Lily’s first thought when she awoke on Monday morning was Rose. Monday was a Good Times day, the gift shop where Lily worked part-time in Chiswick. Usually it was her favourite work day of the week, the day for re-designing the window display, but today it was the last thing she wanted to do. She rung Rose at 6.30am as she waited for the kettle to boil, then 7.30, but the phone rang out. No answer from her mobile either.Bad, she thought, I want to talk to her. But good too, because Rose is okay and at work. At 9am she rung the Herald. Rose Haldane is out, she was told.
Typical Rose, she thought, nothing gets her down. Well if she’s strong enough to go to work today, so am I.
But she didn’t feel strong. Throughout the morning Lily rang Rose every hour. She’d wanted to leave a message but hadn’t known quite what to say or how to say it. Really she just wanted to hug Rose and reassure her that nothing had changed. They were still sisters.
Standing in the large shop window, something she still felt self-conscious doing, she looked critically at the half-finished display. Stretching out her right arm, she balanced a biscuit tin decorated with botanical flower illustrations on top of a pile of new books called ‘Flowering Shrubs for Lovers’.
It was not uncommon for Rose to ignore her phone, Lily tried to reassure herself, she’s often in meetings and interviews and goodness knows what. Worrying never helps anything, Lily told herself firmly as she stretched a millimetre further to straighten the books and wobbled violently, knocking the biscuit tin to the floor. She put the tin back in its place and heard the rustling of broken biscuits inside, perhaps she could buy the tin at a discount so some poor unsuspecting customer wasn’t disappointed by the shattered shortbread inside.
She experimented with the display, adding a new Scented Roses apron which she’d just unpacked that morning. It worked, except that the pink roses reminded her of her mother too and this time sniffing wasn’t enough, her eyes filled with tears and she had to stop what she was doing. Suddenly it was yesterday, yesterday when her trust that her mother always told the truth was shattered.
Did Mum really adopt Rose and keep it secret for decades? No, Lily was sure her Mum couldn’t have done that. A secret like that would destroy you. Then Lily remembered William and the things she hadn’t admitted to anyone else and she knew that every family had its secrets.
At midday, Lily faked a migraine and left work. She took three different buses to get to Wimbledon.
Rose had better be in when I get there, she thought as the bus turned the corner near the brewery at Mortlake. William will say it’s a waste of time setting out without knowing Rose is at home. When someone doesn’t answer their phone it doesn’t mean they’re dead or in trouble, he’ll say, it simply means they’re not in or don’t want to talk.
Lily got off the bus outside the library and looked up at the windows of Rose’s flat opposite. The curtains were open. Lily crossed the road. She rang the bell, no answer. The front door was ajar an inch so she pushed it wider and gently called ‘hello’. Upstairs she knocked on Rose’s front door. Nothing. So went back down the stairs and knocked on the door of the flat there. There was a crash and a bang and a young woman appeared, her reddish blonde hair tied up in a red and white cotton chequered scarf looking for all the world as if she’d just been milking cows on a Devon farm for a butter advertisement.
“Can I help you?” The woman looked at Lily carefully, her hands on her hips in what Lily took to be an accusing pose.
“The front door was open so I came in.”
Lily felt as if she were trespassing, standing in this dull hallway with a lingering smell of tomato soup. “I’m looking for my sister who lives upstairs. Rose Haldane. I’ve knocked but there’s no answer. Have you seen her today?”
The woman’s face softened and Lily suddenly realised she was pretty. “No, sorry. We’ve been out, just got in.”
“I’m probably just being silly, but she’s not answering her phone.”
The woman pulled a face. “Well, maybe there’s a problem with the phone lines again. They were down yesterday for hours.”
“Oh, right,” said Lily grateful for the sympathetic expression in the woman’s eyes and she knew at once this was what William would say too. It was obvious. The phone lines were being repaired and Rose was being Rose and was probably interviewing some captain of industry. She wouldn’t stop for a moment to think that Lily might be worried about her after yesterday’s bombshell, she wouldn’t think to pick up the phone and say ‘I’m alright this morning, don’t worry about me Lily’. It was all ‘me, me, me’ with Rose.
“Yes, you’re right, sorry to trouble you.”
“No trouble.” The woman turned away quickly, but not so quickly that Lily didn’t notice the splodges of baked bean and egg yolk flattened across her left shoulder.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #25: in need of someone non-family to talk to, Rose calls her ex James…
This is the 24th 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.