Rose held the book for a moment before opening it at the first page. The handwriting was easy to read: tiny, italicised script, every letter carefully formed, every serif perfectly angled in relation to the full shape of the letter. A very neat version of the script familiar from every birthday card her mother had ever given her. Each diary entry was headed by a date, underlined precisely with a ruler, written in blue ink.
31st December 1966
It will be so romantic if John proposes tomorrow. A New Year’s proposal. I’ll drop a hint to encourage him, he sometimes needs a little nudge. I saw him smiling at Abigail Allen in the newsagent yesterday, and I saw the way she fluttered her eyelashes at him. She’s a cheap little flirt and she’s not going to get him. I‘ll even do IT, if I have to.
If this diary hadn’t been written so clearly in her mother’s handwriting, Rose would never have imagined her oh-so-correct mother being so, so, girly.
1st January 1967
ENGAGED!!!!!! John proposed. On one knee too, except he didn’t do it right the first time and I had to ask him to kneel down and start again. But I wish he wasn’t always trying to get inside my blouse [the baby blue one with mother-of-pearl buttons]. Tonight was special so I let him touch my bussies. At last I’m going to be a ‘wife’. Mrs Haldane. Mrs Diana Haldane. Mr and Mrs John Haldane. Mr and Mrs Haldane and family.
4th January 1967
John’s agreed to 5th February. I wonder where we’ll go on honeymoon. Rome, Venice, Paris.
10th January 1967
My dress has a sweetheart neckline and pretty sleeves gathered in tiny puffs on the shoulders. We’ll have five babies and live in a house in the country with a big garden and a treehouse for the children, 2 of each, 2 boys and 2 girls, the fifth one can be pot luck. Mummy and Daddy gave us some pale blue bed linen tonight, embroidered with our initials. Mummy’s done two sets, one for me and one for K, for our bottom drawers. K’s set is lemon. I would have preferred a cheque.
Lily looked up from her book. “There’s no talk of boys here, or of Dad, just what she did every day. What does yours say?”
“Stuff about how she let Dad touch her bussies the night they got engaged.”
“Bussies?” Lily snickered.
Rose felt uncomfortable. She flicked idly past the wedding gossip. The honeymoon had been a weekend at a hotel in Rye. So much for Paris.
2nd August 1967
Why isn’t it happening? We don’t use a thingy. Maureen’s pregnant already and she got married two months after we did.
Rose looked at Lily. Was history repeating itself?
3rd September 1967
Dr F said to give it time, relax and it’ll happen naturally. I asked Mummy and she agreed, and she is a nurse after all. I do try, but it’s difficult to relax when John wants to… you know! Maureen showed me her book about childbirth today, the diagrams were rather frightening. I’d rather not know the details thank you very much.
Six months later and the neat handwriting was more of a scrawl.
5th March 1968
John says we can’t afford a baby yet but that’s rubbish. Breastfeeding is free. He saw me counting the days on my calendar last night and ripped it up, and this morning he left without breakfast. It’s the first time we’ve argued and not made up before we went to bed.
Rose flicked forwards a couple of pages, skipping entries, promising herself she would go back and read them later, and then a word leapt off the page and shouted at her, like spelling mistakes did when she was reading page proofs at work.
17th April, 1968
Father’s funeral this morning. More awful than I could have imagined. Then the answer to my prayer arrived. Amen. I’m going to adopt her baby when he is born, I suggested it and she said yes. YES! John need never know where I got him from, it’ll be my precious secret. The baby is due at the end of August. I’ll call him David. David John Haldane sounds lovely. Or Adam John Haldane.”
Rose could hear the blood buzzing through her veins, flushing her skin bright red.
She tried to focus on the page, to read it again but the words of her mother… her mother’s handwriting … the words didn’t make sense… and yet somehow they did. There was no David John Haldane. Or Adam John Haldane. Only Rose and Lily.
Rose Haldane, who was born on August 29th, 1968.
Someone took her by the arm, forcing her to sit down. Breath warmed her cheek. She was ice all over. She could see nothing, nothing except one word written in the diary.
Suddenly pain, starting at her cheek and spreading through her head. Again, and again. Each slap beat that word deeper into her unconsciousness.
Rose Haldane fell off the edge of the world.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #21: in which the sisters search the house, looking for Rose’s birth certificate
This is the 20th 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.