Sarah glanced at the clock. 2:00. Just like quarantine, this day was stretching on forever. In the morning she had worked on the treehouse she was making in the backyard, then ridden her bike with her brother and played on the playground. When they came home, he had claimed their mother’s iPad and she had drawn a picture of her friends from school. She had not seen them in so long and missed them. Then her mother had made them lunch, after which she had read for a while, but she had a hard time focusing with her brother yelling with his friends on the iPad as they Facetimed and played Minecraft. She wanted to see a friendly face, no, she NEEDED to see a friendly face. One who didn’t live in her house. She marched down to where her brother was sitting on the sofa.
“James, it is my turn with the iPad. I want to call Amber.”
“Not now, Sarah, I’m fighting a swarm of creepers.”
“But you’ve been playing that FOREVER,” Amber groaned. “It is my turn. Mom!”
“You two need to learn to work out your disputes yourselves,” their mother called from her office down the hall.
“James, give it to me!” she demanded, trying to yank it from his hands.
“No!” he said, shoving her away. She lost her balance and fell hard, tears coming to her eyes. But she would not let James see her cry. She would not give him that victory. She fled out the back door, out into an oppressive afternoon heat that she imagined she could see rolling in waves across the dry grass. She looked towards her neighbors’ yards, unsure whether she needed a friendly face or to flee from them so that they could not see her tears.
Instinctively she sought the shelter of the treehouse. It would hide her from others and shade her from some of the stifling heat. As soon as she climbed into its shelter, she felt a little better and the tears dissolved to be replaced by anger. Stupid brothers! James always ruined everything. He wouldn’t play with her because he was always on the iPad and she couldn't play with her friend because he was ALWAYS ON THE IPAD! Well if he didn’t want to play with her, then she wasn’t going to play with him! And he would not be allowed in her new special spot. To make it official, Sarah found a piece of paper and a marker she had stashed in the corner yesterday and created a sign.
Then she decided to create another portion of the sign.
A mosquito tried to land on her and she crushed it and decided to add mosquitos to the not allowed list. And Coronavirus. That was definitely not allowed. That was what had turned the world upside down. Then she looked at her allowed list and decided to add Dad. But only sometimes. When he finally made a door she could hang the sign on.
She looked around the treehouse. It was a work in progress. During quarantine she had driven her family crazy building box forts in every room in their house. Every morning she would ask her mother if she had any new boxes. Her mother tried to help, emptying boxes from their basement so she could build a second story to her fort. But her brother kept attacking her fort and destroying her creations. And her father didn’t like the mess, so he decreed she could not build them anywhere outside her room. And her room was too small.
She wasn’t supposed to know this, but after her father had exploded at her one day, her mother had pulled him into the office and she had listened from the other side of the door. Her mother had said she liked that building forts encouraged her creativity and kept her off electronic devices. She suggested that he help her build a treehouse to get her creations out of the house while still enabling her imagination. Her father had grumbled, but he had some spare boards that had been in the garage forever and ultimately her mother convinced him.
The treehouse he had built her was a little more than a box with a rectangular hole to serve as a doorway. His one concession to her creative dreams was the window cut in one wall. The simplicity served her purposes. Yesterday she had brought out all of her stuffed animals and turned the place into a zoo. Today she had told her mother she had wanted to turn it into Rapunzel’s tower. After all, weren’t they all locked in a tower right now? And so this morning her mother had given her some fabric and tulle to decorate. This morning she had brought it all out, intending to make curtains. She had gotten distracted by other projects, but the heat coming in through the square of sunlight reminded her of that addition so she brushed the tears off her face and looked around at the supplies scattered around her room.
How could she hang the fabric? She had brought out a handful of possibilities. The tape did not prove strong enough, but she thought the tacks should work. She struggled to push them into the wood and the first one fell back out when she allowed the weight of the fabric to pull on it. After that she was more careful and after a focused effort hung up two pieces of fabric that she could pull back like drapes. With the sun blocked, she felt better, but then the air around her became stale. She needed something to use to tie the curtains back. She still had a couple of scraps of fabric and after some searching found a pair of scissors that she used to cut two strips of fabric that she could use as ties. That improvement brought a smile to her face and she decided to hang some from the ceiling as well, like a canopy bed. When she was done, she was sweating, but she felt a sense of accomplishment.
“Sarah?” It was her mother’s voice, coming from below.
“Mom, come see what I have made!” Sarah said eagerly.
Her mom stuck her head in and smiled appreciatively. “You’ve done an absolutely lovely job! I wish I could spend the rest of the day in here.”
“Oh you can!”
“No, darling, I have to take another work call in a minute. I just wanted to check on you and bring you some lemonade and a snack.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said, taking the drink and a bowl of strawberries from her mother.
“And, Sarah,” her mother paused, trying to find the words, “I am sorry about your brother. We are all dealing with this in different ways. I don’t like how much time he spends on the iPad either, but it is how he copes, okay?”
“I don’t want to play with him anyway,” Sarah lied. “I want to stay out here and decorate my fort. I am going to stay out here all day.” And then an idea occurred to her. “Can I sleep out here too?”
“I don’t know about that. How about this - we will eat dinner out here this evening and then watch the fireflies and stars come out together?”
“Can I make dinner?”
“Maybe. You will have to run your menu by me,” her mother laughed and ruffled her hair before hurrying back in to another meeting.
Sarah grabbed another piece of paper and began brainstorming for her menu. What could she make? Peanut butter sandwiches, yogurt, cheese and crackers. And her mother would insist on a fruit or vegetable. Raspberries. She could pick them from the garden when it got a little cooler.
Focused on her new project, she created the perfect little restaurant in her treehouse, looking forward to dinner with her mother. She liked having her close and her father and brother (most of the time) - probably the only good thing about this quarantine. They could be close and dream about galaxies and days far away, or maybe, hopefully, not so far.