Alexander has the kindest heart in the world.
Being Aspergic, he has coped with Bink’s illness very differently from the rest of us. I was about to say, “much better than”, and it certainly appears so. His objectivity is astonishing: if an emotion isn’t useful, he doesn’t use it. (The jury is still arguing ferociously as to whether his feelings consider this satisfactory; or whether they are merely biding their time, stacked up and waiting – somewhat pissed off – in the wings to be attended to when he has a moment.)
Thus he is able to analyse Bink’s behaviour, understand her fears and give her responses so appropriate and helpful that sometimes the rest of us can only gawp in admiration.
I have already alluded to his being the one member of the family who would never lie to her. The temptation can be considerable. In 2015 we lost Bink for months, just because Rose changed the cycle of her wash, when she was getting her uniform ready for the new Lent term, in order to be in time to catch her train. If Bink hadn’t known – if I had glossed over the exact details when she asked me – she would have been with us through Rosie’s precious last half year at choir school, and present for the celebratory and glorious week of her confirmation in Durham Cathedral that Easter.
But Alex would never do it. He explained to me why lies and Asperger’s syndrome don’t go together. Nothing moral about it: it’s just too confusing. He takes the long view, I suppose. Getting Bink to Rosie’s confirmation isn’t worth the price. ’Specially not the risk of losing her trust.
She’ll have to find a way around the truth herself.
Before her illness Bink was a sparkling musician. Her obsessiveness could have taken a very different turn. I’ve heard her practice triplets against quavers for hours on end. You can’t really become a professional musician – perhaps any creative genius – without a considerable level of obsession.
But since the Florence Nightingale Unit she hadn’t been able to touch musical instruments, along with much else besides. And she had no outlet for singing, so her music had fallen sadly silent.
One day Alex come into the Vicarage drawing room looking for all the world like Mrs Mopp. He didn’t quite have a headscarf tied in a knot on his forehead or flowery overalls on, but the resemblance was otherwise so striking that I picture him to this day as if he had. He was carrying a bucket of soapy water, bubbles frothing at its lip, and an old-fashioned mop, with its wild unbrushed hair on the end of a pole, head down in it.
We were so astonished that we merely watched, mesmerised, as he sloshed the sopping mop up and down the keyboard of the piano, refreshing it regularly from his bucket.
Eventually, someone must have had the sense to ask him what on earth he thought he was doing. I agree it was, if not quite a pointless question, certainly far too late a one. Still, I don’t think it warranted quite the tone of the blindingly obvious with which he explained, “Washing the piano. So Bink can play it.”
I don’t think Bink had actually asked him to do this. She’s not quite that bonkers.
On the other hand…
Alas, no one played that piano for quite a long time.
For some months, all the keys lay in the sun in our conservatory, individually extracted from the innards of the instrument, attempting to dry out. At first I put them in the garden for the duration of a sunny afternoon, but it was soon very clear that, spring though it was, it would be snowing before they had recovered.
We had to get a piano engineer friend in eventually. A high and little-used C# remained stuck for many years afterwards.
Perhaps it was Bink’s idea, now I think about it. I remember explaining that wet wipes would have been a little more appropriate.
This was a mistake.
Wet wipes still have quite a lot of moisture in them, if you ring them out with enough determination over a wincing keyboard.
There came a time when the individual keys stretched out trying to dry in the conservatory were not those of our piano. But of my laptop. Without which I couldn’t work.
Which was not something Alex could ever have done.
And that never did recover.