Two days before book club, my wife comes to find me in my shed.
“I’m going over the road to look at the kittens,” she says.
“OK,” I say. “Don’t come back with one.” I know this statement carries zero weight, but I sometimes feel the need to say these things so the record reflects my position.
“They’re so sweet!” she says.
The day before book club I receive an email from Uber, thanking me for my recent journey from King’s Cross to Acton. I have not left the house in four days. I find the middle one at the front door, back from university with approximately a third of his worldly possessions.
“Uber mentioned you might be here,” I say.
“Yeah, hi,” he says. My wife comes down the stairs.
“Did you take a taxi?” she says. “I strongly disapprove of that.”
“That’s why I use his account,” the middle one says, pointing at me.
“Do you want to come over the road to see the kittens?” she says.
“Yes,” he says.
“Don’t come back with one,” I say.
On the day of book club, I flip through the book – I finished it over a month ago and remember little about what happens. I am reminded that the main character is called Tim, and that he is also sort of a jerk: aloof, diffident, boring, emotionally unreachable. Yeah, we get it, I think.
That afternoon my wife tells me that Kate from over the road isn’t coming to book club.
“Why not?” I say.
“Because of the cat,” she says. She explains that the previous day Kate’s cat got out through an open window and disappeared, leaving behind a litter of week-old kittens.
“Harsh,” I say.
“But then today it snuck back in and made off with one of the kittens,” she says. “Kate’s beside herself.”
“I can see that’s bad,” I say. “But not missing-book-club bad.” My wife goes over the road with the middle one. An hour later she returns without him.
“So, the cat’s now grabbed a second kitten,” she says. “No one knows where she’s taking them.”
“That’s awful,” I say. “On the other hand…”
“On the other hand, what?” she says.
“Keep the window open, cat takes all the kittens away, the end,” I say. “Problem solved.”
It has been raining on and off all day. As we leave for book club, it is on again. Kate is keeping lookout on the corner while the middle one climbs over a garden wall.
“We think they might be back there somewhere,” Kate says.
“You’re both going to get arrested,” I say.
“I don’t care,” Kate says.
At book club, my wife explains the reason for Kate’s absence.
“That’s terrible,” Nicky says.
“I was like, ‘Problem solved’,” I say. No one speaks.
Everyone else arrives, and we sit down. I usually have a lot to say at book club, but tonight I find myself preoccupied. It’s raining harder than ever, and getting dark. Halfway through the evening, my wife’s phone pings. She looks at the screen.
“Oh!” she says.
“What?” I say. She shows me a long text message from Kate, recounting how the middle one, after crouching in the rain for hours, managed to track the cat to a secluded spot in a stranger’s back garden, where, in the dark, he gathered up the missing kittens in his jacket. Cat and kittens were now reunited, and safely home.
“Aw,” says everyone. Not for the first time, I am reminded of the simple spirit of kindness that resides in every human heart except mine. After a few minutes looking at pictures of kittens on my wife’s phone, we return to the book.
“So,” Emma says, “do we like Tim?”
“Not really,” Sash says. “Were we supposed to?”
“He was sort of meant to be inadequate, wasn’t he?” Nicky says.
“Emotionally deficient,” Emma says.
“Of course he was,” I say. “That’s why he’s called Tim.”
“I didn’t really like the book, to be honest,” my wife says.
“That’s why we’re all called Tim,” I say.
On the way home, my wife takes me to see the kittens. They are smaller, and frailer, than I could have possibly imagined.