I KNEW ALICE, MY MOTHER, was dying, which could well begin a much longer story than this. But the shorter version is about as much as I can bear. So I begin with her telephoning only a week after her last call, which was quite unlike her. She was not one really for "keeping in touch." Emails of course would have been as unnatural to her as smoke signals, although my brother Tommy had bought her a computer more than a year before. In the usual run of things, she wrote to me once in three weeks or a month, in her rather lovely flowing script on squares of plain linen paper. Croxley Bond, which she once had bought in bulk and never ran short of. When our father was still with us he wrote less often, on hotel paper he saved from when they traveled. He put a line through the embossed name, the Grand Plaza in Hong Kong, the Rembrandt in London, the way authors score a stroke through their names on the title page of a book they have been asked to sign. This meant his letters carried a whiff of the exotic, even when they were not. But then Dad, as the family liked to say, was the romantic. He was the one who sang carols at Christmas, and when he went to the opera, which he said he did not really like, he was the one who left with tears in his eyes, although Alice understood the music and read up on the story before going to see it. When I answered the phone the dog was barking like crazy at the new people next door. I said, "I'll have to get him, sorry." By the time I'd dragged him inside and shut him in the conservatory I thought she would have hung up. But she was still there when I came back. She said, "Is he all right then?" A strange thing to ask about a dog that was behaving badly.