It is a warm and sunny afternoon, and I am in the garden staring at a plant that has been levelled in the night. It’s the kind of damage I would normally blame on the tortoise, but the plant in question is in a raised bed, well out of his reach.
My wife comes back from the shops, and finds me staring.
“Oh dear,” she says.
“It can’t be a slug,” I say. “Unless it’s a slug the size of a ski boot.”
“It’s probably the squirrel,” she says.
“Would a squirrel eat radicchio?” I say, wincing, as I always do, whenever I have to say “radicchio” out loud.
“Dunno,” she says. “I bought two nice-ish bottles of rosé, so you can take one to poker.”
“I can’t bring rosé to a poker game,” I say.
“Why not?” she says.
“Because it’s poker,” I say. “It would put me at a huge psychological disadvantage.”
“Don’t be silly,” she says. I stare at the razed plant and I think: radicchio and rosé – how did I get here?
An hour later I walk down to the new beer shop on the corner. When it first opened I wondered if I would ever become the sort of person who makes a special trip to buy beer; now I’m such a regular customer that the owner waves to me whenever I walk past. He talks me through some of the hundreds of beers available: strong beer, weak beer, white beer, cloudy beer, local beer. I purchase what I think will be a psychologically advantageous selection.
“Do you need a bag?” he says.
“No, I have one,” I say, unfolding the M&S shopper I’ve got tucked under my arm. I think: what is happening to me?
When I get home, I add a cold bottle of rosé to the bag.
On Sunday morning I wake with a lingering sense of shame. Radio 4 is playing, and my wife is sitting up in bed looking at her phone.
“Why are we listening to church?” I say.
“I’m waiting for the news,” my wife says. “How was it?”
“I lost,” I say. “Badly.”
“Oh dear,” she says. “How much?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” I say.
“Do we need to sell the car?” she says.
“Technically the car is no longer ours to sell,” I say.
“Maybe I don’t want to know,” she says.
“The financial loss, though considerable, was nothing compared to the personal humiliation I suffered in defeat,” I say.
“Just give me a rough idea,” she says.
“I was so soundly crushed I had to leave early,” I say. “Because my sad presence was bringing everybody down.”
“Christ,” she says. “How much?”
“But you know what?” I say. “I was not the only person to bring rosé.”
“I told you,” she says.
“And the food was amazing,” I say. “Alex made this salad with pomegranate seeds in it.”
“For poker?” she says.
“I know, right?” I say. “In hindsight, it was the kind of meal I would have happily paid £70 for at a restaurant.”
“Did you lose 70 quid?” she says.
“I’m not ready to talk about it,” I say. “The memory is still too raw.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she says.
“I cried a little in the Uber on the way home,” I say. “I think the driver had seen worse.”
I have a long bath and two coffees, and my mood lifts. I think about how much more hungover I’d be if I’d won. I find two more razed plants in the garden, but decide life is too short to worry about a squirrel that likes radicchio more than I do.
My wife and I leave the house at midday to meet friends for lunch. As we reach the corner, my phone pings.
“What is it?” my wife says.
“It’s an email to the poker group, saying that somebody left an M&S shopper behind.”
“That’s my favourite bag!” she says.
“I’ll pick it up later,” I say.
We turn left. The owner of the beer shop is standing outside his premises. When he sees me he breaks into a broad smile and waves, and I smile and wave back.