Tim Dowling: from a distance, I look busy. But now I’ve been sprung | Life and style

I t is Friday afternoon, an hour or so before sunset, and I am in my office shed. My wife is gardening a few feet away, cutting the stalk...

It is Friday afternoon, an hour or so before sunset, and I am in my office shed. My wife is gardening a few feet away, cutting the stalks of spent dahlias down to the ground. This makes me uncomfortable, because even though I am sitting at my desk and facing my computer screen, it is obvious I am not actually doing anything. My wife’s proximity is the only thing keeping me awake.

I lean back in my chair to glance up at the rear windows of the neighbours, wondering how much of this scene they can see. My shed is basically a glass box, glowing with the light from my desk lamp under an ashen November sky. I look like a museum exhibit of a man not doing anything.

There is a sharp tap on the glass. I turn to see my wife struggling to pull a large sack of compost from a wheelbarrow directly in front of me.

“Lift with your legs,” I say. Her eyebrows arch, but she does not move. I stand up and open the door, letting in a blast of cold air.

“Help,” my wife says.

I take the sack from her. It’s wet on the underside, and soaks the sleeves of my jumper.

“There, please,” she says, pointing to a spot on the ground. I waddle over and drop the sack.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“I’m putting bulbs in all of these,” she says, indicating the four earthenware pots that stand either side of my shed door.

“Now?” I say.

“Why not now?” she says.

“Because I’m a businessman,” I say. “These are my business hours.”

“You don’t look very busy,” she says, craning her neck towards my screen.

“You’re not meant to be this close,” I say. “I’d look busy from the kitchen.”

“There’s another one in the car,” she says, pointing to the sack of compost with a muddy trowel. “I’ll need it.”

On Sunday morning, I am awakened by the sound of rain drumming on the roof, and the radio droning in the background. The sky outside is the colour of slate.

“Eugh,” I say to the heaped-up duvet next to me. There is no answer. I grab my phone from the bedside table.

“What?” I say. “It’s almost 10! I’ve got work to do before lunch.” There is no answer.

“I should have done it Friday, of course, but you know how…” I stop and pull back the duvet. There is no one beneath it.

The rest of the house is silent. The sitting room is empty, and so is the kitchen. I make coffee. Staring blankly out the back window into the drizzle, I see that the leaves on the lawn have arranged themselves into four circular piles. How curious, I think. At the far end of the garden, I detect movement: my wife, rake in hand, making another pile. I open the back door.

“Have you gone insane?” I say.

“It’s not the sort of thing you would ever do, is it?” she says.

“No,” I say, pointing up at the large tree that looms over the garden, still bearing half its leaves. “You’re meant to wait until they all fall off.”

“I couldn’t,” she says. “It was too messy.”

I pull on my boots and stomp between the piles to my shed, where I sit down at the computer, open up a document and stare, arms folded. Behind me, on the other side of the glass, my wife is now on her hands and knees, digging away at the bare earth.

“Hello!” she says. “What can I do for you?”

I swivel round in my chair to see that she is talking to a robin perched at her side on the newly turned soil. I stand and lean out of the door.

“I can’t write with you doing manual labour just there,” I say. “It’s unseemly.”

The robin tweets.

“Is that right?” my wife says.

“Are you talking to me?” I say.

“You could always help,” she says.

I look back toward the kitchen. The lawn, I notice, is already carpeted with a fresh layer of yellowed leaves. Sighing theatrically to underscore the grinding futility of existence, I step outside and pick up the rake.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tim Dowling: from a distance, I look busy. But now I’ve been sprung | Life and style
Tim Dowling: from a distance, I look busy. But now I’ve been sprung | Life and style
Newsrust - US Top News
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