The first rule of my wife’s book club? I can’t join


From my shed window I can see my wife unpacking a load of shopping. I cross the wet garden and pull the back door open.

“Wow,” I say, looking at all the stuff.

“It’s not for you,” she says. “It’s book club tonight.”

“Here?” I say. “It’s not even the right day.”

“This is a different book club,” she says. “My other book club.”

“Who’s in it?” I say. She names four women.

“But they’ll be here all night!” I say. “What am I supposed to do?”

“That’s not my problem,” she says.

“I just don’t understand why a person would need two book clubs,” I say.

“This one is for people who’ve never been in a book club before,” she says.

“I’ve never been in a book club before,” I say. “What’s the book?” She tells me.

“I’ve actually read that,” I say. My wife gives me a hard stare.

“Obviously you’re welcome to join us,” she says, through gritted teeth. “And you’re also very welcome to stay away.”

At 7pm, when the doorbell rings for the first time, I am watching parliament vote on something I have been promised will be Meaningful. So far it does not mean much to me. My wife and the first book club member, Caroline, walk into the sitting room and stand in front of the TV.

“Have they voted yet?” Caroline says.

“They’re about to,” I say.

“We’re in the kitchen,” my wife says.

“So excited about book club!” says Caroline, pointing in my direction. “Is he coming?”

“No,” my wife says. “He’s not allowed.” The doorbell rings.

“Awww,” Caroline says. “Poor Timmy!”

“I have actually read the book,” I say. The second new member, Emma, walks in.

“Have they voted yet?” she says.

“Any minute,” I say.

“Wait,” Emma says. “Is he in the book club?”

“No,” my wife says. “He isn’t.”

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My wife leads Emma and Caroline away. The next arriving member is ushered past the sitting room, straight into the kitchen. I watch the vote, which is followed by a series of talking heads speculating about what will happen next. By 7.20pm my wine glass is empty. Another vote looms, but I’ve lost interest in politics. I want more wine. The sound of bright laughter reaches me through two closed doors. The bell rings. There is more laughter. At 7.25pm I stand up.

I twist the knob as gently as I can, but the kitchen door is wedged snugly in its frame. When I give it a shove with my shoulder it opens with a sharp little bark. Everyone at the table turns to look at me. I find myself responsible for a brief, perplexed silence.

“Sorry I’m late,” I say. I sit down in front of the cheese, and refill my glass.

“What are you doing?” my wife says.

“Let him stay!” says Caroline.

“How do we start?” Sasha says. “Do we go around and say what we thought?”

“The first rule of book club is we never talk about the book,” I say.

“He has no idea,” my wife says.

“I think the main order of business is to elect a club captain,” I say. “I’d like to put my name forward, just to get the ball rolling.”

“If you’re going to stay,” my wife says, “you can’t speak.”

I drink my wine. The discussion turns to the book’s treatment of larger cultural forces of the period, and whether they are rendered in sufficient depth.

“Ooh,” I say, raising my hand.

“Christ,” my wife says. I lower my hand and talk about the enforced isolation of the main character, what’s his name.

“So the lack of historical depth is maybe part of the point,” I say.

“Interesting,” Fran says.

“No, it isn’t,” my wife says.

I wake up the next morning with a terrible headache. My wife is sitting up in bed, thumbing her phone.

“I love book club,” I say, my voice creased and crackling. “Who knew?”

“From now on, you’re officially barred,” my wife says.

“That’s not going to be very popular,” I say. “Unlike me, in book club.” My phone pings on the bedside table: the unmistakable sound of Sasha adding me to their WhatsApp group.


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