As is the way of memories, one has been lurking, watching me, just out of sight, like a half-lost dream, a waft of mist around a corner.
Unlike a dream, which becomes more distant the more you relax your hold on it, a memory hovers, waiting for you. It is patient. It lets you get on with other things... knowing that sooner or later you will pick something up and go, Oh yes, and then it will jump out and say, here I am.
It was Christian helping Bink with Rosie’s birthday party which knocked it into position.
This was how I realised it must have been Rose’s ninth birthday... that terrible summer, even as Bink was already leaving us, it must have been. While Fleur and I sat in the glorious sunshine enjoying the happy cowboys and Indians running and screaming with delight, and I thought, I would have done something much simpler for Rose’s birthday... but Bink had put so much into it.
Yet again, so much love just before abandoning us. Exactly as when she was fifteen. As if her spirit, her heart, knew how brutally she was about to treat us. So she wanted to give Rose something utterly beautiful and memorable, before leaving her high and dry...
Please, allow me to take a brief respite from that awful year of 2012, for this fresh memory of a happier time.
The first time we met Christian.
It must have been late July, 2011, because we were on our way to Norfolk. We took an absurd detour via Central London, where Serena was helping with her new church’s summer fair.
She had set up the donkey rides and the Victorian photo booth.
Serena and a new, quiet friend, tall, Norwegian, red-blonde like Good Queen Bess, helping her, both of the them dressed in severe black costumes, Serena in a savage bonnet, both posing as an example of a solemn couple in front of the lens. Stare at the vast and cumbersome black box, keeping still for a very serious time, until it bursts into flash.
Then outside again.
Busy, happy people, in the summer sun... just like when we used to run the church fair, on Parson’s Green.
Buying things you would never buy. Absurd body wash, I bought, for Bink... made of butter or something crazy. With a loofah, and some double-cream bodilicious to smother all over yourself afterwards.
I still have it. Still in its bag. Untouched. With the instructions. At the top of my wardrobe. Reminding me of a more together time.
Leaning on the rampart of some tiny bridge construction, wishing I were small enough to ride the tiny donkey of Serena’s, going back and forth a few steps at a time before turning in that tiny mead of grass in the middle of Victoria.
And then, in one scream, the curtain of that glorious afternoon was torn in two and let loose the darkness behind...
A howl from Bink.
A raw wail of pain, and loss, and panic, and horror.
What is it, Bink? What is it?
My bag! My bag. I hung my bag on that little bridge, while we watched the donkey and looked round the stalls.
Well... of course it’s gone. This is Central London. A Saturday afternoon. A fair.
Me, I lose bags all the time. Purses. Whatever. Behind the sofa, half the time. Under a book or in the garden. Cancel my cards and start again. Never have any cash so I don’t particularly mind. I have enough in my life, not to fret about a lost bag.
We’ll cancel your cards, Bink. Immediately. Don’t panic so.
But it was full of cash!
How much cash? Why would you carry cash?
Because I have such problems with my bank, they never let me take out any money, so much hassle and paperwork, my card never works, so I took out the maximum allowed from the cash machine, for the seaside.
(Please don’t suppose, for a moment, that this was for Bink to enjoy herself at the seaside. Her dæmons would never let her do such a thing. This was to allay the fear that she might not be able to buy the toiletries she needs, and would be enveloped in terror.)
Three hundred pounds. Cash.
And she hung it on a fence on order to enjoy the fair.
Can you see, kind reader, the cruel innocence of it? The pity? How Bink is like a child, in her simplicity.
Alex has a similar trait, with his Asperger’s syndrome. But Alex... well, Alex has learnt to survive, and laugh, and speak neurotypical.
Though my heart sometimes wrenches for Alex too... When Serena goes skiing and leaves Alex to walk her dog and he locks both dog and self out of the house while he is still in his pyjamas and has left his telephone inside with all his keys and contact numbers and has to be at work in half an hour.
How can you possibly get cross with him, Serena? You can’t get cross with Alex.
So she employs a dog-sitter, nowadays.
Thus we spent that first afternoon of our summer holiday, that year of 2011, the last year we were all together, the day we first met Christian, cooped up indoors in a church vestry talking to the police on a hopeless quest to recover Bink’s bag.
The theft doesn’t matter. Of course.
Fortunately, it was insured. And it gave me an opportunity, over the following week, to talk to her bank about all the grief they’d been giving her, so she could go into Boots in future and simply buy what she needed with her card.
What matters is Bink’s visceral fear, which I can still feel under my own skin now, when I recall it all. That she had tried to bring some small semblance of control into her life, so she could go to the seaside... and yet again it was seized from her.
Her sobbing, sobbing, pitiless and comfortless fear and loss and desolation.
And, yes, this was a happier time for us.
We were all there to help her.
That was the summer, after our return, when she tackled her illness with such discipline. Out of bed every morning, early. Taking exercise. Eating sensibly.
Fresh air and routine and good, common sense.
Still studying with my father.
Bink, I assured her over and over. No depression can withstand such treatment. Keep going! Such sunshine will drive the clouds away, I’m sure of it...
Yet another lie.