I’m tucking the Bearded One back into the den bed where he has been shivering under a pile of blankets all afternoon. He has a 101.6 degree fever, a wracking cough, and is nauseated. We’ve pretty much acknowledged that he is sick, perhaps even with the dreaded lurgy — the Australian word for flu — but it has taken the entire day to accept this fate.
Even now he must warn me of the hazards of taking care of the animals tonight, which is usually his job. Sage the Goat has been standing in front of the aviary door, blocking all coming and going for the chickens, which creates havoc at dusk when the farmer has to get all the chickens into the aviary.
The pull of leftover oatmeal is weakening, the chickens forget about it en route to the aviary, and, the Bearded One says, between hacks, that I should tease it out so Danielle and Spot don’t have to be re-rounded up.
“You might have to…*cough cough*…”poke Sage with a stick,” he says. “He’s been standing there for an hour!” *cough cough cough*
“Poor sweet baby,” I say — our tender Charlie Brown and Peanuts verbal hug — and I turn off the light. “Try to sleep.”
I’m relieved that one of us is well, but I’m also adjusting to being the well one. We’re on this trek together, deep into the flu forest, and so far my efforts at comforting him — an electric blanket, a humidifier, a basket by his bed to throw up into, rubbing his aching legs — haven’t lifted the gloom. “If I still feel like this in 3 weeks,” says the Bearded One as I leave, “pull the plug.”
I consider the sadness of widowhood as I go into the kitchen for the pot of oatmeal. There on the table is the phone and the Bearded One’s broken Sawsall repair hotline numbers. He had decided to make a wooden spoon like the ones made by our fellow farmletters in Tasmania.
The spoons arrived and are exquisite. He had been inspired, but he ran into trouble right away when the tool wouldn’t work.
He’d made a few calls, punched his way through a couple of phone trees, and then succumbed. By noon he declared, “My biorhythms are down,” and went to bed. Now he coughs and groans as I walk out into the cloudy dusk.
The animals have had a low biorhythm day, too, although they’re not sick. The goats stayed in the barn all morning chewing their cud, watching me muck out the peeing corner.
Danielle and Anna, our two Wyandotte hens, doubled up in a nest, which I hadn’t seen since they were babies.
And now, Sage gives me no trouble when I shoo him away from the aviary door. Maybe they all know the Bearded One is sick. Animals are sensitive that way.
Back at the house, I start a fire in the woodstove, feed Ruby, who also wants reassurance, and heat a dinner of leftovers for myself in the microwave. I eat alone at our dining room table, then read the newspaper.
After a quiet hour, the downstairs toilet flushes and minutes later the Bearded One totters into the living room and sits on the edge of the couch, all huddled up.
I crawl up behind him and begin to massage his shoulders. I am relieved that he’s not coughing, that maybe the Tylenol (“the key to fever” according to our nurse daughter) has kicked in, but I know we’re not out of the woods.
“This is punishment for the sin of pride,” he jokes, and I wonder what in the hell. “What in the hell?” I say.
“Spoon pride,” he says and reminds me that Steve the Spoon Maker had generously offered to tell the Bearded One about a secret spoon-making tool, but the Bearded One had said, to himself, “I don’t need no stinking secret tool.”
“First the saw is broken, and now my body.” He indicates I should please start massaging his lower back now.
“Yes, that must be it,” I say, and laugh — not too loudly — for the first time all day. “Poor baby,” I say and kiss his neck.
“Poor SWEET baby,” he says.