Tim Dowling: it’s our 30th wedding anniversary soon – but first a dance with the dustbins

I’ve had hundreds of chances to become a better husband over the years – and I’ve seized none of them

I am sitting at the kitchen table. My wife is standing at the sink with her back to me, washing something up while telling me about all the upcoming social obligations she has managed to extract us from.

“Is it a good idea,” I ask, “us never going anywhere again?”

“I don’t care,” she says. “I’ve forgotten how to socialise, and I don’t want to learn again.”

“No, I mean, me neither,” I say. “It’s just, I don’t know.”

“If you would like to be in charge of our social lives from now on, feel free,” she says.

I remain silent for a minute, keeping open the possibility that I didn’t hear this bit.

“What do you want to do for our 30th wedding anniversary?” I say.

“Oh God,” my wife says, turning round. “How close is it?”

“It’s the next one,” I say.

“But still months,” she says. “Many months.” ‘’

“There’s probably still time to get divorced first, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I say this with the confidence of someone who thinks: there is nowhere near enough time to get divorced first.

“I don’t want to do anything,” she says.

“I know, but it’s 30 years,” I say. “It feels like the sort of thing where we should invite everyone we know to a remote island.”

“And kill them?” she says. A brief silence follows.

“Well, maybe,” I say. “But don’t put anything about that in the save-the-date email.”

I didn’t intend to give my wife the opportunity to reconsider three decades of marriage; I only raised the subject in a bid to distract her from the idea of passing sole responsibility for our social calendar to me. She did the same thing with cooking about two years ago, and I have not coped well.

The afternoon brings on an urge to take a long and solitary walk, but the sky turns black and rain comes down in billowing sheets. I lie on the sofa with a book on my chest. Thirty years is more than half my life, I think. I have been married for most of the time I’ve been alive. And in that time countless opportunities to be a better husband have been squandered.

My eyes are just beginning to roll to the back of my head when my wife comes in and speaks some words.

“What?” I say, the book sliding off my chest.

“It’s garden waste,” she says.

This is shorthand for a particular phase in the rotating collection cycle: the night of the three bins – black rubbish, food scraps, green garden waste wheelie.

“Ugh,” I say.

Half of our front garden is given over to a small paved drive (it was like that when we moved in), so it’s impossible to get the rubbish to the kerb without somebody – my wife – backing the car up a bit while somebody else – me – drags the bins from their normal resting place. I’ve had hundreds of chances to perform this office with something like grace over the years, and I’ve seized none of them.

Rain runs into my collar as I pull the garden waste across the bricks in the glare of the car’s headlights. The wheels of the bin catch in some gravel, nearly turning it over.

“Shitting hell,” I say. Behind the windscreen my wife’s face glows as she looks down at her phone.

That night my family draw amusement from the shrivelled carrots I produce for supper.

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“They look like raisins,” says the middle one.

“They were small to begin with,” I say, “but then I forgot about them in the oven.” I thought adding an unrehearsed vegetable dish to a standard Tuesday meal was within my capabilities, but it turned out to be akin to adding a fourth chainsaw to a juggling routine right before showtime.

“The rice isn’t done,” the oldest one says.

“I forgot about the rice,” I say. “Because of the carrots.”

“Is this meat safe to eat?” the youngest one says.

“I don’t recommend you eat any of it,” I say.

Lying in bed later with the rain still hitting the roof, my mood lightens. It’s wrong to dwell on past opportunities for improvement missed, when there are still opportunities ahead: islands to be hired, guests to be invited, quicksand traps dug and covered with leaves. Save the date.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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