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.