Surfacing from four days of the flu, I find the world transformed around me. This has been a bad strain, donated by the mem-sahib. (What did I ever do to her to deserve this? Oh yeah, I remember.) A fever as frequent as a syndicated Law and Order, tottering headaches, and a malaise that turns your brain to styrofoam. I cannot handle the most basic functions of parenting. (No difference, then.) You sleep, drink water, and sleep again.
And all this happens with the outside temperature in the nineties. The master bedroom to which I have been exiled is the Ultima Thule for our plucky one-zone air-conditioning system, which exhausts all its chilling power on the earlier stops, mainly the guest room's tiny bathroom. (Highly recommended for a respite with a crossword puzzle on a sultry day; you could keep penguins in that half-bath, and Secundus probably will some day.) I stare instead at the Costco window fan, completely flummoxed by this whole business of which direction to send the air. You shouldn't have to make those decisions when you're that sick.
Finally, I'm well enough to lift myself from my damp memory-foam pillow -- perspiration, instead of the usual tears -- and try to make myself useful by taking out the trash. I stop on the threshold of the garage, not merely because the door is oddly difficult to open.
The children's long-discarded strollers have been opened up and placed in a row. In front of them is another neat row of more recently outgrown car seats. They're facing a horizontal arrangement in which a couple of folding frames for holding leaf bags are now supporting the two very long cardboard tubes that contained our new patio umbrella (which the recycling guys have ignored on at least two occasions).
Behind this, two cardboard boxes of clothes destined for the Salvation Army have been set up as a desk and chair for what seems to be an office. There's an old computer keyboard on the "desk," plus a stack of blank paper and a pen stolen from my office. The seat cushion is the pad from the dog's traveling crate, and her old training pen has been opened up to make a partial wall. The whole assembly takes up half the floor space of the garage and is roped off with a length of clothesline, one end of which is tied to the door handle, hence my difficulty getting in.
Naturally, I suspect Secundus, the Inventor. But when interviewed, he assures me it's the brain child of seven-year-old Tertius, who decided to build a theater. (Although I later discover that Secundus abetted and added the office element, which fortuitously looks exactly like the sound and lighting control board at the back of many theaters.)
"So is it supposed to be a movie theater?" I ask Tertius.
"No, it's a plain theater," he explains. (The long, horizontal pieces of cardboard are the stage, apparently.)
"A plain theater?"
"You know, where real people dance. Like in operas."
We have to get out more.