There was a long silence. "You're not making any sense. How can I have had a sister when you said the pregnancy would kill my mother? So basically you were lying. It wouldn't kill me. She had another child..." Anna frowned at her parents-who-were-not-her-oarents, feeling even more miserable at the thought they'd lied about something else. "She had me. I can't have a sister..."
"Like I said, it didn't quite kill her. No one knows what saved her, that was the biggest mystery. One moment she was dying - hallucinating, talking to people that weren't there ... she didn't know who we were as we gathered around her bedside, holding her hands ... and then the next she was well again, and she wouldn't tell us how she had done it. It was a miracle, but she changed from that day." Janice paused, staring out of the window. "I asked her to tell me," she continued. "We always told each other everything. But she refused. People say she sold her soul ... I don't believe that."
"Why not?" This tale was fantastical enough. Add a devil or two and it would be perfect.
"You need a soul to die," she replied, and looked down at the floor. She was crying again. Anna's father - she really couldn't think of anything else to call him - leaned over and resumed telling the story.
"It was a little girl. She was sweet and everything you could wish for a baby, and your mother loved her very much, but she still took risks. We told her she had to be careful now, not just for her own sake. What would it do to a baby if she just ended up getting herself killed? Of course we didn't use those words, but it was close enough ... for by now, you see, the doctors and worked out what was wrong, and had told her she was the first to survive. It was still four months before her sixteenth birthday.
"She promised us she would be sensible. She didn't go to any parties, didn't have a boyfriend ... sure it was perhaps a little over the top, but she told us she didn't want the temptation. I think more than anything else she just didn't want to have to disappoint the people that she loved. She still wouldn't tell them what was wrong with her, and they just knew that she'd had a complicated pregnancy. Janice's parents were looking after the child - they were happy to do so. Her mother didn't work ...
"But then, one day, things went wrong. She had been at a friend's house and was walking home. It was dark ... she took a shortcut, though she knew she shouldn't. Well, why not? Nothing would happening - it was a one-in-a-million chance..."
"But million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten," quoted Anna quietly, and then said, "Stop. I don't want to hear any more. Please, Dad, don't tell me. I can imagine it for myself..."
He hugged her briefly. "I'm sorry. This must be awful for you."
"That's an understatement."
"Well, we were devastated when we found that she was pregnant. It was just adding insult to injury. First traumatised, then her life in danger ... she was not having a good day. Her daughter didn't understand, she was so young. But she saw that we were unhappy and she was always crying, since our own tears were just around the corner. We couldn't stop her, no matter how much we tried. Poor Anna, she didn't know what to do."
"Anna? Her name was Anna?"
"We named you after her." Janice had recovered and was looking at her daughter. "You and your sister, since An let us choose her name too. Anna and Mary, after my two sisters. And a prettier pair of babies I never saw. But that was before."