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

8: Alice

Alice stayed in her room for as long as she could before she went downstairs. She could hear the twins squabbling, even with her door closed, and knew that when she left her room she’d have to deal with them and Dad and Mum. She looked at herself in the mirror – her clothes were as worn as she felt – then picked up her bag and turned towards the door.

She entered the kitchen to find everything as expected. Dad was sat, reading his paper – who still buys a morning paper? – over the same breakfast he had every workday: two rashers of bacon, an egg, a third of a tin of beans, two triangular half-slices of fried bread and a mug of strong tea. In between annoying each other and chafing at their school uniforms, Archie and Alfie were scarfing down sugar masquerading as cereal, while Mum was fussing around them all, wiping spills, packing lunches and combing hair. When Mum saw Alice, she beckoned her to the table.

‘Sit down, Alice, love. Here’s your toast.’

There appeared in front of Alice two slices of over-toasted own-brand plain white, with some weirdly named butter substitute scraped over it, already cold.

Dad looked up from his newspaper.

‘I’ll be off in a bit, Alice. Want a lift in?’

‘No. I’ll get the bus.’

He smiled at her.

‘Well, it’ll be nice for you to get some fresh air, eh?’

She took a bite of toast, and sank into her seat. Yes, that was it. She didn’t want a lift because she needed some fresh air, not because she couldn’t deal with being stuck in a car with him for twenty long minutes. She looked at him as he was failing again at getting Archie and Alfie to behave. Couldn’t he see how sick of him she was? Plodding through life, doing and eating the same things, day after day after day; never changing, never standing up for himself, never standing up for anyone else. How many times, when she was younger, had she needed his help against the bullies? Too many, and he had never done anything other than tell her it’d get better one day. It never did.

A yelp of pain followed by a clatter of chairs jolted Alice out of herself. Archie and Alfie were fighting. Again. This time, Archie had Alfie in a headlock, while Alfie had grabbed Archie’s collar, and was using it to try to lever him onto the floor. A button popped off and, after bouncing on Dad’s now empty plate, was lost under a cupboard.

The Man of the House was, as ever, useless.

‘Lads, lads, come on, pack it in. It’s no good scrapping…’

Mum, leaning against the fridge, had one hand pressed to her forehead. She was on the verge of tears.

‘I don’t need this! I don’t need this!’

Nor did Alice. Rising from her seat, she took a last bite of toast, picked up her bag and, avoiding the combatants with the ease of someone who had done it many times before, went out through the back door.

As she reached the street and turned to leave the cul-de-sac, she felt her tension lighten. It would return, redoubled, when she got to work, but at least she had this time in between now and then. Reaching the end of the street, Alice turned right to head towards her bus stop on Birley Spa Lane, and her pace increased.

As it did, she fell into an old, familiar pattern of thought. Was this all there was? Was her life only ever to be a reaction to the acts of stupid, dysfunctional men and boys? The school bullies, her pathetic dad, Archie and Alfie – those two were so obviously on the spectrum, but Mum and Dad would never get them tested – her gross, hateful boss, and all the rest of them: did they ever stop? Did it ever stop?

Alice didn’t know, but did know that she wouldn’t end up like her mother, worn before her time and perpetually on the verge of breaking down, used up by them all, with only a part-time job at the Co-Op to call her own. Alice would be different. It might never stop but she would escape, and she would use men to get what she wanted. They would bend to her.

As she stood at the bus stop, she looked around her at the fraying red-brick semis with their defiantly maintained front gardens and finally realised that, if she was to be free, she’d have no help from anyone here. She had to go outside the world she’d been born into, the one that held her, and find others who understood that life didn’t have to be as it was. She had to find women that knew.

Smiling at that thought, she held out her arm to flag down the approaching bus.


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