall never again commit.

There was the acupuncturist. She certainly made Kevin uncomfortable for a while, but he soon got her measure and was sticking me back.

I consumed various herbal remedies, none of which were worth the money I spent on them. And of course everyone I knew, and some people I didnít, had a fool proof cure. Botox injections, meditation, a lobotomy...

Upon hearing my plight, the gynaecologist said, "Well, thatís very odd. Not at all the sort of behaviour I would expect from a hormonal migraine. Just pay the receptionist on your way out." Touché Kevin.

Finally, I have consulted Al, the neurologist. At our first meeting he listens, nods occasionally and scribbles in my file. "Hmm," he says gravely, "I think youíd better try this drug." He hands me a script and a pathology form for a liver function test. I look confused. "We donít want you to get hepatitis," he says, like this should somehow reassure me. "Any other side effects?" I ask nervously.

"You may gain a little weight."

Six months and 11 kilos later I waddle back into Alís office bursting out of the size 14 jeans Iíd purchased not a month earlier. "Kevin likes the new me," I say. Alís sympathetic. He prescribes something that, he assures me, wonít send me back to the shop for size 16ís. Heís right, but Kevin is undeterred. Al also prescribes a couple of other medications to compliment the one that doesnít work. "This one might make you drowsy," he warns. Well thatís an understatement. To counteract the drowsy one he gives me a tablet that is literally a mega caffeine dose that makes No Doze look like Valium. "It might cause nausea and vomiting," he warns. "Take one right at the onset of a migraine. The first sign. Kevin wonít make it out of his room." But thatís not Kevin's modus operandi. Heís not one to leave a note pinned to my door, saying, "Back in 5. Better get the pukey drug."

So I go back to Al. "Kevinís a wily old coot," he says. "We must try and stay one step ahead of him." But Kevin is a brilliant strategist. Perhaps he devotes his spare time to playing World of Warcraft, or Rise of Nations.

The next drugís worst side effect is to give me an insatiable thirst. Thatís ok, I probably need to drink more water anyway. Women of a certain age who have had children should not drink three litres of water a day.

Back I go. Al frowns. "Try this," he says. "It might may make you a bit hazy." And so it does. For the last six months the most common words in my vocabulary have been Ďthingyí and Ďwhatsití. I say to my son, íWe have to move that thingy you jump on." "You mean trampoline," he says. I say, "Can you find me a whatsit?" He looks back blankly. "You know," I say in frustration, "the thing you write with." I develop a technique where I stop mid sentence and search for the right word by association. "Yes," I comment, "I think she looks very" - made up...drag queen...Bowie...Glam rock - "glamorous." On the upside, the medication had gagged Kevin, until recently.

I trudge back to Alís office. "Iím having trouble remembering those things that you use to express yourself," I say. He puts me back on the piddling drug, in the hope that Kevinís memory is shorter than mine. He says if that doesnít work heíll write to the health department to gain access to a drug thatís never been released for sale. Iím alarmed. "They just never got around to it," he says, as though this should somehow reassure me.

And so goes my battle with Kevin. We bare each other grudging respect. I have developed a mantra when Kevin shows up which gives me hope that he may yet move out so I can lock up that room for good.

"Roll on menopause," I say. "Roll on."

Jo Virgona works at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and is currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing at the University of Canberra. Jo lives with her husband and two children and Kevin, the Recalcitrant Migraine.