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.



Alice texted me that afternoon.

I’m so sorry Augustus! My Father forbade

me to leave the house. She sounded

frightened, and I was worried for her.

Had her crazy-ugly Father locked Alice

in her room, or pulled some other

alarming stunt? I begin to wonder

if Alice was a victim of child abuse,

I’d have to fathom this out. So I began

drafting a letter to her Father, seeking

an urgent, friendly meeting. But my prose

grew mannered and flowery, and I didn’t

think this would endear me. So I screwed

up and binned my first attempt, and wrote

something altogether more ordinary.

Then I went to mail the letter, urgent,

next day delivery. Life seemed to have

become a waiting game.



I strapped myself into the passenger

seat and Aunt drove. It was congested,

our progress was funereally slow. In

my jacket pocket my phone suddenly

pulsed. I snatched it out. There it was,

a text from Alice. Augustus, they are

simply beautiful, you precious darling!

I thought my heart would stop, I felt so

giddy. It’s from that girl, isn’t it? Aunt

quizzed, she didn’t look at all pleased.

I said nothing, struggling to catch my

breath, labouring hard to phrase a

coherent reply. But I was like a dead

man resurrected. My message sent,

Alice followed up with a string of wild,

delighted replies. I felt fabulous.