Diana’s clothes hung in the wardrobe organised by colour. Rose took the turquoise Liberty-print floral blouse off its hanger, sniffed deeply. It smelled faintly of moth balls. She was surprised at the sudden swell of tears in her eyes. Lily patted her on the back.
Rose admired her mother’s strong conviction about what colours suited her and wished she had that discipline: nothing red, brown or orange was given rail space. Three old-fashioned hat boxes balanced on top of a heavy brown suitcase; how typical of their mother to use hat boxes.
Lily held up a pale pink sandal with a chunky crepe sole. “I hate throwing them out. Mum liked them so and there’s nothing wrong with them. Perhaps we should keep them.”
“Why? They’re awful and they don’t fit us.” Comfortable was the first adjective that came to Rose’s mind, the pink was salmon.
“I know,” replied Lily, “but still.” Her hand wavered for an instant, then she put the pink sandals beside her. “They’re Mum’s.”
They continued sorting in silence. Rose watched a silent tear slide down Lily’s cheek and wondered why she wasn’t crying too.
Getting upset won’t bring Mum back, she thought. I can help Dad by being practical and this is a job that needs doing. Someone has to be strong. She took a deep breath. Her mother had always been organised, so practical, and now it was up to Rose to follow her example to steer them all through this trough.
They continued sorting. Lily put aside a blue-striped holdall.
Rose stiffened and reached out. “Are you keeping that too?”
Lily rubbed the back of her hand across her red nose then looked up. “Yes. I can use it for work and it’ll remind me of Mum. You don’t want it do you?”
“I might. It was her favourite. You could have asked me first if I minded you having it.”
“I didn’t think it was your style, it’s a bit battered. But if you want it… here.” She passed the bag to Rose as if it were made of porcelain not cotton.
Rose put it beside her. She only wanted it because Lily took possession of it as if by automatic right. But all the same, she ran her hand over the cotton stripes, she was glad to have a piece of her mother.
An hour later they looked up at the top shelf of the wardrobe which was crammed with boxes and suitcases.
“Shall we have a break before we do the next bit?”
Perhaps now I’ll get a chance to talk with Lily about early menopause.
Downstairs Rose pushed their father’s Sunday newspapers aside and sank gratefully onto the burgundy tweed sofa.
“Makes you think, doesn’t it,” said Lily, as she poured the tea. “Who’ll do this for us when we die?”
Rose raised an eyebrow.
“You know.” Lily’s arm gestured vaguely upstairs. “Sort our stuff when we’re gone. That’s one of the nice things about having children, isn’t it? You know there’s someone to follow you, to continue the family blood line, to look after you when you’re old.”
Rose hadn’t given a moment’s thought to being old or dying. “Well if you die before me I’ll sort out your rubbish, and you can sort out mine. But that’s hardly a good reason to have children, surely? You make it sound like old age care provision.”
“No, don’t be silly.” Lily frowned. “But it has to be a part of every woman’s life, doesn’t it? Having a baby I mean.” She stroked the scatter cushion at her elbow then picked it up and hugged it to her tummy. “I don’t think you’re really a proper woman until you’ve given birth.”
“It’s not your womb that makes you a woman, Lily, it’s your soul.”
“Yes, but you don’t want a baby.” Lily sipped her tea. “I do, I always have. As soon as William proposed, I decided to have loads.”
Rose hesitated, keeping her tone light, “Does he want a baby too?”
“Of course. I’m afraid if I don’t get pregnant soon he’ll get fed up of waiting.”
“And do what?” Rose had never seen William demonstrate signs of being a father-in-waiting, but then again many husbands didn’t but liked a baby well enough once it existed. “You don’t think you might be… over-reacting just a bit?”
Lily banged her mug down on the floor so hard it made Rose jump. Peach and mango tea spilled over the Axminster carpet. Lily marched to the window where she stood looking out, twisting a strand of her pale blonde hair in a spiral around her finger. “Over-reacting? You know nothing about other people’s relationships, Rose, you have no right to sit in judgement.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Rose mopped up the spillage with a paper hankie. “It’s just that I’ve… I’ve been worried this week. About you.”
Lily turned, her eyes oddly unfocussed. “Whatever for?”
“I’ve been doing research for an article at work and it made me think of you…well, it might have nothing to do with your situation… not being pregnant yet.” She hesitated, this wasn’t coming our right. “Some women get their menopause early, that’s all, their periods continue but so haphazardly that they don’t notice any big difference. But their ovaries stop producing eggs and their fertility level drops as if they starting the menopause. It reminded me of…” Rose hesitated again before saying ‘you’. But she never got the chance to say it.
“…Sylvie Watson.” Lily finished Rose’s sentence, reached for a dining chair and sat down heavily.
Who? Does Lily actually know someone who has early menopause?
“I don’t know who Sylvie Watson is but…”
“Ooooh myyyy Goooddd Rose! You don’t know who Sylvie Watson is? Call yourself a journalist?”
That got Rose’s goat, but she stuck her tongue in her cheek. Which brought back the memory of Nick Maddox, and her cheeks warmed.
“Sylvie Watson is beautiful, she’s talented, she plays Megan Macanella.” Lily looked at Rose whose face was blank. “In The Superiors.” Blank again. “The Superiors, every Thursday night. Don’t you watch TV?”
“Yes, but… ”
“She’s married to Joe Sherezade.” Rose shrugged. “The film director. They got married barefoot on a beach in Baja California, very hippy, and they were going to have lots of beautiful babies but she’s still not pregnant and…”
“And,” Rose tried again, this time drowning out Lily’s words, “if she’s got early menopause, it means she can’t get pregnant. There won’t be any beautiful babies. It’s caused by a number of things but it can be inherited, so I talked to Gran about it yesterday. She got her menopause in her fifties and she thinks Mum was starting it when she got ill, so that’s normal. Great-Aunt Bonnie though, she tried but couldn’t get pregnant and… that made me think of you.”
Rose pulled out a chair next to Lily, sat down and took her hand. It was rather cool. “You should talk to your doctor.”
They sat for a moment, the only sound in the room was the tip-tapping of the blind toggle against the open window.
“Just for some tests,” said Rose, getting up to shut the window. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked.
Lily stood up. “No way. I don’t need tests. I’d know if I’d got it. You’re always talking about evidence and facts, well Mum had us when she was in her twenties, didn’t she, so there’s the evidence that she didn’t have it. We can’t inherit it from anyone else, Can we?” There was a feverish look in her eyes now.
Rose heard the word ‘we’ but chose to ignore it. Lily’s expression was strangely blank, and Rose regretted putting that look on her face. So she did what she’d always done for Lily and softened the blow. “Look, maybe Sylvie Watson hasn’t got it, maybe she just needs time.”
“Maybe.” A single muscle flickered in Lily’s cheek.
Rose hadn’t expected denial. She’d expected the usual Lily tears and drama. Denial wasn’t good. Denial was worse than tears.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #19: when, amongst their mother’s belongings they find a stash of postcards…
This is the 18th instalment of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ about identity detective Rose Haldane. To start reading from the beginning, please click on the category ‘My Novel: Ignoring Gravity’ in the right hand menu.