Augustus, what did you do such

a dunderheaded thing like that for?

You do not want to attract that mad

minx here. Before you know it, she’ll

have her crazy tentacles all over you.

Honestly, be grateful she’s sunk her

claws into some other boy. You don’t

want to get entangled again in her

beastly quagmire. But I had this

mission now. Alice and I would reunite.

She would cast off the anaemic skinny

boy and come to me. It ate at me like

a compulsion. I wouldn’t be downcast.

I had serious planning to do.


The door of the Mannheim’s new flat

had been cast open, and bright light

shone out. From afar, I could see Alice

slouched comfortably in a narrow hallway.

She was flirting shamelessly with some

anaemic skinny boy. They were perilously

close, almost touching bodies. My heart

broke. Clearly the two were intimate.

Suddenly Alice turned, becoming aware

of my presence. I was still quite far away

and she squinted into the dark, to see

who was there. She recognized me,

and froze. Augustus, is that really you?

she asked, her voice choked with strong

emotion. But I had turned heel and was

striding away.


When I was younger, Aunt had warned

me to stay clear. Hoodlums, she said,

hung around the sordid apartment

buildings selling hard drugs. Needles

could be seen everywhere. I hated to

think that Alice was a part of this world.

I had this sudden intense vision of her

walking rapidly away from a group of

thugs, who shouted vulgar taunts after

her. I decided that I must go immediately

and rescue her from this iniquitous life.

I hopped onto a passing bus, and climbed

to the upper deck. Folding my arms,

struggling to block out the grinding noise,

ignoring the other seedy passengers,

I began to formulate my plan.


I wracked my mind to think

where the Mannheims might be.

Leo Mannheim was a truck driver.

A solution came to me. I figured

I might approach his haulage company.

This was inspired. I remembered

the name from the logo-embossed

shirts he wore. It wasn’t hard to locate

their physical address. I was delighted

with my sleuthing. I’d skip school,

and catch the bus into the city.

If I put my case convincingly,

I was sure they’d hand me Leo

Mannheim’s details. I would say

I was a distant family relation,

come to seek urgent help.

My plan was invincible.


The urge to contact Alice became

overwhelming. I locked my phone

away in my desk drawer, to avoid

temptation. But my fingers itched,

they burned. I considered walking

onto Alice’s housing estate, and

lingering by her front door. But

the truth was I didn’t know how

welcome I’d be. I wondered if she

thought about me. Alice was surely

the grandest passion I’d ever have

in my life. I couldn’t let that flame



We came out of the sultry theatre

into the mizzly cold. I stretched my limbs.

The film had been dull. Esther, however,

had lapped it up, and jabbered on happily

about its various sensational scenes.

I began to feel the lack of chemistry

between us. As Esther enthused, I

found I wasn’t really listening. I was

even clenching my jaw, and suppressing

a yawn. I wondered what was wrong

with me. Esther was a beautiful, graceful,

intelligent girl. I tried to shake off these

silly qualms. Augustus, shall we go for

an espresso? Esther suddenly asked.

At this time, there was only one place

open. The café where I used to go

with Alice. I felt like a haunted man.


Really Augustus, you are pretty slow

on the uptake these days. I blushed

crimson, like I’d been discovered

in some lewd act. Here’s twenty pounds,

announced Uncle, fishing deeply in his

wallet, ask her out. He was a diehard

romantic, nothing could quench his

enthusiasm for young love. I thanked

him warmly. I could hear my cousin

and Esther guffawing upstairs. Soon

she would come to my room for our

chat. I would be ready.


I began to look forward to Esther’s

visits. I tried to quell my absurd

romantic impulses, but I couldn’t

help feeling thrilled when I heard her

giggle at the door. She was strikingly

lovely, smelt of subtle perfume, and I

was stricken badly. Esther had started

to come to my room for chats. I would

hear her gossiping with Beatrice through

the thin walls, and wait for her knock.

My heart see-sawed in my chest when

she breezed in. I didn’t think of myself

as a love tramp, but knew I could easily

be enchanted by beautiful girls. Esther

was a year older than I. She made a big

deal of it. We spoke of nothing earth-

shaking. But it felt entirely natural.


I thanked Esther, who lingered

by my door, waiting to be invited

in. I summoned her inside, and we

sat together on the edge of my bed.

There was a breathtaking intensity

about Esther. It made me squirm

a bit. I kept my eyes averted from her

beauty. We spoke softly together for

a while. She even asked me if I was

managing. Esther stood up, preparing

to leave. Suddenly she took my hand

in hers. Augustus, you are a sensitive

soul, she said, pushing her gorgeous

hair back, swishing out of my room.


So we went to the florist, and bought

a huge bouquet of Aunt’s favourite irises.

Then Uncle drove us to the cemetery,

and we walked among the austere,

lichened gravestones. It was strangely

comforting. Aunt’s plot still looked raw

and new, and her granite headstone

glistened with the morning rain. I read

the epitaph, but I struggled to understand

the harsh chisel marks commemorating

her life. We were all sombre. Uncle said

some words, but I didn’t hear. The rain

became heavier, so we walked back

to the car.