Tim Dowl­ing

Plus Coco Khan

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

When I was at school, I re­mem­ber read­ing a quo­ta­tion in a book of ad­vice abut writ­ing, which said that the hard­est part of be­ing a writer w are look­ing is con­vinc­ing out of the your win­dow. spouse It didn’t that you sound are work­ing to me like when you a the hard­est part of be­ing a writer, but I sup­pose I imag­ined hav­ing t to do it only once per spouse.

“Must be nice, star­ing into space all day,” my wife says.

She has just walked into the kitchen, where I am lean­ing against t the oven, cof­fee in one hand, mouth ajar, watch­ing dust motes fifi fil­ter through a shaft of wa­tery win­ter sun­light. It is 9.30am. “It’s OK,” I say.

“Hav­ing a late start, are we?” she asks.

“No,” I say, point­ing to­wards my of­fice shed. “But it’s cold out there, so I’m in here.”

My wife pulls the bag from the re­cy­cling bin, ties a knot at the top and drops it at my feet. “If you haven’t got any­thing to do,” she says.

“I’ve got loads to do, ac­tu­ally,” I say.

“The work is re­ally pil­ing up.”

“Then why are you in here not work­ing?” she says.

“I’m sure we’ve been through this,” I re­ply. “The hard­est part of be­ing a writer thing?”

“I ex­pect the hard­est part must be stand­ing around watch­ing your wife do ev­ery­thing while you do noth­ing,” she says.

“That’s not the ex­act quo­ta­tion,” I say. “And you’re sort of miss­ing the point of the…”

“Imag­ine hav­ing to work and also keep this house in some kind of vague or­der,” my wife says. “Imag­ine how hard that would be.”

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing this ex­act con­ver­sa­tion, like, months ago,” I re­ply.

I re­turn to my shed. The heater has been on for a while, so it has warmed up a lit­tle, but nowhere near enough. Af­ter half an hour of sit­ting still, my fin­gers be­gin to go numb. I can feel the chill of the floor through my shoes. I lean back in my chair and look out across the gar­den to­wards the kitchen. It’s empty.

There is a fair chance that my wife has gone out some­where, but there is also an equal chance that she will be sit­ting at her desk when I lean around the sit­ting room door to check, and that if she sees me lurk­ing in the house again, she will make me go to the dump.

I cross the gar­den, qui­etly ease open the kitchen door and lis­ten: si­lence.

I creep down the hall and hold my breath as I lean around the sit­ting room

door: my wife’s desk is un­oc­cu­pied.

I ex­hale and sit down in her chair, which is newer than mine and swivels freely. It’s also much warmer in here, and the light catches the float­ing dust in a most pe­cu­liar way. I feel my lower lip drop. The world re­treats.

A minute or five later, the door­bell rings. The young man on the doorstep is wear­ing a small hat and a large ruck­sack. He hands me a lam­i­nated card.

“I take it you’re the man of the house,” he says.

“Well,” I say, “that’s one way of…” “I’m a re­cently re­leased ex-of­fender,” he says. “Don’t be put off – I’ve made some mis­takes in my life and I’m try­ing to get back on the right path.”

I know he’s ly­ing. And I know that the lam­i­nated card with “Work Cre­ation” writ­ten on it is a crappy forgery, and that the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme he de­scribes does not ex­ist. In a mo­ment he will to try to sell me a £10 tea towel. Then I re­call that the last man I en­coun­tered un­der the aus­pices of this scam shat on my doorstep when I re­fused to buy a lint roller.

“So what I’m ask­ing to­day is for you to spare five min­utes of your time to let me show you what I’ve…”

“Sorry,” I say, “but I’m work­ing.” g.”

His pat­ter ceases. The young man n glares at me with some­thing like hate in his is eyes, but also dis­be­lief. He might have seen n me through the win­dow on his way up the path – with my mouth open and star­ing at the dust.

He con­tin­ues to glare over his shoul­der as he re­treats. We’re both think­ing the same thing – that it’s hard to fool a fraud­ster.

“I’m re­ally very busy,” I say, shut­ting the door

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