At lunchtime yesterday, I was sitting at the kitchen table, tucking into a steaming plate of reclamation nachos (various leftovers on a bed of chips, under a thick layer of melted pepper jack), reading the latest Bob Lee Swagger crimefest, when I heard the garage door open. Hmm, I thought, must be one of the neighbors thoughtfully bringing my trash cans up from the road.
But then Barb appeared at the top of the stairs, looking paler than Bill O’Reilly at a Busta Rhymes show. “I don’t feel well,” she said, and turned toward the bedroom. Abandoning my nachos ‘n gunplay, I followed her trail down the hall: purse, briefcase, sweater, shoes. I found her splayed out on the bed, face down, moaning into the comforter. “Honey, why don’t you get under the covers and I’ll bring you some tea,” I told her.
She mumbled something like “Kool Moe Dee,” but I think it was “ooh no tea,” and she peeled off her clothes and crawled into bed. Damn, I thought, I hope it’s not swine flu or gonorrhea or something that will keep her out of circulation. She’s pretty busy at work, and the kids are already sick of my jailhouse cooking (“Fried baloney and carrot peelings? Again? Gee, thanks for dinner, Cool Hand Luke”). And, of course, I didn’t want her to suffer.
I was heating up some water for tea anyway, when the phone rang. It was the school nurse. “I’ve got Rusty here, and the poor guy is just not feeling well,” she said. “Our thermometer’s not working, but he feels like he might have a fever, and he’s complaining of a stomach ache and a headache. You’d better come pick him up.”
Probably too much fried baloney, I thought. “Aw, poor little guy. I’ll be right down. Probably be about 15 minutes.”
“Where are you?” asked the nurse.
“Well, I’m right here in Missoula.”
“He’s up here at camp, remember?”
Oh yeah, I did remember. He’d left that morning for a three-day environmental camp field trip at an old bible camp site on Flathead Lake. “Well,” I said into the phone. “It’ll probably be more than fifteen minutes.” I hung up and looked forlornly at my rapidly-congealing nachos. I grabbed one last nacho, then moving quickly, I gathered up a bottle of children’s Motrin, a couple of bottles of water, and some Morphine CDs (the perfect soundtrack for driving north on 93). I brought Barb some tea, the paper and the TV remote, but she was asleep. I kissed her forehead, leaving a smudge of salsa, and made for the car.
Two hours later I pulled off 93 onto the dirt road that winds down to the lakefront camp. It’s a sizeable complex, and I went building to building, looking for Rusty. I finally located him in a small bedroom of the main hall, and we retrieved his stuff from his cabin and headed back toward Missoula.
He was feeling pretty wretched, and I tried to gently quiz him about his symptoms. “Is your pee bloody? Or lumpy?” He looked at me with suspicion and disdain, shaking his head. “The nurse told me you have a stomachache. What have you eaten today?”
“I had a bag of Skittles on the bus ride up,” he said, holding a hand over his gut. “Bad choice.” Bad choice indeed. Like most parents, I try to harp on my kids about washing their hands and drinking enough water. It’s a losing battle. We stopped at M&S Meats & Sausage (“We have so much meat and sausage, the M&S stands for Meats and Sausage!”) and got him a bottle of juice. He rode in the back seat and watched disinterestedly as we navigated the various construction projects from the Polson bridge to Joe’s Smoke Ring. I drove along, wondering at the uniform look of all the women holding traffic signs and flags. They all seemed to be squat, middle aged broads who earn $28.50 an hour for standing on the roadside and making the decision between ‘Stop’ and ‘Slow.’ They all seemed drunk with power.
After stopping for a cherry pie at the Windmill Village in Ravalli (hey, never pass up a fabulous pie), we cruised the final 40 miles or so to our driveway. Rusty carried his sleeping bag, backpack, duffle bag, schoolbooks and water bottle up the stairs (hey, I would have helped him out, but I’ve got this pie!) and collapsed onto the couch. I made him a cup of tea and gave him the TV remote. I went back to the bedroom and looked in on Barb, who was reading Oprah magazine while watching Oprah on TV. I let her be.
I tucked a blanket around Rusty, who was already smiling at a show on Nickleodeon. I began to put away his stuff, when the front door opened. Speaker walked in and dropped her backpack and lunchbox in the entryway. She looked as pale and shiny as a cold plate of nachos.
“Daddy, I don’t feel very good.”
Uh oh.[What will happen next? Will Swine Flu consume the Wire family? Will they ever complete the work on Highway 93? Will Bob ever get to finish his nachos? Tune in at NewWest.net/BobWire to find out…]