Serial fiction. Updated at 6.00am UTC on Monday and Friday.

11: Alice

After going back up to her room for a while, Alice was called down again for tea. At least the delivery meant that it would be decent: the food from ‘Farm to Home’ was expensive – so expensive that they couldn’t have afforded it without Dad’s substantial employee discount – but the quality was so good. She never had a choice in what to have on delivery day, as the twins knew they could badger everyone into having what they wanted, assuming they agreed between themselves, but she had long since given up trying to voice her opinion on that. One day, when she got out of here, she could eat whatever she liked. In this case, Archie and Alfie had decided on organic pork and sage sausages from a smallholding in Pembrokeshire, to which Mum had added mash, beans and a fried egg.

At the table, Alice was concentrating on the meal in front of her. The twins were in one of their phases when they were inseparable, finishing each other’s sentences and chuckling at whatever private joke they were obsessed with at the moment. As the family ate, they were, between barely chewed mouthfuls, excitedly relating the details of some convoluted school drama, the point of which was relating how they had pranked some boy they had decided was their enemy.

Internally, Alice sighed. She found Archie and Alfie mystifying, and not only because of their opaque bond, that connection she could never hope to understand. The main thing was their wildness and unpredictability. Their seemed to be no way of predicting how they behaved, towards each other or anyone else. Worse, it was like their idiotic cruelty was simply accepted by those around them; take Dad, for example, who was now trying to chide them, but in the weakest way possible:

‘Do you really want to be like that? You’ll get a bad name, and think of that poor lad, with everyone laughing at him.’

He really couldn’t see that, for them, the humiliation was the point. It was strange: given the way he was treated at work, by people like Callum, he should be an expert.

As if on cue, Dad then started recounting the latest incident in which he had been belittled.

‘Oh, you’ll never guess what that cheeky chappie Zak did today. We were in the yard, and I’d asked him to sort out that pile of pallets. He only went and pulled out his…’

It was always the same: Dad trying to make a joke out of his own weakness, out of the fact that none of the people he supervised respected him. Did anyone respect him? Alice couldn’t see how people could, given how he let himself be treated. She was so tired of him.

‘Idiot.’

Everyone stopped talking and turned to look at her, even the twins. Oh no. Had she said that out loud? She had. This felt exactly as it used to at school, when she’d said something that didn’t quite fit the conversation others were having, and everyone had given her that look that made it clear she was irredeemably weird. Dad, in particular, seemed shocked. Alice realised that she had to find a way out of this.

‘Err, him, Zak. Doing that in front of you all. He’s an idiot.’

Dad smiled.

‘I know, love, but he’s had a bad start in life. Sometimes with lads like that, you have to give ‘em a bit of leeway. He’ll be right, you’ll see.’ Despite her disgust at this, she nodded. Mum now started to tell them about yet another shoplifter at the Co-Op, but Alice wasn’t listening: she was disturbed at how she had just exposed herself. It was getting harder and harder to keep up a front, the front she had maintained all these years of being the good, dutiful, dull girl who never spoke up. Something was building inside her, and it needed release. As she thought of her life, she could see nothing in it at present to provide it. Could the young feminists’ group be the answer? She hoped so: if it wasn’t, she didn’t know how she could go on.

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