Curses

Mr Mannheim snarled. He barged

past, making a grab at Alice’s arm.

This was enough for the nurse. Back

away from my patient now, she said

fearlessly. There was a red button

above Alice’s bed. She pressed it.

I’m this girl’s bleeding Father! Leo

Mannheim protested, gnashing

his teeth, but the nurse’s expression

hardened. In strode two enormous

security guards. Remove this man,

the nurse said to the beefiest fellow.

It was impressive. Uncle stood back

as Leo Mannheim was frogmarched

to the door. As he disappeared,

I heard him hiss some vengeful curse.

Bull

I stirred, my head was foggy. Uncle

and Beatrice came into the room.

Uncle bore a tray of take-away coffees.

He winked, handing me a nasty

styrofoam cup. A hectored-looking

nurse suddenly bustled in, wheeling

a noisy trolley. Alice sighed, turning.

Beatrice stared openly at her.

She was clearly both fascinated

and repelled by Alice’s sadly altered

face. With unexpected violence,

a stocky man burst into the room.

He was like a raging bull elephant.

It was Leo Mannheim.

Rest

The policewoman took our details,

nodded, and departed. She’d be

in touch. Alice was calmer now.

Clearly it had been cathartic

to tell her story. I marvelled

at Alice’s resilience, and felt

a real gush of love for my beautiful,

eccentric soulmate. You must rest

yourself now, Alice, my Uncle said

thoughtfully. Alice lay back. She

was exhausted. I kissed her forehead.

Uncle and I would have dinner

in the hospital canteen, and return

later.

Violated

I’d nodded off in my chair. Who

has been doing this to you, Uncle

was asking gently. Alice had sat up

in bed, her pillows plumped. She was

looking distinctly subdued. I stretched

my weary limbs. My eyes lingered on

Alice’s frightful bruises. Augustus, you

came, she exclaimed, suddenly aware

of me. I stretched over, clutching her

hand. Yes, I am here. Alice began to

sob. It was my Father, she said huskily,

her shoulders quaking. I felt rage. Alice,

we need to report this to the authorities,

Uncle was saying. I became aware

someone was standing behind me.

I turned. It was a policewoman.

Bruises

We would drive to the hospital.

I wonder what on earth can be wrong,

Uncle mused, fumbling with his shoes.

My pounding heart was performing

somersaults. I tried not to shake.

The journey to the hospital was

agonizingly slow. Finally we parked,

and went in search of the ward.

The smell of carbolic scared me.

I went to the nurse’s station to enquire.

Alice was in a small private room.

I caught my breath, and strode in.

Alice was lying rigid in bed. Her face

was swollen with ugly blue bruises.

Doubts

Warning bells began to ring

in my head. I was being eaten

alive by new doubts. This wasn’t

the beautiful reconciliation I’d hoped

for. It was torture. I’d stopped eating

meals, surviving on ashy-flavoured

crackers and sour coffee. Beatrice

scowled at me, but she didn’t press

me at mealtimes. I kept to my room,

forever checking my phone, nervous

when it vibrated. I was a ruin. I dreamt

horrible dreams.

Lovers

I’d dithered for far too long. I must

persuade Alice to defy her Father,

and come out with me. I was

intoxicated by the thought of holding

her hand, and strolling around town,

like we once did. I knew Alice felt

the same. But she was afraid. Each

day was torment. The constant stream

of beautiful text messages couldn’t

salve my soul. I suggested the park,

the coffee shop, the cinema. Alice

rejected them all. I had this sneaking

suspicion that she’d romanticized us

into star-crossed lovers.

Guidance

Rapidly, I ran through what was

happening with Alice. Uncle

listened hard, nodding, making

no comment. I explained how

desperate I was to see Alice.

He sighed heavily. Well, I don’t

think it’s healthy, Augustus, to be

so enamoured by this girl. Uncle

wasn’t fuming at all. I’d thought

he’d combust on the spot, but no

such thing happened. This was

mildly encouraging. Then Uncle

was patting my shoulder. Tread

cautiously, Augustus, he said

gently, take care of your heart.

Pyrotechnics

Alice’s Father stuck to her side

like a mollusc. He never loosened

his stranglehold. I’d already tasted

his overbearing possessiveness,

his horrible explosive fury scared

me. None of Alice’s past dishonesties

seemed to matter now. They were

inconsequential blips. I could scarcely

remember why I’d felt so aggrieved,

because our love was intangible,

indestructible. It soared above the

humdrum issues of other people.

My heart throbbed wildly. I thought

it might burst, and shower down,

like a fabulous firework display.

Note

When I arrived, Leo Mannheim was

shoving his daughter into a waiting taxi.

Alice looked pallid, small, badly shaken.

I waved my hand high in the air, and

hailed her gently. To my dismay, Mr

Mannheim strode over. He was like a

rottweiler with a stick. Look, buddy,

Alice wants none of your nonsense.

So get your grubby paws off, and hop it!

He spat viciously. But Alice had seen me.

She leapt from the throbbing taxi, and

thrust a note into my hand. Our eyes

connected. Get in the car, now, young

madam! snarled her Father. Alice obeyed.

She’d spoken no words, but that didn’t

matter. I unscrunched the note. It was

Alice’s new phone number.