in a circle spray-painted onto the wall, the universal symbol for anarchy, along with photographs from demonstrations and camps the group had been on just pinned around the room. In all of the photographs, there was the same image, a group dressed in black but made distinctive by the now infamous plain white masks they wore, their faces expressionless.
He went through the living room and into the kitchen. There was a long wooden table alongside an old porcelain sink that was cracked and veined with age. He was surprised that there were so few people there. They cooked and ate as a group. Thirteen people lived at the house, including Henry, but there were only five others in the room, and Gemma just behind him. They were standing at the window, looking into a small courtyard.
John looked to the table, scattered in crumbs, left over from an earlier sitting, with chipped white plates and glasses of water in front of them. There were loaves of bread piled up at one end, with blunt-looking knives next to them. Everyone turned towards him, and then Gemma.
He blushed and then he looked to the end of the table. Henry’s seat. He wasn’t there.
‘What’s going on?’ John said.
‘There are people here,’ someone said. It was Dawn, a woman in her early twenties, dressed like the rest of the women in a long black skirt and T-shirt, with round glasses and eyes that flitted around the room nervously.
‘Who is it?’
‘They’re from another group. They used to come and drink with us, but not anymore. They just speak to Arni or Henry and then go.’
John looked towards the window. Arni was outside, a large Danish man, with broad shoulders and muscled arms that bulged with veins. His hair was long and light, pulled into a ponytail, his goatee board twisted to a point, beads on the end. Large black rings made holes out of his earlobes and silver hoops cut through his eyebrows. Arni was speaking to someone in a white van, the window wound down, parked in a small courtyard with farm outbuildings on the other side, just low stone barns accessed by large sliding wooden doors.
‘So what are they doing here?’
‘I don’t know, but they have been coming for a few weeks now.’
John watched as Arni lifted down a barrel from the back of the van and started to roll it towards one of the barns. He spoke to the other people in the van, and then the engine started again, spluttering and belching smoke.
Arni turned to look at him, and so John stepped back quickly from the window. He looked round at everyone and smiled nervously. He sat down and was conscious of the silence. He looked at the plate of bread in front of him. It was dry and unappetising. Gemma sat opposite. As she reached forward for some bread, her T-shirt gaped open, too big for her, showing her bony cleavage. She smiled at him.
The group was mostly made up of young people, teenagers, but they had a look of maturity that he didn’t see in many people of their age, as if they had found what they wanted from their lives and so had no reason to kick back against it anymore. The people left at the table were the quieter ones. There was Dawn, along with a couple in their forties, the Elams, Jennifer and Peter, ageing hippies whose communal living lifestyle had drawn them to Henry. Jennifer was the curious one, with wide, bird-like eyes and grey roots showing through the dry ponytail of jet-black hair. Peter was quiet, with a paunch and lost hair.
It was to Dawn that John’s eyes were drawn. She seemed unhappy compared to the rest, and he couldn’t work it out. No, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t unhappiness. It was reluctance. Always the last to join in with cooking or cleaning, and she said little when Henry was there.
John felt something on his leg, and as he looked, he saw Gemma’s half-smile, her foot running slowly up his calf.
Arni came back into the house. Gemma’s foot dropped and she looked downwards. Arni looked at John, his eyes