She was not provisioned for a stake-out. When they left their father’s house earlier they’d been in a rush and Lily pulled the door closed behind them, not expecting to return, not thinking of a key to get back in. So when Rose saw her father’s house still in darkness, she resigned herself to sitting in the Mini. She knocked at the front door and the back door, and rung the bell, cursing that day last year after the burglary when new locks were fitted and she hadn’t insisted on having a key. She went back to her car, moved the seat back and wriggled to get comfortable.
She had thought she was like everyone else: mother, father, sister, nice home, okay family life, family history absorbed haphazardly over the years from family stories and gossip and photo albums. Inheritance by osmosis. She had always accepted her dark brown eyes were inherited from her father’s side of the family, but now her mother’s words in the yellow book made all of this a lie. Her mother, who had owned up to taking a shop-bought cake to the primary school fete’s ‘home-made cake stall’, and who saved her Monopoly money rather than buy hotels, her mother had lied for 40 years?
She sat up in her seat and pulled it forwards into the driving position. She’d had enough, her bed was warm and waiting for her in Wimbledon. Her father would be somewhere warm. Hadn’t he been going to paint someone’s shed? That was it, he’d be at this bloke’s house having a thank-you drink. The clock on the dashboard showed 00.00 as Rose reached for the ignition.
She opened her front door with the pile of diaries and striped holdall clutched to her breast. The light flashed on the answerphone. She ran to it but there was nothing, another put-down. She dialled 1471, call received 11.10pm, number withheld. It had to be her father.
She stood in the dark kitchen as Brad mewed and weaved round her ankles in a figure of eight. Rose opened a tin of tuna and looked down at the one definite thing in her life.
Sleep evaded her. She sat up and put on the light, then did what her mother always did in a time of crisis: she made tea and sat at the kitchen table in the dark.
The shadows of her mother’s handwriting seemed embossed on her retinas, projecting like theatre lights onto the blank kitchen wall in exactly the spot where her father had never quite got around to fixing a bookshelf. Rose looked at the window blind, the fridge door, the calendar and the words followed her gaze, marking the plain surfaces of fabric, enamel, paper and plaster with their message. I’m going to adopt her baby when he is born.
The faces of her mother and father floated in front of her, their empty words mute in the night, beseeching, explaining, excusing, apologising, their fleshy faces dissolving into skulls, empty skulls and empty words.
Shut your eyes and concentrate, Rose told herself, think positive. She needed a happy memory. Her mother bending over the pram stroking her hair, shooing away the cat. Cheek-to-cheek with her father, looking out of a train window, stretching on tiptoe to see the green fields rushing by outside, the black blur of cows and brown blur of horses, his strong hand at her back, guiding her as he had guided her all her life.
But that strong hand didn’t belong to my father after all.
She sat through that long night on the sofa, a cold cup of tea in one hand, her eyes open, her mind closed. She remembered the time she was sent to bed without tea for repeating to her mother a word she heard one windy day in the school playground and not understood.
Then finally: a memory which stemmed the tears. Rose, aged eight, was collected from school one afternoon by Grandma Bizzie. Rose, given the choice, would live at Grandma Bizzie’s house. She loved the sycamore, its five-pronged leaves which look like a green giant’s fingers, the delicate yellow-green flowers which dangled like earrings in the spring and the winged seeds which fluttered in spirals to the ground in the autumn. One day she was sitting on the first branch, wishing she had a brother who would climb trees with her, when Bizzie brought out a glass of squash and a piece of home-made lemon cake with runny icing on top.
Rose patted the air next to her. “Never mind, it’ll stop bleeding soon.” Her friend Wanda, she told her Gran solemnly, had slipped down three branches and had a long scratch on her leg.
“Poor Wanda,” Bizzie smiled at the vacant space on the branch next to Rose, “perhaps a piece of cake will make you feel better?”
Of course it did. Climbing trees was hungry work and from that day on Rose climbed the tree often.
Now, as she sat on the sofa, Rose licked her lips. She could taste the lemon. She opened her eyes. The sun had erased the words off the wall and the room was her lounge once again. But the seat next to her was empty, Wanda was gone.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #23: Rose makes another discovery …
This is the 22nd 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.