IGNORING GRAVITY #27

Rose woke with a start at 2am, took a deep breath, and eased the stiffness in her right shoulder. The flat was still. Her dehydrated tongue had swollen to the proportions of a bath sponge and was pressing uncomfortably against her teeth. She lay for a while, watching the luminous numbers of the clock radio, feeling increasingly hot thanks to the fact that she was still wearing her white velour Jennifer Lopez tracksuit bottoms and purple Abba t-shirt. Oh God, almost as bad as orange Lycra.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles [photo: David Austin Roses]

Tess of the d’Urbervilles [photo: David Austin Roses]

Each second took a minute to pass, each minute took an hour. After what felt like 20 hours, she could stand it no more. In the kitchen she fumbled for a bottle of water in the fridge and wondered if she’d dreamed him. But the kitchen was tidy, pots were draining by the sink and in the middle of the table, propped up against a tin of tuna Whiskas, was a note.

“Hope you feel better. Take two paracetamol every four hours and drink as much water as you can. Nick.”

He really does think I have flu, she thought. For just a moment she forgot she wasn’t Rose Haldane any more, she was just a girl trying to decipher the workings of a man’s mind. But try as she might to keep his face in her mind, the horror flooded back in a relentless tide: the words, the diary, the skulls, the life-that-might-have-been, the history stolen from her.

Are none of my memories true?

The laughter playing Scrabble with Mum and Lily and winning; Grandma Bizzie pointing out the difference between the Great Tits and Blue Tits on the bird table by her kitchen window; dancing with Dad to Sing Something Simple on the radio, her red sandals on top of his suede brogues, swaying around the sitting room together and singing…

“Talking ‘bout my little girl. My girl.”

*

When she woke again it was morning and she didn’t feel like a dishrag, which was amazing as one glance in the bathroom mirror told her that her face looked like one. She showered, put on some mascara, and went out to buy a newspaper. It was 6am. Not her usual time. Time to catch up on the Herald and its rivals, try to return to some sense of normality.

Newspapers tucked under her arm, she let herself in the street door to find the stairs up to her flat blocked. A small dark head sat hunched forward over the carpeted bottom step, shoulders quivering like a newly-set jelly turned out of a rabbit mould, the same shape as the once white lop-eared bunny discarded on the entrance hall floor.

“Hello, can I get by?”

The face that turned to look at her was stained with tears and something grey which might have been Weetabix or paint or snot. His red-blotched cheeks clashed violently with his strawberry blond hair and orange and green striped t-shirt. He opened his mouth, hiccupped and burst into tears. Rose thought fleetingly about picking him up but was thankfully rescued by a voice from the doorway on the right.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” A woman appeared from the downstairs flat. She had to be his mother, they had matching warm blonde hair which spoke of sunny days in this dark hallway. “He’s been a naughty boy, haven’t you Lewis. So he’s sitting on the naughty step.”

Rose thought about pointing out that the stairs was a communal area but Lewis was scooped into his mother’s arms and the obstruction went away. “But five minutes on the naughty step is enough, isn’t it Lewis?”

He nodded solemnly and flung his arms around his mother’s neck.

“Come on then, let the lady get upstairs. Shall we have toast with strawberry jam for breakfast?”

Rose stopped halfway up the stairs and turned. Lewis was peeping over his mother’s shoulder at her. He waved. For a moment she hesitated, not wanting to encourage his attention. But then she remembered her mother making her stand on the front door step in the cold for an hour. She’d been playing tag in the garden with Lily who had tripped on a step and skinned her knee, it was only a scratch but Lily cried and screamed as if her leg had been chopped off. Rose had told her to shut up.

It had been very cold on that step.

So she waved back at Lewis.

*

She spread the newspapers on the kitchen table and that’s when she saw it again. The note.

“Hope you feel better. Take two paracetamol every four hours and drink as much water as you can. Nick.”

He hadn’t been a dream then.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #28: Rose finally finds her father but learns she is not the only one in turmoil…

This is the 27th 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.