It was October 2010 the night the priest came to our door. The knock startled Tim’s dullard beagle into a howl just as Tim’s mother was serving up dinner. She and her husband had flown in from New York a few weeks earlier to care for their dying son.
Tim and I had moved to London the year before. Our friends — newsroom colleagues — visited sometimes, though only with advance notice. Tim’s brain tumour had severely blunted his wit. I was prone to crying jags. As a couple, we did not inspire drop-ins.
Tim’s mother told us to start eating and went to answer the knock. The beagle ricocheted in frenzy between food and front door. ‘Charity collectors,’ Tim’s father guessed.‘They love targeting dinner time.’
Tim’s parents were in their seventies: he a former newspaperman, she a retired librarian. They hailed from the Lower West Side of Manhattan and I from the Upper East, meaning we were nearly as foreign to each other as the English were to us. Upon arriving in London, Tim’s father had fixed every wonky hinge and crooked step in the three-storey flat. He took the six-year-old beagle for daily romps. Tim’s mother laundered and ironed, co-ordinated medical providers, filed private insurance claims and cooked all the meals. On weekends they donned hiking boots and joined hipsters on walking tours.
By contrast, at 27, I did little except work, sleep and cry. I despised London, which did not exist for me beyond our flat in Islington, the City office and the Mayfair clinic that treated Tim. My chest was heavy all the time, as if cold stones were filling my thoracic cavity. Though physically robust, I was privately convinced I was dying right along with Tim.
We’d met three years earlier in Brussels, where Tim had transferred from Singapore after vanquishing his first brain tumour in 2006.