The worst part of the bronchitis attack that Toby was experiencing is that it felt like a thirty pound medicine ball had rolled onto his chest. But the next to worst part was Mrs. Lifton, telling him there was no way he was going to be playing in the basketball game against Carter Elementary that afternoon.
“Not with that cough, young man.”
She actually held him by the back of his collar and steered him away from the gym toward his school bus, to send him home.
Once home, it was just him and his dog Shep, a big red Irish setter. The two of them sat on the couch by the window, watching glumly as the street light outside illuminated a cold rain mixed with quarter-sized flakes of wet snow, falling on icy pavement and mounds of smoke-colored slush. It looked just about like his lungs felt.
Mom was out of town for her uncle’s funeral. Dad was at work because he was always at work. The television didn’t work, and hadn’t worked in weeks. There was nothing to do but to bend the rules and invade his father’s den, downstairs, where among file boxes, old trap shooting trophies, Havana cigar boxes filled with brass and wooden buttons and rare coins, and naval flags hanging on walls and from polished wooden flagstaffs, there were vast collections of old magazines and books.
He started by leafing through a box of old “Life” and “Look” magazines from the sixties, and then found bound collections of photography from Ansel Adams, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Gordon Parks, Charles Moore and Margaret Bourke-White. What would it have really been like, he wondered, to fly a DC-4 over Manhattan, in the days before the world discovered color?
When it was time to use his nebulizer again, he pretended the mouthpiece was that of an aqua lung, and that he was with the Cousteaus, off in the south Pacific toward Samoa, diving fearlessly with hammerheads and parrot fish. Then he was in Africa, valiantly helping Dian Fossey save the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda from poachers and plunderers of the cloud forests.
The albuterol from the nebulizer cleared his lungs and gave him a burst of energy. Suddenly he imagined that he was on a thirty-foot spice ship working its way through the straits of the Bosporus, fleeing from Black Sea pirates. Surely, the most off limits of the souvenirs in dad’s collections were the two samurai swords he’d picked up in Japan in his days as a soldier, just after the war. You wouldn’t want to just mess around with prized items like those.
Except, of course, Toby would actually need both of the weapons to fend off the imaginary Black Sea marauders. So he carefully removed them from their ornate metal scabbards and then began vigorously slicing the air with them as his boat escaped toward the Sea of Marmara.
Suddenly, the phone rang. He instinctively caught the receiver cord with the tip of one of the swords and flung it up in the air, landing it on the cushion of a chair.
“Tobias? Tobias?” he could hear his father’s voice asking from the seat of the chair.
He quickly set one of the swords down and lifted the phone to his ear.
“Hi dad,” he tried to say, as calmly as he could. Toby stared at the floor as his father told him he’d be home later than he’d thought, and asked him how he was doing.
“I got sick,” Toby explained. “They sent me home.”
He coughed and then listened to the next question.
“Bored,” he answered. “You know. Just kind of bored. Sick and bored.”