Tim Dowling: reopen the world if you want to - I’m staying home

Tim Dowling
Photograph: Getty Images

I am sitting alone in the garden with a glass of wine, wondering what day it is and trying to remember a time when it mattered. Eventually my scattered thoughts clot around a single resolution: even when this is all over, I think, I’m not going back.

I’m never brushing my hair again. I’ve attended my last picnic. I will never again go to the cinema, or a gym. I’m not going to finish the book I’m reading or drive a car any more. They can reopen the world whenever they want, but I will be sending my regrets.

My phone rings. By time I dig it out of my pocket it has stopped and the screen is reporting a missed FaceTime call. Oh well, I think.

It rings again, I push the green button. Instantly, I hear voices talking about me as if I were not there.

“He’s not answering,” says one.

“He never answers,” says another.

“Oh look, he did answer,” says a third.

Faces crowd the screen: the middle one, in America, with my sister, and her husband, and my Aunt Gladys. Their world has reopened already.

“Hi,” I say, standing up.

“What is that?” says Gladys.

“Where?” I say.

“On your face!” she says.

“Oh,” I say, appraising my straggly beard, using my phone as a mirror. “It’s just for lockdown.” By which I mean for ever.

“Get rid of it,” says Gladys.

“I will, just as soon as…”

“Now where is he?” she says.

“He’s in the garden,” the middle one says, his face freezing.

“The signal is bad here,” I say, striding forward.

“Where’s he going?” says Gladys.

“He’s going into his office shed,” says the middle one.

“Sorry, it’s a bit messy,” I say.

“Look, he’s losing his hair,” says Gladys. “His mother was always worried he would lose his hair.”

“I’m 56,” I say, scraping my hair forward with my fingers.

“That’s not helping,” says Gladys. “Show me the house.”

“OK,” I say, flipping my phone camera round. “Hang on.”

“I don’t understand where we are,” says Gladys.

“He’s just walking across the garden into the kitchen,” says the middle one.

“Very nice,” says Gladys.

“And now he’s refilling his wine glass,” says the middle one.

“It’s like, 6.30pm here,” I say.

“Where is the wife?” says Gladys.

“She’s just over there,” I say, pointing my phone toward the sofa.

“What are you doing?” my wife says, holding her needlework up in front of her face.

“What kind of stitch is that?” says Gladys.

“I don’t know the name for it,” my wife says, giving me a hard stare.

“Sorry,” I say. “You’re on the tour.”

“It looks like a basket stitch,” says Gladys. “Show me upstairs.”

Halfway up the stairs, I meet the youngest one coming down.

“Which one is that now?” says Gladys.

“It’s me,” says the youngest one.

“What is that on his face?” she says. “Doesn’t anybody in that house own a razor?” The oldest one comes out of his room and leans over my phone.

“Hello,” he says.

“My God,” says Gladys. “They were all so handsome and now look at them.”

I climb to the top of the house, wondering if I remembered to make the bed.

“Now, do they have any kind of a bathroom up there?” says Gladys.

“Yeah, yeah,” says the middle one. “There’s like, a shower.”

“I’m running out of things to show you,” I say, heading back down the stairs.

“What’s he doing now?” says Gladys.

“He’s opening the front door,” says the middle one. “That’s the street and there’s the car.”

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“This is my nephew,” says Gladys, introducing me to a strange man, who has apparently been there the whole time.

“Hi there,” he says, waving.

“Hi,” I say. “So anyway.”

“Show him the garden again,” says Gladys. “I want him to see your garden.”

Somewhere on the second circuit my phone battery dies. I sit down, slightly winded, realising that I will walk back into the world just as soon as I am ordered to.