27th December 2001, 4am
My brother was heroic, that dismal early morning just after Christmas.
I dragged him out of bed long before dawn was even thought of, to move his car. Instead, he offered to drive us. Bink in the back with Serena, her language unspeakable... certainly better unspoken: an aggressively drunken sailor crossed with a seething sewer, directing all its vitriol at the driver; intimate, possibly imagined, confidences from my niece about her parents, screamed at him with venom.
We had never heard anything like this. Bink: spiteful, cruel, disgusting even? Her brain had been hacked by some feral and malign virus; the machinery whirring completely out of control. My brother said nothing, and drove on. I have no idea to this day whether he was hurt, shocked or simply sensibly switched off.
Shaun stayed behind, my parents still undisturbed in bed, and my sister-in-law and their daughters.
And our two boys. Ben’s young life torpedoed, yet again, his Christmas holiday hijacked.
A woman had been staring, outside the Vicarage, horrified at the scene of a vocally very distressed girl being manhandled into a car.
She stayed staring.
Here is a difference between Shaun and me. If I had been left on the pavement while Shaun took Bink to the hospital, I would have considered what it looked like to this appalled passerby; approached and befriended her; explained a little – even still traumatised, as I was myself. Women are trained from knee-high to oil the social wheels.
Shaun thought it none of her business.
“Boo!” he said. The stranger squealed. Then the Vicar went back inside his Vicarage to go back to bed. Or mourn his lost daughter.
In the limbo between Christmas and New Year London is deserted. When the children were younger they attended an orchestra course over the last days of December, and driving them along the Embankment each morning took ten minutes instead of forty. The dead time between midnight and dawn is even more so: the streets were empty.
Until sirens split the stillness, and several police cars, blue lights screaming, converged and pinned us to the pavement. I assumed they were in pursuit of criminals, but instead they invited us out of the car. My brother wore nothing but his flimsy sky-blue pyjamas, more suited to midsummer than midwinter. We should have been shivering as we placed our palms on the roof of the car: Serena remembers being barefoot on the icy pavement, while they seemed to question us for ever.
I was shaking… but completely unaware of the cold. In the strangeness I was too stunned to feel anything but bereavement.
They must have asked our business: we must have said we were taking Bink to hospital. They said they’d better do that.
“Oh, please,” I said. “Yes, please. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Odd words, perhaps, for kidnappers.
I remember nothing about the hand-over, or settling Bink back in. Nor about getting back home. Whether we attempted sleep again; or sat together in the kitchen with cooling, unwanted mugs of tea… as we had when Bink went missing for two nights aged twelve, and we concluded she was dead.
As then, there were no thoughts left over for Serena, and how she would recover from what she’d heard. Nor for Alex and Ben, and how we would rescue their Christmas.
Serena’s godparents were due with us for the day. I have an idea we had planned a cinema trip, but we had no energy for anything. At around midday, a policeman rang. We had become friends four years earlier, when he was liaison officer at Bink disappearance. Like us, he had helped run Christian holiday camps for teenagers, and was a friend of Shaun’s previous boss and Vicar.
He would help, he assured us.
Shaun was being investigated for assault.
Oh, what? Didn’t we have enough, already?
There was now a reddening on Bink’s face. She’d explained that her father had slapped her.
We walked the streets that afternoon with Serena’s godparents: he one of Shaun’s oldest friends from their teens, also a clergyman. Their lives had not been easy, their only child with a life-long illness, likely to die before them. They breathed kind sympathy over the surreal nightmare spinning around us. He it was I turned to a few months later when I ran a razor along my wrist.
Bink was lost to us again. Her mind had been, long before she came home. Then and over the next few days we concluded she must be a lot more deranged than we’d realised. Schizophrenic, presumably: not that we knew much about it.
I can’t remember how, but towards the end of that day we learnt more about the mark on her face now being investigated.
It was on her right cheek.
Shaun is right-handed.
Try it sometime: slapping a friend’s face without thinking. (Perhaps ask first though, if you don’t want the police at dawn.)
You will use your dominant hand.
It was completely impossible for Shaun to have marked the right side of Bink’s face. So, who had?