Around this time Beatrice came

to my room. I thought she’d come

to make a cheap dig. But she looked

deeply concerned. Augustus, you’ve

gotten yourself entangled in a really

nasty mess. My advice would be to

simplify your life and extract yourself

from this girl and her mental family,

before you get really screwed. Having

said her bit, she waltzed from my room,

rattling the door as she left. Beatrice’s

words always left me feeling deflated.

She had this ability to steamroller my soul.



Leo Mannheim’s antics had rattled me

badly. I had a clear vision of him lurking

at the school gates in a dingy hoodie,

waiting to bundle my girl into a grubby

van. I didn’t speak of this to Alice. I was

sure such an outrageous scenario would

never cast a shadow across her mind.

But on Monday morning we piled into

Uncle’s sedan and navigated the traffic.

I watched Alice stride up the slippery

stone steps to her classrooms. My heart

palpitated. I waved goodbye forlornly.

Already I was yearning for the last bell

to be rung.



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.