It is early morning and I am sitting in the kitchen before anyone else has had a chance to use it, drinking coffee, reading headlines and being qui
It is early morning and I am sitting in the kitchen before anyone else has had a chance to use it, drinking coffee, reading headlines and being quiet. The only sound is the noise of the tortoise trying to force himself through the cat flap, and the cat itself, which is sitting on the worktop, wanting cat food and getting none.
“Noel,” it says.
“I’m not Noel,” I say, quietly. “And anyway, there’s no cat food. Cat food is on the list.”
My wife comes in, coat on, and takes a turn round the table clockwise, with the dog following her.
“I’m going for a walk,” she says. “And I can’t find my glasses. Do we need anything?”
“Don’t think so,” I say.
“Wayne,” says the cat.
“Oh yeah, cat food,” I say.
“I’ll be back later,” my wife says. “Enjoy the door.”
This is what we say to each other when we part company: enjoy the door. Until last week, our back door was stuck almost fast; to open it, you had to shoulder the top half with such force that I was afraid it would one day fall off the house on to the lawn. At night, it often took two or three sharp pulls, inward and simultaneously upward, to get it closed enough for the latch to meet its corresponding hole. It was like that for three years, and every time I tried to fix it I made it a little bit worse.
Then last week a man – actually three men – came and put the door right. It was not, it transpired, a straightforward job. It took them almost eight hours, but it was satisfying to watch their mounting frustration and be no part of it. That evening, after they’d gone, I gave the door a gentle push from the outside and watched it swing and click into place all by itself.
“Whoa,” I said.
“I know,” my wife said, from the other side of the glass.
It was by no means a cheap repair, so “enjoy the door” means, in part, “get your money’s worth”. But it also means: in these difficult times we must make a conscious effort to draw pleasure from small things, such as a door that does what doors are supposed to do, because we can’t go out and there’s nothing on Netflix.
I decide to have another coffee before I start work. I stand and open the back door by pressing down the handle with a single finger, pausing to appreciate the smooth travel of the door as it swings outward and thinking it will be spring before my collective openings and closings cost me less than a quid each. Then I fling the old coffee grounds on to the grass and shut the door.
Our small lawn has a dip in it where it was partly reseeded two summers ago, and I’m trying to level it up, using only coffee. If nothing else, the past year has radically changed the sorts of things I am willing to list under “accomplishments”.
As I rinse out my cup I try to calculate how long it will take to accumulate sufficient spent grounds for a flat lawn. But I’m not the only person who drinks coffee in the house, and no one else is participating in the coffee lawn project, because I haven’t told them about it. As long as it’s a secret, it needn’t be success; it just needs to occupy my time between now and the end of whenever. Not for the first time, it occurs me that I was born to live under some form of house arrest.
After the coffee is made, I realise it’s long past the time for me to retreat to my office shed. I fill my cup quickly and head off to work. In my haste, on this one final occasion, I forget to enjoy the door: without thinking I throw my shoulder into it as I always have, and find myself propelled through it at speed. I end up on my knees in the mud, my coffee cup empty, its contents flung out before me on the wet grass. Up close, I see that I am surrounded by little domes of damp espresso.
The cat comes to the door and looks at me.
“Joan?” it says.
• Tim Dowling and Hadley Freeman will be in conversation on 25 February at 8pm. Find details and £5 tickets for their livestreamed event at membership.theguardian.com