Alice had struck up a firm friendship
with Uncle. The pair were inseparable.
Uncle looked twenty years younger.
Beatrice, however, had grown peculiarly
sullen and kept to her room. Boldly,
I went to speak with her. I asked what
was eating her. I’m not pleased, she
said baldly, that my own Father has
been hijacked by your freaking weirdo.
After that, I couldn’t extract another
word from Beatrice.
This was truly fabulous news.
Uncle lurched across to Alice
and bear-hugged her warmly.
I joined the scrum. I believe
this calls for a celebration dinner.
Aunt ambled from the kitchen,
hearing the big hullabaloo. She
looked thrilled at the prospect
of preparing a lavish feast.
Beatrice sauntered idly into
the room. So what’s all this
blather about? Uncle explained.
Beatrice was the only one who
didn’t act entirely chuffed.
The judicial process could be scary,
Uncle explained, but he didn’t want us
to worry ourselves. Stand tall when you
are questioned, and don’t let yourself
be intimidated by your Father, Uncle
said, addressing Alice. She nodded,
almost nonchalant. In bed I tossed
and turned, it was difficult to sleep.
It felt like some terrible doom was
descending on us all. When my alarm
finally jangled, I ungummed my heavy
eyes, and pulled myself from bed.
D-day had arrived.
Uncle spoke, explaining everything
with a beautiful succinctness.
I scrabbled my feet under the table,
awkward to have our story dissected
so publicly. Mr Baines sighed, once
Uncle had stopped speaking. Together,
they went over the finer points at some
length. Eventually Mr Baines seemed
satisfied. Leave all the documents
with my secretary. I believe we have
a solid defence, he pronounced. Alice
hadn’t said a word. We rose. Our chairs
scraped on the floor. We all shook hands.
Have no fear, I shall see to it that this
whole ugly case is dismissed, Mr Baines
said as we parted. I felt heartened.
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.