Harry hung up the phone. Uncertain what to do, he picked the sponge up off the floor. If he was quick he could follow the van, but then what? He wandered back to his car and put the sponge into a nearby orange bucket. He opened the car door, but didn’t get in. Instead, Harry stood staring down at the water running off the car’s bonnet, dripping onto the ground and forming a soapy puddle. He looked over at the empty road that the van had taken and then up at the mountain that loomed over the village. He climbed into the car and drove in the same direction as the van, but Harry wasn’t trying to follow them. He was going back. The orange bucket awaited his return.
The black van thundered down narrow meandering country roads. Huge hedgerows loomed over it from either side. The driver was uncomfortable. He didn’t usually have to struggle to keep his eyes on the road, but then the captain didn’t usually sit in the passenger seat next to him. It was rare that she would ride with the rest of them at all. He could see her out of the corner of his eye and it was niggling at him. He was relieved when she said ‘Sergeant?’
He was off the hook. ‘Yes, ma’am’ came the reply from the back of the van.
‘At the next fork in the road are we turning left or right?’
The driver heard a noise like a series of tiny thunderclaps as maps were unfolded and his confidence was short-lived when his sergeant answered with an uncertain ‘Well’.
‘Well what?’ asked the captain.
‘Sorry, captain. I’m just-’
The fork in question was almost upon them. The driver began to slow down hoping to give the sergeant more time. It felt like an eternity before he finally said ‘Right!’
As the van sped up and turned right down the lane, the driver heard the captain say under her breath ‘You’d better be.’
The school bell rang and Frank headed to his office to change out of his overalls. He waded through children intent on heading in the opposite direction. There was a smattering of parents in the hallways as well and he went through a familiar routine with each of them. They all initially smiled. Then the smile would fade as they saw his overalls and whatever tool he happened to be carrying today. Finally they would shore up the smile again out of the sense of guilt. He saw this played out at the end of every day. Normally he could take his time getting ready to go home and allow the corridors to quieten down, but not today. Today, he had somewhere to be.
Harry drove along the road that would take him up the mountain. He arrived at a fork in the road, turned left and would never know how close he came to catching the black van he had tried to convince himself he wasn’t following.
The road snaked up the side of the mountain and grew steeper the farther he went. The trees thickened and more frequent, almost blotting out the sky. Suddenly he took a sharp turn to the right into a small overgrown track and stopped the car. Harry got out of the car and headed down the track. He could hear birdsong. He was surrounded by greenery and nature. He rounded a bend and the image of Eden was rudely interrupted by a military facility pretending that it didn’t exist.
Emma and Gloria exchanged looks. Gloria guided Annabelle over to a chair and sat opposite her. She took a deep breath. ‘Annabelle, I thought you knew.’
‘Knew what?’ asked Annabelle.
Gloria moved the fruit bowl to the centre of the table and straightened a pile of magazines.
‘Well, now it sounds like they’re dead.’ said Emma. Annabelle gasped and she immediately felt guilty. ‘Oh, they’re not dead.’
Annabelle was reassured, until Emma added ‘Not as far we know.’
Annabelle looked to Gloria for an answer, but she said nothing.
‘What do we know?’ Annabelle asked looking down at the fruit. It occurred to her that none of the apples had little green leaves on. Apples in storybooks always had little green leaves on.
Gloria cleared her throat and said ‘You see, the thing is we’re sisters, the three of us and all the others too. But technically we’re half-sisters.’
‘Half-sisters?’ Annabelle repeated as she picked up the apple.
‘Yes, now it doesn’t mean we are any less related, but we all have different parents.’
Annabelle placed the apple on top of the magazine over the smiling face of a woman on the cover.
‘We all have different parents? You’re confusing her.’ said Emma, not really helping.
Annabelle looked back at the fruit bowl and laughed. The remaining apple, orange and banana had conspired to make a face that smiled back at her.
‘There are twenty-six of us.’ Gloria tried again. ‘Twenty-six brothers and sisters, and we all have different mothers. Twenty-six mothers, but we all share one father.’
‘Who?’ Annabelle asked the face in the fruit bowl.
Thank you for reading.