Aunt had fallen badly, going down

like a sack of coal, knocking her head

on the tarmac. I froze. Some onlookers

came across to help resuscitate her.

Beatrice, tearful, called an ambulance.

They came promptly and Aunt was

placed on a stretcher and wheeled

inside. She hadn’t come around.

The paramedics looked anxious.

Beatrice and I clambered up into

the vehicle. At once we set off for

the hospital. The sirens blared.

We raced through the choked streets,

ignoring traffic lights. This was bad.


When I’d taken the ring

from my finger, and it sat

in the palm of my hand,

Beatrice handed me a

small manila envelope.

Pop it inside, she said

tenderly, and we sealed

it up. It was as if a crazy

episode in my life had

concluded. There was

no turning back. Next

time, Augustus, choose

a girl who isn’t completely

cuckoo in the head. I smiled

meekly, promising to that.


Aunt made copious amounts of strong

tea. Tom, seeing that I was genuinely

hurt, restricted himself to sanctimonious

banter about the grief of loving women.

Uncle told him to shut up. At mealtimes

I jabbed at the food with my fork, hardly

listening to the flow of inane conversation.

I kept mostly to my room. The urge to

write sad, heartbroken poetry had come

over me. I would memorialize Alice, then

burn all my words.


Beatrice scowled murderously.

I think you had better leave, she

barked, her voice wrathful. But

Alice stood her ground. I couldn’t

help thinking she was impressive.

I will have my word with Augustus,

and then I shall depart, Alice said

calmly, but firmly. She guided me

like a blind man. Everyone was struck

dumb by this. I moved mechanically

to the banister. I didn’t look at Alice.

Like a lamb to the slaughterhouse,

l ascended the creaking stairs.


No more texts came, and the edge

dulled on my anxiety. Beatrice was

suddenly bubbly and charming.

I was pleasantly distracted by the

fascinating tall stories that tumbled

from her mouth. I became the butt-end

of all Tom’s tasteless jokes. We only

met at mealtimes, but his impression

of me as a swooning lover was greeted

with delight. Leave the poor boy alone,

cautioned Aunt, who nevertheless

giggled breathlessly. This rankled me.


It was at this time my cousin Tom

made a reappearance in our lives.

Mid-semester break at university

brought him home. He was reading

engineering, thoroughly enthralled

by his studies. Tom, so much my

senior, liked to rib me. So, Augustus,

I’ve been hearing you’ve got woman

troubles, he chided, when we were

all having supper. Well my advice,

Augustus, said Tom, would be to

steer well clear of difficult females.

Beatrice nodded her head approvingly.

Fortunately Tom dropped the subject

after this, and we all ate eagerly. While

Tom was recounting a raucous, alcohol-

fuelled party, my phone pinged in my

pocket. My heart pounded wildly. It

was Alice.


Alice’s clothes were gone,

the hangars still swayed,

as if she’d only recently left.

I searched for a note, but there

was nothing. She must have

sneaked away in the night,

like a common thief. I felt

appalled. Uncle cracked

his fingers nervously. I had

this overwhelming urge to

shout and rage at my absent

girlfriend. Beatrice patted

my shoulders supportively.

I looked sternly into her eyes.

But she hid her feelings well.

There was only the faintest

trace of I told you so.


This time it was me who overheard

Alice on the phone. She was squeezed

up near the broom cupboard, having

an in-depth yak with her Father. Alice

was talking about it all going her own

way, to which I could clearly hear her

Father snort with pleasure. Alice had

the phone pressed up hard to her lips,

adding to the sense that something illicit

was going on. I choked. Alice was alert

to my presence. She hung up quickly

and bounded at me from her corner.

You’re spying on me, aren’t you, she

chided gently, with mock alarm. I said

no. But my face reddened, and I knew

I must report this to Uncle.


From that time, Alice turned cold

towards me. She wore a permanent

frozen expression, like she’d been

deeply wronged. She no longer kissed

me in her eager, affectionate way.

We barely spoke a word. I felt a glacial

wind blowing in my life. As if all the joy

in the world had turned to permafrost.

I blamed Beatrice. Who kept to her room,

clearly simmering with rage, regularly

slamming doors, to express the profound

contempt she felt for us all. Uncle was

miserable. Our whole family was in

tatters. We were a sorry little tribe.


Uncle spoke starkly, not trying to soften

the hard edge from his voice. Alice

looked aghast, as if she’d been caught

red-handed in some shameful act.

Quickly, however, she regained her

composure. There was no sinister plan

to fleece us all. It was just a sick fantasy

concocted in Beatrice’s jealous mind.

Alice ran her fingertips through her long

auburn hair. It was as if she were preening

her ruffled feathers. I tried hard, but I just

couldn’t shake off the nasty suspicion

that it was all play-acting.