How are you? I asked my father yesterday. I cradle the 'phone to my ear and stare absently at the bird activity going on in the garden.
I'm feeling old and creaky, he says. And if truth be told, the news about Esme has rather demoralised me.
Of course it has, I say, trying to sound practical and breezy, as if I'm taking this huge admission in my stride. After all, she is your closest contemporary.
Your ex-wife, is what I could have said. You know - your conscience, your reminder: the woman who played 'mother' to your 'father' and remembers what days were like in the 'Fifties. The one who holds safe the memories, and has kept the faith, in love and anger, all these years.
I don't say any of this. I'm simply glad that he has someone to whom he can say what he has said, and happy that the someone is me. It's all a little bittersweet, but I'm a great believer in things being better late than never.
This afternoon in Esme's flat, mid-supper-making for Anna-mouse, my mobile goes. It's him. I wonder afterwards if I told him where I was going to be today. After a couple of minutes juggling new potatoes and mobile phone I ask him, casual as can be, if he'd like a word with Esme. Yes, yes, put her on, he says.
So I do. And for the second time this year I try to appear as if I'm not listening to a conversation between my parents that I'm actually desperate to be privy to. I realise that I'm so used to the volatility of their connection that I find myself hovering at the kitchen door, straining to check the tone of the chat, just in case I need to intervene. But this is not necessary. They want to talk to each other. They need to talk to each other.
Afterwards, Esme says as much, and that she's pleased he asked to speak to her. I glance briefly at her face. It's alive, interested, slightly flushed - and not because of the drugs. It takes only a split second to decide there's no need to let on that it wasn't quite like that. Same difference, I think.