She crouched down by the kitchen door, listening hard. They didn't know she was there - her parents, that was - and so they would say the things they never dared to say in her presence. Of course, if she was caught she would be in huge trouble, but it was worth it to know what they were talking about.
"I'm worried about Elena," said her mother, and she actually did sound worried, not like she was pretending for the sake of the people around. "She never says anything any more. If you talk to her, she hardly talks back. Just gestures. Says a single word. She doesn't talk."
"Perhaps she's afraid to talk?" suggested her father. "I mean, it's been quite hard for her. You're always telling her not to ask questions. Perhaps she's nothing else to say."
"Don't be ridiculous. If I ask her a question she's something to say, hasn't she? But she doesn't. She just sits there and stares at me. It's like she's mute." Serves you right, thought Elena. If you want to know what's going on in my head you'll have to stop slapping me when I try and tell you.
There was a long silence. "Could it be a trauma thing? You used to hit her when she asked questions..."
"I never did, you wicked thing." Her mother never used her father's name. It was Jed, but you wouldn't have known it. She never used anyone's name if she could help it. "Well, maybe once or twice. But it's nothing compared to what'd happen to her if she steps out of place."
"Maybe not, but it would explain why she doesn't talk." It sounded like Jed was walking towards the door, so Elena hurried scuttled a little further away. The last four years had taught her to move almost silently, to listen without breathing too loudly, to know when was the opportune moment. After all, it was the only way she'd ever learn anything. "I thought she'd grow out of this."
"Grow out of what?"
"This - this fascination. Obsession. With stars and music and things of the old world."
"Of the old world? Jed" - there, she had used his name! - "I thought we were supposed to say it didn't exist. It's the party line nowadays. You can't let them get ideas..."
Jed paused. "Maybe not, but it's true. You know she's one of them. The folk that know. Haven't you seen the way she looks at you every time you lie? She's no fool." Elena smiled a tight smile of triumph. They'd finally noticed that she wasn't a complete idiot!
"She's also only a child."
"Fourteen. Hardly a child." He sighed. "Look, Mattie, I know what you're thinking." Elena's mother was really called Matilda, but no one used it, if they used any name at all. "But she's old enough now to understand why she can't ask, even if it's not from us that she hears it. You can't expect her to be kept in the dark all of her life."
"And where do you expect her to get that kind of knowledge?" Mattie sounded defeated.
"You know the sort of people she hangs around with. They know this sort of thing. They'll tell her eventually." They knew? Elena bit back a swear word with great force of will. They never told her anything that her parents hadn't already said. Always told her not to ask questions, 'til there came a point where she never said anything at all.
"They can't know."
"They do. People like that always do. Besides ... you know what they say." Jed said something in a low voice to Mattie, who replied with the sort of curse for which she'd always reproved Elena. "It's not safe for her to be with them. But she has to know. Let her be."
Elena didn't wait to hear any more. She stood up and silently walked down the tunnel to her own room. So they had known, had they? She'd be confronting them about this tomorrow.
They knew, and they never told me?