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

reckless, foolhardy.


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.