"Your sister? My aunt?" Well, that wasn't quite so bad. Anna had been horribly aware that she could have been just a stranger's child, picked up by luck - and she hated the idea. The thought that her parents weren't her parents was bad enough, but that they were completely unrelated was much worse.
"Yes." Janice wiped her eyes. "I loved her more than my brother, more than my other sister ... more than anything. She was my best friend through my teenage years, just two years older than me, and she told me everything. And then, one day, just before she was fifteen, she told me that she was pregnant. My mum overheard. She was furious, but not as much as she was later on..."
Anna gulped. "It killed her?" Then something clicked. Fifteen? she thought. But then that means she didn't die straight away ... But her mother was already speaking; she swallowed her questions.
"Slowly. Far too slowly. Every day she was getting thinner and thinner, and we told her that she wasn't eating properly, but that wasn't it. She ate loads. Always had done. Every mealtimes she'd be packing it away, just like she had as a kid, and yet she still go thinner and thinner until you could see all of her bones. And oh, she was so pale..." She burst into tears; Anna's father took up the narrative.
"Your mother and I were childhood friends, you know that. I knew her sister, but not well. One day she was walking down the street, and I was on the other side of the road. I thought she looked a little ill, but wondered if it was just because she was about to give birth - she was about eight and a half months pregnant. And then she collapsed."
"She screamed," said Janice. "Everyone heard it."
"She screamed," he confirmed. "I ran over to her and helped her up, and she told me what was happening. She said that nothing she did made any difference: she couldn't breathe any more, couldn't fill her hunger ... no matter how much she ate it was never enough, and she didn't know why. She told me that she was starving."
"It's horrible. I don't want to hear any more..." Anna looked up at them, her eyes fearful. This was her mother they were talking about! "Please, it sounds so painful..."
"You have to know, Anna. It's for your own good. If we don't tell you, then you'll forget. You'll think it's not important. And we can't risk you. We love you too much."
Anna looked down at her feet. There was a hole in the toe of her socks, she noticed, then wondered why she was so callous to be thinking of her clothes when they were discussing her mother's death. "So she starved to death?"
"Not exactly. Almost, but she didn't quite die. She almost drowned.
"She started to bleed inside. It filled her lungs. They only just managed to save her." Janice clapped a hand to her mouth, forgetting her own grief. "I'm sorry, Anna, it must be horrible for you to hear this. But you have to know! You have to know the truth!"
"And the baby was me?"
"No. The baby was your sister. You came later."