Yet again, I find I have skipped an episode in the chronology.
Which has become relevant now, because it is all mixed up with Bink’s living with Gatsby and the confusion their relationship was. And communicated to others. With all the mist and concealment and obfuscation.
There is a reason society comes up with signposts. So the rest of us know how to relate: give a couple the support they require. Marriage. Cohabitation. Concubinage.
You may remember, back in the autumn of 2013, Alex had rung Gatsby to ask him to pass on to Bink that my father wasn’t well.
After the age of ninety-five or so – my father was born on the day of the October Revolution, not that we necessary blame him with any direct cause and effect – not-being-well can mean not-being-around any moment.
So Bink – and Gatsby, who was fond of my father: they had pacifism in common, though my father had tested his commitment in the teeth of ostracism and his best friend’s sacrifice and on one notable occasion, in the chaos of war, the very real threat of the firing squad – asked to come and see him. Early evening. Wouldn’t stay long.
We sat at the kitchen table together, hoping Shaun would get back from work soon, while Bink offered to play chess with my father: something they had done together in happier days.
She beat him fairly quickly.
So he decided not to wait any longer, and turned to Gatsby.
I can’t remember quite how he phrased it, in the so-courteous terms that a gentleman was brought up to use in a different era altogether – an era when Gatsby’s behaviour would have been very much seen for what it was – but the gist was very clear indeed.
The nature of your relationship? On what terms are you living together?
Something like that.
What I do remember, very clearly, is Bink’s reaction.
Bink’s lack of reaction, rather. She remained quite calm, as if perfectly accepting of her grandfather’s interest and why he would ask. I’m not saying she thought it was reasonable. Or unreasonable.
She didn’t rise to it at all.
Gatsby, on the other hand...
Gatsby is a polite sort of dude who never seems annoyed. Unassertive. Liking to be liked. Wouldn’t openly challenge your views, even if he thought them absurd behind your back.
A cross between a middle-aged Guardian-reading hippy, and a gawky geek with the kind of intelligence that gets you a First at Cambridge.
(So for instance, he kept, for many years, a bottle of champagne to celebrate the day Lady Thatcher died. Not the day she left office. Not the day his preferred political party was democratically elected. But the day a long-retired, completely impotent, somewhat demented and presumably very much loved and mourned mother and grandmother finally turned dust back to dust and ashes to ashes. That sort of misjudgement, you know.)
So you wouldn’t normally expect him to take the bait.
Indignant? He was steaming.
How dare you? He turned to me.
I wasn’t the one who asked, I observed. (Nor would I. Not completely suicidal. Nor ninety-six, with all the licence that brings.)
But I’m not at all surprised at your reaction, I continued. You must feel ashamed of yourself either way.
And rightly so.
Which brought the apoplexy neatly to a head.
If I needed any assurances he wasn’t getting nooky out of this dismal and quite-exploitative-enough-already arrangement, it was all before me on the table.
No wonder he was touchy.
No wonder he felt a spare pillock.
Since that’s exactly what he was.
Bink’s unpaid carer, then.
Stay for supper? I asked.
Yes, please, she said.
They stayed for hours. Or rather, Bink stayed for hours and Gatsby wasn’t consulted.
And when they left – strangest thing in the world – Bink held on to me for a full half-minute or more. Bink, who won’t ever give you a kiss and whom you daren’t even hug uninvited in case you are or she is the wrong side of clean or dirtiness.
One of the many wearisome aspects of living with mental illness. Up and down. You take comfort from the tiniest crumbs.
I remember ringing Fleur the next day and telling her. Something to be grateful for, I said.
Not sure it makes any difference, Serena observed. The relationship is so toxic I don’t think sex could make it any worse.
I said I thought sex could make anything a very great deal worse.
I remembered his words the night before. None of our business.
None of my business? I was one flesh with her myself, for nine months. Whose b***** business is it, if not mine who bore her?
That’s the trouble with ageing hippies. They think they can throw out wisdom going back millennia.
She is Jewish, after all...
A few days later, Bink wrote Grandfather a most gracious card. Not that she thought it was his business, but for his peace of mind she clarified that they weren’t living together like that, no.
And then – after such an embrace; such reassurance – we didn’t see her for... how long an agonisingly harsh winter was it?