September 1, 2002

Soup would be good.

I think we've still got a can of that fancy-pants minestrone, tucked away in the kitchen cupboards somewhere ... a leftover from Jaymi's last visit. I haven't eaten anything all day -- I've subsisted on orange juice and Alka Seltzer Plus since Thursday, basically -- but I'm thinking that a bowl of minestrone soup might be a very good thing, right about now. Especially if it has a little i HATE minestrone soup, btw Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, and a handful of saltine crackers on the side, and it is served to me on a little wooden bed-tray painted with wildflowers and ivy and covered with a clean folded dishtowel.

It would be especially nice if I didn't have to fix it myself.

I twist around in the tangle of sweaty blankets and listen for noises from the next room. I know he's out there. He's been out there all day, laboring over our sick computer like a heart surgeon tending to a quadruple bypass. Unlike most husbands, however, this one doesn't curse or mutter or offer any of the usual helpful *audio cues* to indicate progress (or lack thereof). Once in a while, through my Chlorpheniramine-induced stupor this afternoon, I've heard the staccato sounds of rapid-fire typing ... a pencil tapping briefly against the side of the desk ... a single sharp intake of breath, no doubt as another pocket of infestation is uncovered on our diseased hard drive. But right now there is absolutely no sound at all coming from the dining room.

From my sickbed I offer up one polite, raggedy little cough. Hello? Anybody home?

Nothing. Not so much as a sigh or a sniffle or a squeaky computer chair hinge.

Maybe he took the computer into the shop while I was sleeping. There was some discussion about this earlier: if he wasn't able to clean out the virus and restore our operating system to normal, he might have to take the computer in to a repair center and pay someone to have it fixed. Maybe he got tired of scanning and disinfecting and hand-combing bugs out of the hard drive, one by one, and decided to have an expert look at the problem.

(Right. And maybe he decided to sign us up for that Dollhouse Furniture Workshop, while he was at it.)

I reach over the side of the bed and fumble weakly through the mountains of rumpled magazines and dead Kleenex littering the floor, looking for my thermometer. I feel a momentary tickle of irritation. Why isn't he here at my bedside, feeling my forehead and taking my temperature and looking all concerned and loving and husbandly? My Inner Ten-Year-Old, still alive and cranky, always expects Grandma to come walking through the bedroom door, whenever I'm feeling under the weather ... bearing soup and thermometers and back issues of National Geographic for my personal sickbed comfort.

My Outer Forty-Four-Year-Old, on the other hand, knows damn well she's on her own here.

I extract the last handful of Kleenex from the box and give my nose a good, satisfying, ear-splitting honk. I'm awake now! it trumpets. Can we get a little attention, please?

But again I'm met with silence from the next room.

Maybe he's out riding. Guilt, tight as a handshake, clamps itself over my heart and squeezes. We haven't ridden our bikes in two weeks. Last weekend, of course, I was in TicTac, buying school clothes and feasting on Mexi-Fries with carefree maternal abandon. This weekend -- a three-day holiday weekend, at that -- would have been the perfect opportunity to catch up on some much-needed mileagemileagemileage ... except that the SecraTerri/Ю僱êrvØ¡ household has been unexpectedly overrun by bugs for the past three days.

None of them the six-legged variety, I might add.

Miserably, I slide the thermometer under my tongue and flop back against the flat damp pillows, waiting for my temperature to register. Just this tiny bit of exertion -- sitting up, rummaging around on the floor, popping the thermometer in my mouth, feeling sorry for myself -- has left me limp as used dental floss.

Where the hell IS he?

Maybe he's taking a nap on the sofa. Maybe he's in the laundry room, shovelling quarters and bath towels into the ancient industrial dryer. Maybe he went to the store to load up on orange juice and thermometer batteries and the latest issue of National Geographic.

Maybe he's left me for a cute computer repairperson.

The thermometer emits a single shrill *beep* -- Fully cooked! it shrieks in triumph -- and I slide it out of my mouth to inspect the results. 99.4°. This is good news. It had been stubbornly hovering around 101° for the past couple of days, so this is definitely an improvement. Plus I seem to be breathing a tiny bit easier -- some of that awful wet death-rattle has subsided -- AND I'm feeling my first genuine hunger pangs in more than forty-eight hours.

Which leads me back to soup.

What does it take to get a little service around this joint, anyway?

Shakily, I ease my flu-weary self out of bed and tiptoe carefully into the next room, just in case he really is taking a nap. But he isn't. He is sitting in front of the computer, wide awake ... quietly typing song titles into an open Word document. Standing two inches away from him, I am able to hear what wasn't evident from the next room: the muffled sounds of the E-Street Band filtered through a pair of Magnavox headphones. No wonder he didn't hear my pathetic attempts at attention-getting.

As soon as he sees me standing there, he whips off the headphones. I expect he's going to ask me how I'm feeling, or gently place his hand on my forehead to check for lingering fever, or leap out of the chair and insist that I sit down while he fixes me another glass of orange juice. But he doesn't.

"Computer's fixed," he says.

It took him three days of blood, sweat and toll-free calls to the McAfee Help Center. Even so, he says, some of our stuff still isn't working properly: the printer, for example, and the online answering machine, and the program he uses to create labels for his Springsteen bootlegs. But he has pretty much managed to de-KLEZ our hard drive finally. Plus the virus protection programs have been reactivated -- we'll never ever ever allow them to lapse again, we swear to god -- and our e-mail and Internet browsers are functional again. He looks as ravaged and weary as I feel, frankly. My sick cranky self-absorbed heart unbends, just a little.

"Want some soup?" I ask him ... and I reach for the can opener.

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