Bink came home for two days, at Christmas.
This in itself raised Christmas considerably higher than one or two previous Christmases. For instance, Christmas 2013 when we had absolutely no idea where she was nor any way of finding out. I wasn’t convinced we’d even know if she was no longer alive, though Shaun assured me months later (it’s the sort of momentous conversation you don’t think to have at the time) that of course the news would have reached us somehow.
Now I make myself face the fear again, I’m still not sure how. Woman of unspecified age, hoodie and joggers, dies on the street on a cold winter’s night, no ID. Happens all the time, I imagine...
Anyway, it didn’t happen then and it didn’t happen this year and there is much to be grateful for.
On the previous Christmas Day, 2017, instead of going to church, we held a service in my father’s bedroom. He had broken his femur a few weeks before his 100th birthday celebrations, and we hadn’t yet had a stair lift installed. It took me a good half hour to persuade Bink out of bed to join us – in the end, she did so out of kindness, because I said it would be the best Christmas present I could have, all of us in the room together – and in that very-Bink-way which sometimes gives me such hope for her future, she most graciously told me at the end of the day that she was glad I’d persuaded her and she enjoyed Christmas more out of bed than in it.
True, not long after that she crashed very badly and was briefly back on the streets again.
It was weeks before we understood why. Earlier in that December 2017, Serena had found for her an apparently perfect place to live. Five minutes from Serena herself, so Serena could provide company and Bink could provide help with Serena’s then six-month-old. In an immaculately clean house. Which was affordable.
Alas, we realised afterwards that the reason it was so immaculate and Bink felt so at home was almost certainly because the landlady herself had OCD: after three days she evicted Bink on the grounds that she (the landlady) had noticed that she (Bink) had not yet had a shower.
The cruelest and most destructive thing anyone could possibly have said to her…
Bink, who can take months to summon up courage even to brush her teeth. Whose life has been wrecked by wondering whether she is clean enough. No wonder she felt such despair, after this comment, that she preferred to sleep on a bench for a freezing night or two while we were all wondering why she wouldn’t come to the New Year’s Eve party we so enthusiastically invited her to…
So this year, this Christmas, was better, right?
At nine am or so, we called her down for tea and stocking-openings in the kitchen. She wanted to stay in bed. At ten, Buck’s fizz and oysters: Bink never says no to champagne. But she did. At eleven, I tried to get her up to join us for the service we were again holding in my father’s room: he has a severe chest infection and can’t get to church. She seemed to say she was coming… but didn’t. So we waited and waited. I tried again, and tried. We waited some more.
Eventually, the conversation reached that point it often has before, which chills me to the bone.
What do you want, Bink?
I just want to die.
There is nothing in her life... nothing, nothing, nothing... that she looks forward to and enjoys. There is only pain. Unremitting, unrelenting pain. There is only a longing to end it all.
Is there any treatment for such despair? Is there any help out there or indeed anywhere, for someone whose life is so dreadful, so unbearable, that all she can do, if she won’t – thank God – kill herself, is hide under the covers and wish she could sleep for ever.
At some stage I happened to tell her that after our service we would be going to our newly opened local, and singing carols for them.
This she said she would like to do, but it would take her forty minutes to go to the loo so could we please go ahead with the service without her?
She was very jumpy in the pub: could only sit in that one chair over there, that Ben happens to be on already, or she wouldn’t join in; became very distressed by the dogs being so near her.
But she sang, and she seemed to find it worth doing.
Now here is the paradox.
That evening, after my extended family had gone home and we’d settled my father upstairs and lit the Christmas tree candles and stoked up the fire in the twinkling magical light, Rose wanted old-fashioned charades. Proper charades, where you have to guess the whole idea. None of this one-syllable sounds-like cheaty-rubbish.
We had some good ones: Serena conveyed Brexit in less than seconds, as soon as she started arguing with herself. Primordial Soup took me a little longer, a few odd bubbling bloopy sounds, a fish flying up into a bird and a Neanderthal evolving into a Frenchman.
Then it was Bink’s turn. I honestly think I may have laughed more in those next twenty minutes than in the whole of 2018 till then.
Bink gasping, dying of thirst, licking the tiniest drop not appearing from heaven. Bink’s face, so forlorn it was like the funniest cartoon of any misery you’ve ever seen. Bink’s hands twitching at her neck, like a penguin trapped and wrapped in packing tape with only its fins flapping. Bink shooting an arrow with a whoosh and explosive pop. And then back to the desperately doleful face and the palms like fins fluttering at her throat.
Got it yet? Neither did we, though we laughed so much we didn’t care if we never got it at all. She could have continued the performance till morning without explanation and it would have been a night out to remember.
Eventually somebody – Serena, of course – asked Bink if she realised an albatross could have a wingspan of twelve feet or more at the exact same moment that I said, ah of course, instead of the cross the albatross, and Bink said, how on earth could she know the size of an albatross and how did the ancient mariner get it round his neck in that case, and would we really have guessed it if she’d stretched her arms out and flapped them wide apart like this, instead?
So we said, well, at least then we would have stood a chance.
And then Alex gave her another and she enacted the most terrifying child-eating clawed and roaring dinosaur, enough to give us all nightmares for weeks, and this turned out to be a packet of Frosties and somebody said, Bink, please don’t go into marketing because you haven’t yet quite got what it takes to present a friendly kiddies’ breakfast image that parents will go for.
And the next morning, long before Bink was up, I said to everyone else in the family, “There must be hope for Bink, right? How can it be possible to be so sidesplittingly, hilariously funny” – which set us all laughing again, just thinking of that woeful expression and frantic flapping – “and not enjoy life? There must be a solution...”
Until Alex mentioned Kenneth Williams, Tony Hancock, Robin Williams… and all the other comics who hadn’t been able to bear it any longer in the cold light of day.
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know