I sat in absolute silence when she told me the first time. My eyes set on hers, head shaking, lips pursed.
When she told me the second time, padding her story out with little details forgotten in haste and only thrown in now for a bit of extra gusto, I let my gaze fall to the bib around her chest and I smiled at the thought that at any moment she might jump up for an impromptu game of netball.
The third time she told me, I’m not sure I was even listening. I heard words emphasised and repeated, whole sections of her story reworked and rehashed, but my view now was of the world beyond this stifling room; my mind fixed on the blue sky, unreachable above the brick walls, my head firmly ensconced in clouds caught behind curls of barbed wire.
‘Are you listening to me? Emily?’
I tore my eyes away from the barred window and refocused on her. ‘Yes, I’m listening.’
‘I need you to do something for me.’
I affected a sort of half-nod.
‘Talk to your father. Let him know this is a horrible mistake.’
‘He’s very upset, Judith. I really don’t think he’ll listen.’
‘But I need to see him. I need to explain. Can’t you try?’
I sighed heavily. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
Her relief to anyone else would not have been visible, but after years of examining her face, I was familiar with the way in which the frown lines across her forehead eased slightly whenever she was pleased.
‘I must look dreadful,’ she said, when she noticed I was watching her. It was a question rather than a statement and I could sense her apprehension in the small silence that followed.
‘You don’t look…too bad,’ I said eventually, pulling from my pocket a small double-sided mirror and sliding it across the plastic table.
Her eyes darted across the mirror’s surface. As I caught my own reflection, I marvelled at the similarity between us, despite our lack of comparable DNA: the same dark hair, red lips, fair skin. Yet whilst my features were beautified by youth, hers had become withered from age.
No wonder she was jealous, I thought.
When she finally lowered the mirror, I realised her eyes were on mine. ‘Do you know who did this to me, Emily?’
I curled a silky lock of ebony hair around my finger. ‘Did what?’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Set me up.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Judith.’
A twisted smile pulled at her lips and, as I stood up to leave, I noticed a rare flicker of admiration in her eyes.
Outside, the blue sky had successfully driven away the cloud and yet, as I pulled an apple from my pocket, biting into its acidic centre, I felt an ominous sense of change and the cold bite of snow.