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‘It’s very understandable.’ She crossed her legs the other way. ‘Did he say something to you tonight – after the…’

‘No.’ Isabel shook her head. She picked up her felt-tip pen and started playing with it. ‘I know it wasn't the best tactic but... he knows all of my routes. He’s not going to...’ Palpable fondness even percolated her description. She almost snickered from endearment. ‘He isn’t going to be surprised.’ 

‘So you have… a sign of consent?’

‘Well, yes.’ The felt-tip pen tumbled onto the table.

The blue bowl in the corner of the room jogged her attention.

‘Goodness.’ Isabel effused as she stormed over to the bowl. ‘Look how many sweets I put out, and the girls didn’t want them.’

Back at the table she began picking them out and unwrapped one.

‘Well…’ Anneliese had been hesitant to admit it all evening. ‘Isabel… the entire upstairs was locked.’

‘That’s impossible – I wanted all the rooms to be available.’

‘You didn’t unlock them, Isabel. At least – you didn’t tell the caretaker to…’ She folded her arms. ‘They were locked, Isabel – that’s why everyone congregated downstairs.’

Isabel’s eyes appeared struck by hypnosis. Her voice emerged in a whisper.

‘How did I? I could have sworn’ – she used the expression of her fingers to help herself out – ‘the—’

Something was off. Anneliese didn’t want to remark it, she didn’t want to vocalise her view. Her sister was too jittery for that. But it was tangible.

She didn’t realise Isabel possessed a slender feeling of superiority. She didn’t realise Isabel had the sensation she was stable; that her sister had cascaded into some obscured abyss, that Isabel desired most of all to yank her sister out of it and didn’t know how to enforce such an extraction. Maybe the lighting in the room made Anneliese appear red-faced, but such was Isabel’s impression.

‘I check the papers every day.’

Anneliese was somewhat stunned.

‘For what?’

‘In case there’s an announcement of the pregnancy. Penelope’s pregnancy.’

Immediately Anneliese shifted in her chair. The tension simmered in her eyes. To Isabel they looked forlorn. They looked as they had once done in their infancy when Anneliese had burned her finger on the candle and extended sobs along Aunt Liesel’s shoulder.

‘Isabel, that is irrelevant to both of us.’

‘It’s not.’

‘Isabel… that’s…’

‘Am I prodding too much?’

‘Even I don’t prod that far, and I’m the one who… yet it’s not my situation, Isabel.’

‘But he—’


‘I can’t just forsake his existence, Liesa. The summer of ‘65 you told me—’

‘I don’t want to dwell on it. Verbally or otherwise.’

‘No.’ Isabel darted a sarcastic look at her. ‘You reserve all that for conversations with Susanna.’

Anneliese slouched back in her chair.

‘Yes. But you can’t—’

‘I figured…’ Isabel picked up another sweet and unwrapped. ‘What’s wrong with your appetite?’

Mine?’ Anneliese gasped.

‘You haven’t taken any chocolate.’

Anneliese now had to take a chocolate to sustain an adamant impression of apparent normalcy.

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