When my grandmother found out my mother was going to marry my father, she asked my mother to reconsider. 'What about David?' she said. 'Wouldn't you like to marry David instead?' David is my father's brother. He still lives alone in the council house my grandmother died in. He used to hear voices; schizophrenia was suspected until it turned out that he was hearing the neighbours talking through the wall. My father has been inside the house only once in the 23 years since she died, and then only because he forced his way in after finding blood on the doorstep (a cycling accident, David claimed). The same chequered lino is there, the same brown curtains; the jigsaw my grandmother was in the middle of when she died is still out on the table, dusty and half-assembled. On the wall in the corridor hangs the granddaughter clock she left me and that I've never seen. David has trouble looking you in the eye, has a stutter and hasn't yet got the hang of speaking on the phone. For the past forty-five years he's held down a job assembling TVs and radios on a factory production line. It's fiddly, detailed work. Most of the people he used to work with have been made redundant, but David has been kept on because he's brilliant at his job. He's also brilliant at remembering people's birthdays. He never fails to show up on his bike (he's not allowed to drive) the evening before, with a card stencilled in his immaculate and incongruous calligraphy. My grandmother, like the rest of the family, always knew there was something different and difficult about David. When my mother was asked if she wouldn't rather marry him, she smiled and said it was his brother she wanted. My grandmother pursed her lips, told her my father was a miserable bastard, and predicted they'd be divorced in two years.
LRB 9 October 2003 | PDF Download