Tim Dowling: my wife thinks it’s our 25th anniversary – it isn’t

At 8am I open the back door to find a large tomato of the San Marzano variety lying on the damp grass with half a dozen tiny bites taken out of it. This, I realise, is the work of my enemy, the squirrel.

I’ve been subject to so few provocations from the squirrel recently that it occurred to me he may have taken the summer off. If that’s the case, he’s clearly back from wherever he spent August. I look down at the ruined fruit, which the squirrel plucked from a nearby plant and left here, after discovering that tomatoes of the San Marzano variety were not to his taste after all.

“You bastard,” I say, turning to go back inside and inform my wife.

My wife hates me leaning round the open sitting room door to see if she’s at her desk. I sometimes check first by peering through the gap between the hinges, but the view is so narrow that it’s often hard to tell. I slow my breathing and take a cautious step closer.

“I know you’re there,” she says.

“Hi!” I say, leaning round the door in the way that she hates.

“Can I help you?” she says. I’ve forgotten why I’ve come. I think: think.

“How would you like to celebrate your wedding anniversary?” I say.

“Oh Christ,” she says. “When is it?”

“Saturday,” I say.

“This Saturday?”

“Would you like to go out for a romantic dinner for two?”

“No, thank you,” she says.

“Would you like to renew our vows in the garden?” I say.

“Not really,” she says.

“OK, but can you act surprised when the tent gets here?”

“Why, it’s not a round number is it?” she says.

“You can do the maths,” I say, walking off. I understand her reluctance to celebrate, commemorate or acknowledge the passing of time. Even during the brief summer window when socialising was permitted, we didn’t seize the opportunity. The idea of going to a restaurant seems unbearably daunting. If you can’t skip an anniversary due to a pandemic, there really is no silver lining.

Two days later I discover that three small courgettes I had been planning to pick are missing, gnawed to stubs while still on the plant. When I was in the middle of a courgette glut, the squirrel showed no interest. But now he has taken the last few of the season, out of spite. I storm into the kitchen where my wife is talking to the oldest one.

“It’s silver, so we have to do something,” she is saying.

“Silver what?” I say.

“Anniversary,” she says. I look at her, and at the oldest one.

“Silver is 25th,” I say.

“Exactly,” she says.

“Tomorrow is not our 25th anniversary,” I say.

“Isn’t it?” she says. “I’ve been telling everyone it is.”

“Our 25th anniversary was three years ago,” I say. “We had a curry.”

“Does that mean we don’t have to do anything?” she says.

“We can stay here and I’ll cook you a lovely romantic meal,” I say. “Like every other night.”

“Please not courgettes,” she says.

“You’re in luck,” I say.

“Can we have a takeaway?” she says.

I wake the next morning to find my wife already getting dressed.

“What time is it?” I say. She turns towards me with a start. It’s obvious she is desperate to say something before I can, but she’s also got a shirt halfway over her head. She grunts as her head pops through the neck hole.

“Happy university!” she shouts.

“University?” I say. “Are you having a stroke?”

“Anniversary, I mean,” she says. “Happy 27th.”

“28th,” I say.

“Whatever,” she says.

“Happy anniversary,” I say.

I get out of bed and walk to the open window. The sun is shining, the air is warm, and the squirrel is sitting on the roof of my shed eating a small, orange Sungold tomato.

“You don’t even like them,” I say.

“I don’t mind them,” my wife says. “I just never remember them.”


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