Alice had become silent.
I squeezed her hand,
and tried to prize a smile,
but she seemed in shock.
Aunt bumbled in carrying
a large tray with a teapot,
cups and cake. Here, my
dear, drink this, and eat
something sweet too.
Alice gratefully accepted
the drink and blew delicately
on her hot beverage. I know
my Father, she declared
ominously. He will never
give up. Until he gets his way.
He snatched brutally at Alice’s arm.
Unhand me Father, this is embarrassing,
screamed Alice. Leo suddenly went
limp, like all the steam had rushed
out of him. I could almost hear the gears
grinding in his head. Make no mistake,
I will be back for you Alice. These fancy
folk aren’t your family. You belong with
me, girl. Leo lurched heavily to the door,
tripped on the carpet, and cursed
furiously. The door swung on its hinges
for a while, as if astounded by the scene.
We all breathed. Alice began to cry softly.
Well Alice, your Father is quite a
formidable man. He’s given me
the collywobbles, Uncle explained.
The upshot is, he wants you back.
He made that very clear, in no uncertain
terms. Alice reflected quietly. Father
has always been an angry man. Parents,
she stated, can be awfully inconvenient.
I wouldn’t put it past your Father to
come and physically seize you, Uncle
returned. Alice looked alarmed. We
moved inside the house, and I boiled
the kettle. We’d take solace in tea,
wait for what happened next.
I could hear the tremor in her voice,
I knew she was genuinely frightened.
It would not be good to subject Alice
to an alarming meeting. I rang Uncle
back and explained that Alice wasn’t
ready to see her parents. I quivered
to think of poor Uncle struggling to fend
off these dangerous villains. I thought
perhaps I should go home and help him
out. Alice was instantly aware. Stay with
me Augustus, I need you here, to be
my protector, she declared theatrically.
I nodded, in my best understanding way,
and went off to order more coffee. I was
beginning to feel my life had become a
tangled, ungovernable mess.
When I came downstairs, everyone
was having breakfast. Alice looked
rested, munching delicately through
some muesli. It was like she didn’t
have a care in the world. My mind,
however, had begun to churn over
some nasty repercussions. Not least
the thought of Mr Mannheim coming
here to aggressively claim his daughter.
As I chewed distractedly on some toast,
I imagined the horrible scene. I didn’t
think Uncle and Aunt would know how
to handle such a thuggish brute. Alice
was speaking to me. She fizzed with
pleasure. Breakfast was over. I gulped
a big slug of black coffee and scraped
my chair on the tiled floor.
Augustus, go fetch my bag and coat,
Alice said quietly. I was stunned. So
were the Mannheims. For a brief
second, I stood galvanized
to the spot, then I stumbled dizzily
to Alice’s bedroom. Behind me there
was absolute silence. I came back
clutching Alice’s things, and we both
walked to the door. Mr Mannheim was
totally deflated. He was like a broken
man. The door clicked shut behind us.
The night air struck my face, I could not
believe what had transpired.
The door inched open and she un-
hooked the latch. I tried to smile
but failed completely. Her blotchy face
looked particularly antique, her deep
wrinkles rigid and ingrained. She sighed
heavily and let me in. I could hear the
tremor in her voice. I asked when Mr
Mannheim would return. Alice waltzed
into the room. When she saw me she
froze, and gasped. I grinned lamely,
and looked down, studying the floor.
I’ll admit it, I had some gumption
coming here. Just at that moment
I heard keys rattling outside, and a string
of muttered curses. It was Leo Mannheim.
I stood outside their crummy door
in a chilly wind, reviewing my next
move. I thought it unwise to hammer
loudly or create a scene, so I knocked
reasonably. This time there was no
shuffling of feet from inside, or scraping
of chairs on cheap linoleum. I banged
more aggressively, but I knew in my heart
no one was home. My mind churned.
Should I wait, or leave a note? Her
Father was a lost cause, but the Mother
would surely be more sensitive. This new
possibility buoyed me up. I thrust my
chapped hands deep into my pockets,
and strode away in search of coffee.
For the whole week I prayed
that we’d be able to meet. But
Alice said her Father was watching her
like a hawk, and demanded to know
everything she did. I didn’t understand
how Alice could accept imprisonment,
it was mediaeval. But she never criticized
her Father once. I was baffled by their
weird relationship. My whole soul ached
for Alice. In school I was like a love
zombie. I set my phone to silent, typing
madly when the teachers were busy
elsewhere. I was terrified the headmaster
might snatch away my mobile. I’d learnt
one overwhelming lesson. That love was
compulsive, it obeyed no rules.
Jealous Fathers are a force of nature,
they are not to be underestimated.
Give the man some cooling down time,
a confrontation would be unwise,
he’ll eventually see the light, Uncle
suggested sagely. If you show up
at his house, gunning for his daughter,
he’s very likely to bop you on the nose.
My strategy would need to be more
subtle. I would wait for the moment,
I could still text Alice, her Father hadn’t
confiscated her phone. So I grabbed
my mobile and started typing.