The Liberty Girls
‘Don’t start whining, girl. Dot here’s going to keep an eye on you. Besides, you’re old enough now to fend for yourselves. You’ll need to clear out the house by next month, the rent’ll be due.’
Alice turned to Dot, whose face was so contorted with anger, Alice could tell she was having difficulty speaking.
‘You’re really going away to America and leaving us without a penny or even a house?’ Alice said in disbelief. ‘Joy’s ten, she adores you, how do you think she’s going to feel? Her mum’s dead, you’re buggering off to the other side of the world and now we’re out on the streets?’
There was a pause then as Jimmy looked at his daughter and Alice could see him thinking it all through. Relief started to flood her. He was going to change his mind; it was going to be all right.
‘Here you are,’ Jimmy said at last, pulling out a fistful of notes and a handful of change from his trouser pockets.
‘This ought to keep you going ’til you get a full-time job at least. Now, don’t say your old man ain’t generous. I know how to take care of me own.’
At the sight of the money in his hands Alice knew she was supposed to be grateful but all she really wanted to do was roar with laughter at the stupidity of it all. She also knew it wasn’t the time. Not if she wanted to avoid a black eye anyway. Instead she took a step back and surveyed the man who was her father. He looked old, she thought. His cauliflower ears, scarred cheeks and broken nose made him seem more advanced in years than he actually was.
Alice knew that he wasn’t running away because he was worried about retribution, or even about the police turning up at his door. He was going because he was worried about losing his position as leader of the Elephant Boys. The only thing that mattered to him was his stupid pride. ‘Shove your bleedin’ money,’ she said, her eyes blazing angrily.
‘We’ll be better off without you.’
‘Alice, love,’ Jimmy wheedled, reaching for her hand, palms still full of money, ‘there’s no need for that. I’ll write, course I will, when I can.’ As Dot snorted in disgust once more, Alice rounded on her father. ‘Don’t bother. We don’t need nothing off you, Jimmy Harris. You’re an ageing two-bob crook who’s always let me and Joy down. I hope I never see you again.’ At his daughter’s outburst Jimmy opened and closed his mouth. Then with an angry shrug, he shoved the money he had offered her back in his pocket, slammed the last of his suitcases shut and pushed past her without a backward glance.
When Alice heard the front door slam, the tears started to flow. He really had gone. She might have hated him, but he was all she had. Her body heaving with sobs, Alice turned to Dot and whispered, ‘What do I do now?’
Extracted from The Liberty Girls by Fiona Ford (out now, published by Arrow)