There was nothing to forgive, Bink. I have always been far more heart-broken than angry.
(Though admittedly, yes, sometimes anger is less painful.)
Nevertheless Bink apologised, just two or three weeks ago in fact. I was trying to explain, I can’t remember why, how her illness hurts the rest of us. I cited that example, at random.
She’d had no idea the Vice-Provost had rung, or that he’d asked me to pass on the message.
I’m so sorry, she said several times.
She had no idea of a very great deal that winter, I suspect.
Gatsby invited them both to our house for Christmas, that winter of 2012. Himself and Bink, together. Or neither, presumably.
As we no longer heard from Bink any more, that was the deal. He would bring her.
I wouldn’t have minded if he’d said, I’m going to be alone this Christmas because it’s the ex’s turn for the kids. We have often welcomed waifs and strays at our Christmas table.
But he invited himself as if he were doing us a favour... If I’d been thinking clearly, I’d have declined, as kindly as I could, and let her come alone or not at all.
They turned up half-way through Christmas Eve, while Ben was giving a music-accompanied reading of The Snowman to the children at a neighbours’ party.
Bink like a rake.
She has always been petite.
That Christmas, she looked as if she could break.
The previous summer, Serena had (after some months’ deliberation) accepted Christian... to our unanimous delight. She asked Bink and Rose to be her bridesmaids. In the same breath almost, she asked Bink if she would please be kind to keep her hair long for her till the wedding. It was to be the following Midsummer: just after Bink, Alex and Ben all graduated.
There were, of course, fittings to be had.
Serena had designed the dresses most beautifully. All three to be in the same soft ivory silk. Serena’s an exquisite pure silk lace over satin. Rosie’s a dreamy silk chiffon. Bink’s the stunning same silk satin naked, falling like a waterfall over her lovely figure; classic as Grace Kelly; suitable for a simple wedding dress in itself.
But Bink couldn’t bear to go to the fitting. We had a hard job of it to calm her at all. Tell her we would find a way around. That yes, of course she could come another time and try again. And the dressmaker would minimise the visits.
It wasn’t this that I remember as being most pitiful that winter.
Bink has always adored Rose. She had asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and Rose had said, casually, as you do as a child, high-heeled shoes.
A pair of platforms, from a charity shop, for a couple of quid, might have been a laugh. If she had promised only to wear them but occasionally, and kick them off for dancing.
To wear once, and throw away perhaps...
I can barely relate this without weeping.
As we cleared away the plates, before bringing on the darkness and the flickering pudding, Bink produced Rosie’s presents. Three careful boxes. Three pairs, different colours, different styles, so she had a choice for different outfits. Beautiful, elegant, far-too-high stilettos, suitable for a grown woman. Each pair costing about seventy or eighty pounds.
We stared, aghast.
For a nine-year-old.
Poor, poor little Bink. What was she thinking?
It was Serena who broke the dreadful silence.
Bink, she said, as gently as only Serena can. Rosie’s feet haven’t finished growing.
Bink looked puzzled. Had she done something wrong?
We told her how kind and generous it was. We explained about children’s feet. We asked, very tentatively, if she had arranged to get her money back on the styles Rose didn’t choose...
I’ve no idea what happened to them.
Rose never wore them. (Her feet are now size seven.) I don’t suppose Bink ever had the wherewithal to do anything about it.
And it still makes me cry, even now.