Monday 8th December 1997, afternoon.
By the afternoon I was too tired to think.
The Telegraph journalist – was it Judith Woods? Jan Muir? Whoever it was, she was tactfully trying to keep out of the way whilst also doing her job – was the last one left in the house. Someone had sent all the others away (though they didn’t seem to have got much further than our front garden). A neighbour, a member of our church, was telling even her to go. I felt guilty: surely I had to be loyal to my own paper?
The same friend told me, firmly and kindly, to go upstairs and lie down.
I suspect she then sent the Telegraph journalist away.
All the while my father, fifty miles away in Cambridge, was sitting in his vicar’s study.
I didn’t appreciate my parents’ vicar much. He once preached a sermon which had upset me so much (he referred to “keeping the rumour of God alive”, as if our Heavenly Father were no more than a conspiracy of idle gossip) that straight after the service, without waiting for tea or coffee, I went for a vigorous walk before going back to my parents’ house. I’m not sure I ever attended a service in their church again: I certainly didn’t want to.
After that incident my father had told me the vicar was quite open about having lost his own faith. He stayed on in his post “to give the unbelievers in the parish a voice”. Which seemed to me suspiciously like taking money from the Meat Association to propagate one’s own veganism.
Nevertheless he was there for my father when he needed him. He offered him a haven in his storm.
A safe study to weep in; a sympathetic shoulder to cry on; somewhere to mourn his lost granddaughter.
Some time in the late afternoon, Gordon called Shaun and me aside again.
“There is nothing definite,” he warned us, “and you mustn’t say anything to anybody. Not a word, not even to your other children.
“We are tentatively hopeful. We think there may have been a sighting. It has not been confirmed yet and it could be a case of mistaken identity, so please don’t pin any hopes on it.”
How could we not? How could any parent go from such dark despair of death to even the most tentative glimmerings of life, and not be overwhelmed with joy?
We did as we were told. We didn’t breathe a word. Not even to my poor father, sobbing (unknown to us) in his unbelieving vicar’s study.
We simply waited...
As we wait now, twenty one years later, still hoping for good news.
By early evening, Shaun’s sisters had arrived.
Gordon said he couldn’t involve Shaun and me. If the sighting was indeed Bink, seeing us might frighten her away.
They could take Shaun’s two sisters and Serena with them.
While we continued to wait.