Dr Stokes returned my call. He was
brusque. Augustus, it is imperative
that Imogen takes her pills. She has
the tendency to become delusional.
We don’t want her condition spiralling
into a full-blown psychotic episode.
Believe me, I have seen the harm that
this can wreak on families. I was appalled.
I asked the doctor how I might cajole
Imogen into taking her meds. Augustus,
you need to underline the dangers. To
both herself, and her caregivers. It was
a stern warning.
I helped Uncle print the endless forms
necessary to file for bankruptcy. He took
them to his study. When I brought him
tea, I saw him hunched over pages and
pages of small print, filling in a mass of
fiddly boxes. The bank still rang twice-
daily, but even I could see it was just
procedure. I suggested to Uncle that we
yank the phone cable from the wall, and
have some peace. This was done. Soon
Uncle’s mobile began to throb with
unregistered numbers. There was a
significant fee to lodge the bankruptcy
application. This seemed illogical,
considering the circumstances. In a final
defiant gesture, Uncle paid by credit card.
We went to a shabby, inner-city office
to consult with a bald, myopic man
named Simon Bates. He choked and
spluttered when he saw the sums
involved. It is my opinion, he declared,
that you should file for bankruptcy. This
has gone beyond what’s fixable. I felt
cold shivers running up my spine. It
would mean public disgrace. Uncle
could lose his nebulous job. I’m sorry
to sound so pessimistic, said Mr Bates.
He bundled up Uncle’s incriminating
paperwork, handing it to me. He
made his parting salutations, washing
his hands of us. We were shuffled to
the door like shameful lepers.
Well girls, I have an admission to make,
Uncle announced. We were all gathered
around the dining room table. Imogen
and Beatrice twitched nervously, clearly
concerned. Well, the truth is, I’m stony
broke. The bank is breathing down my
neck, they’re after my blood. That’s what
all the letters have been about. I’m in a
right pickle. I can’t find a solution. Uncle
glared moodily at the table top. Nobody
spoke. Beatrice sucked her teeth. A storm
was brewing inside her. Why did we go
on that insane holiday, Father, if we had
no money, she asked. It was a reasonable
question. Uncle shrugged his shoulders
like a guilty schoolboy. I thought he was
going to snigger. This was disastrous.
Imogen was perplexed by the mountain
of food we brought home. She unpacked
all the bags, gasping at the lavish items.
She asked Uncle what had prompted
such magnificence. I simply want to spoil
my favourite people in the world, he
replied cheesily. Imogen smiled,
suspecting nothing. The food was all
shelved away when Beatrice came down.
Which was good, because she would
certainly have smelt a rat. Beatrice
was nursing her arm. She crooned over it,
like it was her darling infant. Imogen
strode off to make dinner. Uncle and
Beatrice went silent. Which left me to
contemplate our new problems. My
money anxieties were escalating.
The telephone in the hallway was ringing
wildly. No one was about, so I answered.
It was Uncle’s bank. An officious recorded
voice demanded Uncle ring them as a
matter of extreme urgency. The voice said
Uncle’s cards had been suspended. This
was serious. I went to search out Uncle.
He was in his study, scribbling down a
long list of figures. I told him about the
call. He sighed heavily. Well, Augustus,
the vultures are already circling. But I
shan’t let them peck at my bones, he
said defiantly. Then Uncle fished in his
blazer pocket for his wallet. He extracted
a foreign-looking card. This will tide us
over for a while. I groaned inside.
Because Uncle was fundamentally
Beatrice had an upcoming appointment
with a private limb specialist. She was
feeling upbeat. Uncle lavished his
daughter with generous care and
profound concern. Nothing was too
much. Imogen made vegan meals,
the change was welcome. Uncle was
happy to fork out on organic produce,
if it cheered his daughter. I couldn’t help
feeling squeamish when I looked at
Beatrice’s arm. It was a spellbinding,
macabre thing. I felt ashamed to be so
fascinated, and hoped Beatrice didn’t
notice my unwholesome curiosity.
The aggressive infection had spread
into Beatrice’s lower arm. The only
solution was to amputate. I felt nausea
rise in me. This was butchery of my
teenage cousin. It was unspeakable.
Beatrice had already been wheeled
into the operating theatre. I imagined
the puddles of blood, the hacksaw
humour of the surgeons. The dreadful
stump, which would repel family and
friends. I closed my eyes, praying
fervently for my tragic cousin.
I slept heavily. I had bizarre dreams
about the desert. Sand ran through my
mutilated fingers. Camels belched loudly,
though I couldn’t see them. Alarmed, I
jumped up. An anaemic light was edging
between the drapes. I wrapped my gown
about me, and went downstairs. Uncle
sat at the breakfast table, tousled, red-
eyed, unshaven. I boiled the kettle,
and brewed strong-black coffee. The
aroma soothed. Gulping a mouthful of
caffeine, I sprinted upstairs to change.
I splashed cold water over my face.
I was prepared.
Beatrice’s blood work was not
encouraging, the doctor explained.
She’d developed an aggressive
bacterial infection in her fingers.
This made me think of gruesome
flesh-eating bugs. The doctor had
prescribed a new course of potent
medicines, clearly he didn’t think
the rot could be stopped. You should
prepare yourselves for the worst,
he said kindly, but discouragingly.
Beatrice hadn’t been told. She was
still heavily sedated. I felt suddenly
squeamish, thinking of prosthetic
hands. Standing beside me, Uncle
groaned for his maimed daughter.