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Tim Dowling: did you hear the one about my second favourite cardigan? | Family

3 min read



It’s late, and my wife is driving me home from what will turn out to be the band’s only gig of 2020 – the second one will soon be postponed due to tier 3 restrictions. But I don’t know this yet – I still think I have another shot at it before the end of the year.

“I noticed lots of mistakes,” my wife says. “And I never notice anything.”

“We were nervous,” I say. “Next week will be better. Anyway, the cardigan thing worked.”

“You looked a bit warm,” she says.

“I was wearing a cardigan,” I say.

We arrive home. As I open the front door, the dog runs out between my legs. I find the oldest one and the youngest one in the kitchen, playing the same game on separate laptops.

“Anyone with shoes can help me unload,” I say. They both hold up bare feet, proudly.

“How was it?” the youngest one says.

“Not bad,” I say. “The cardigan gag worked well.”

“I’m not sure I’m familiar,” the oldest says.

“About this being my second favourite cardigan?” I say, tugging at my sleeve. He shakes his head. I explain the cardigan gag in some detail, from setup to payoff. The youngest one regards me with a sieved mixture of bemusement and concern.

“Do that many people your age know who Cardi B is?” he says.

“Not everyone there was my age,” I say.

“Did you wear that on stage the whole night for the sake of one joke?” the oldest one says.

“Your mother will testify that everyone laughed,” I say. “Where is she?” The front door is open to the night, but she has yet to come through it. The street outside the house is empty. I turn down the long lane that runs alongside our garden wall. The way is unlit, but in the distance I can see my wife’s phone screen glowing.

The dog is chasing a fox in circles around a wide lawn, and my wife is taking pictures. As I approach, the dog stops and runs towards me. The fox follows the dog. Then the dog turns around and they resume their game.

“They’re actual friends,” my wife says.

“It’s not natural,” I say, conscious of the fact that I am standing in someone else’s garden.

“The fox was sitting under the streetlamp, waiting for the dog to come out,” she says.

“It will end badly,” I say.

Some nights later I am sitting on the couch in front of the TV, with the dog next to me. The dog is chewing itself furiously, jarring my arm and causing fine ripples to appear on the surface of the glass of wine I am holding.

“Stop,” I say. The dog looks up at me, and I look down. I call my wife into the room.

“What?” she says.

“This dog is chewing holes in itself,” I say, pointing to the raw, furless patches on its back and tail.

“When did you notice this?” she says, holding up the dog’s back leg.

“I just saw it now!” I say. My wife leaves the room, returns with some kind of dog salve, and begins to apply it.

“This is what comes from hanging out with foxes,” I say.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” my wife says. “Hold still.”

“It’s got mange,” I say.

“You’ve got mange,” my wife says. I look down the front of my favourite cardigan, cardi A.

“Actually, I probably do,” I say.

I go to my office. When I return after half an hour, my wife is watching a different TV programme. The fire is lit, and the dog is sleeping soundly in the spot where I usually sit.

“The answer to the question, ‘Can a dog catch mange from a fox?’” I say.

“Is no,” my wife says.

“Is a resounding yes,” I say. “Fox mange. The worst of the manges.”

“It’s not mange,” my wife says.

“The answer to the question, ‘Can a person catch fox mange from a dog?’” I say, “is also yes.”

“Fine,” she says. “Go to the vet together.”

“Also the gig’s off,” I say.

“Oh,” she says. “That’s sad.”

Later I receive a text from the fiddle player saying his wife thought Cardi B was something to do with the vaccine.



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