Stay for supper, Helen said.
I was surprised Bink hesitated. (I didn’t! No one has to offer me supper twice.) Left my ciggies behind, she said.
But after we’d said goodbye and gone for baccy to the corner shop, she desiderated: I wish I’d had the confidence to stay.
I was astonished. Bink? She was always the most sociable, most outgoing of the bunch. Made friends in two secs flat.
Not any more, she said. Now, she finds new social situations, meeting people, very anxious-making.
She really, really liked Helen and James – as I knew she would: Helen is funky, ex-rock singer, well cool; James fiercely intelligent – but she was still very tense, with people she barely knew.
I wish... she said.
They had repeatedly urged her to drop in again, just on spec, again. It’s a half hour walk along the Cam from where she is staying. Twenty minutes by the straightest road.
I haven’t the confidence, she confessed. I’d need to meet them again once or twice, with you. I wish we could have stayed.
We’ll go back! I said.
No, no... I still feel anxious.
But Bink. You make friends faster than anyone I know. Fellow-patients in loony bins. Tramps. You’re always helping people.
That’s not proper friendships. Lasting.
How long as this been the case?
You, reader, haven’t properly met Gatsby yet. You will.
Gatsby knew Bink for ten years. The first five, approx, were ok. Ish. But then she started to blossom and flourish and bloom. And from being a friend, twice her age, spending time with the rest of us... Gatsby went and darn fell in love with her.
And did what many a man does when he falls in love – why not, in a way, except that he was twice her age: well, that’s enough of a why not, I suppose – he asked if she would marry him.
Funny thing about Bink is, however nuts she is, she somehow manages to retain remarkable core sanity deep down. Like, she’s never killed herself, for instance.
Gatsby was wasn’t the first man mad to marry her. Seeing her well and beautiful, it’s somewhat surprising there haven’t been two dozen.
(The first was extremely eligible... though he too, older: thirty, to her twenty-one.
Just think how much better my life would have been, she said recently. If I’d married him.
Only up to a point, Lord Copper. Yes, you’d have half a dozen children by now, and be living in a messy, noisy, friendly vicarage on no money and it’s hard to believe you would have got so ill. But on the other hand you’d be married to that prat.
Yes, she admitted. I’m not sure it would have lasted.
Then you wouldn’t have been better off, Bink. Marriages that don’t last, don’t leave you better off.)
Similarly, she had the sense to turn Gatsby down. Repeatedly, in fact.
At which point, Gatsby made the classic error. Worse than error, really. Abuse.
Instead of saying, fair enough, and walking away with a broken heart, Gatsby said – to this by now extremely ill young woman – You are part of my family anyway.
They even had a becoming-part-of-our-family ceremony, Gatsby and his two children and Bink, with a necklace he gave her to seal the deal.
Makes me want to be heavingly sick.
And those years with Gatsby were more hideous than anything I’ve described so far. By some and more. Serena keeps asking when I’m going to describe how bad it got. Because, as she has pointed out, you the reader can’t appreciate the good times, now (yes, these are really good times, believe me) if you haven’t seen the bad.
I want to tell it in order, I defend myself. And I can’t remember how bad it was, not really. (I can, says Serena.)
And the real truth is... call me a coward... if something has been that painful... well, why would you go back there?
For your reader you would. Fair enough. And I will. I’ll get there. If I’m still going, which I intend to be.
But for now, I will give you just enough of Gatsby to understand this one point.
Of course that happened, Bink. Gatsby did that to you. I could see him doing it. I could see the cogs whirring.
What? What did he do to me?
He was twice your age. Without a hundredth of your looks. And actually, not your brains. (Yes, he has a double first from Cambridge. And directorship of a company. On one level not stupid. But not clever in the way Bink is clever.)
If you had been well, Geek Gatsby wouldn’t have had the tiniest chance with you, Bink. You wouldn’t even have known him, in your circle of friends, if you’d been well when you were at Cambridge. That’s how it works: beautiful people attract beautiful people. You would have had so many dozens of exciting, wonderful, talented friends your own age…
He had to make you ill, so you would be his.
Are you saying he did this on purpose? Worked it all out?
No, no, no: not at all. Most of us aren’t clever or wicked enough to do that sort of thing. Simply, it was in his interest for you to be cut you off from your family and have no friends and become more and more vulnerable and screwed up and isolated and dependent on him. That’s the only way he could ever make you part of his life.
And then I gave her an example of Gatsby doing just that. Making Bink more helpless, as he did year on year. With us helpless to rescue her. That’s how the law works. Vulnerable adult or no. (Look at families trying to rescue loved ones from cults.)
So of course he made you cripplingly anxious around other people. Because then you needed him the more.
How did it all go wrong for him then? she asked. Did he go too far; make me too dependent?
It imploded, I said. It was always going to. You’re much too powerful for him.
(Even ill, Bink’s fires of energy consumed him, consumed them both.)
By this time we were sitting by an unlit grate, in a warm and friendly place, our dinner ordered, Bink treating me to a frighteningly expensive steak.
How come you have so many friends, you and Shaun?
Work. Activities. Church. Churches are a great way to meet people. Such an eclectic mix. And the whole point is to care for each another.
So we looked up the service times at Helen’s church.
Sometime after ten, I got up to go: an hour’s drive to bed. I’d been with her for five hours. First time in two and a half months.
Thank you, Bink. That was really good fun..
Yes, she said. First time I’ve enjoyed myself for as long as I can remember.
How long? I pressed her.
Since we were all in Scotland together? Two and a half years…
And the physical pain? I asked. Did the walk by the river take it away; and meeting new friends?
I so wanted to hug her.
But I was probably too dirty. Or too clean.
I usually am.