When Rose got home the light on the answerphone flashed ‘2’. Was it a put-down? Was it her father? Was it… Nick Maddox?

‘Black Eggs and Roses, May 22 2000’ by Donald Sultan [photo: tate.org.uk]

‘Black Eggs and Roses, May 22 2000’ by Donald Sultan [photo: tate.org.uk]

“Rose, it’s May. Where are you? If you’re sick you should be at home, if you’re not sick you should be here working. Two days is quite sufficient for a journalist to recover from infection. You’ve had four…”

I haven’t, thought Rose angrily.

“… including the weekend. I want you at your desk before nine tomorrow morning.”

She pressed ‘next’.

“Hello, Miss. This is Sergeant Wilcox at Petersham Police Station. With regards to your reporting a Mr…” there was a pause, “… Mr John Haldane missing on Sunday June first, I can confirm that we have received no reports of an incident regarding this gentleman. If you wish to submit a Missing Person Report, please call me on 0208……”

I will go back to work, she told Brad firmly as he washed his face with his paws, his purring like the distant rumble of traffic. Because words are my thing. They never let me down, words don’t lie to me. I’ll start now, I’ll write down how I feel about what happened.

She took her mug to the computer and started to write. But every other keystroke was delete, so when the phone rang she answered it with a sense of escape. Nick?

It was Maggie. “I got your message. What’s wrong?”

Rose précised the events of the last three days.

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

“I don’t know what to say, Rose. I’m so sorry I haven’t been around.”

“It’s okay.” Rose liked the sympathy but wondered idly why everyone, including her, automatically assumed it was bad news to hear you’d been adopted.

“I’m coming round. You shouldn’t be on your own.”

“No, not today. Maybe in a couple of days, okay? I’m fine, really I am.”

“Well… just ring me if you need me, okay?”

Rose needed to think clearly. What I need to do is stop thinking about Nick Maddox.

Nick, who hadn’t rung to see if she felt better.


A week ago Rose would have been intimidated at the thought of having strange parents, let alone strangers possibly with criminal records. Now, now she just wanted to find them. She logged on and searched for ‘adoption’. 0.07 seconds later it produced 4,380,000 results. Nonsense. In her inbox was an e-mail from Maggie listing six adoption websites. ‘Try these,’ said her message.

Rose rung the one at the top of the list, ARAP, the Association for the Reunion of Adoptees and Parents, and spoke to a very matter-of-fact lady who was obviously accustomed to dealing with emotional wrecks.

“Well as you don’t know your birth name, the first thing you have to do is apply to access your birth records,” advised the lady who introduced herself as Bella Bonachance. “You can download the form from the Direct Gov website and post it. Then you see an adoption advisor for a disclosure interview where you’ll be given the information you need to apply online for your full adoption certificate. That’s the document used for all legal and administrative purposes just like an original birth certificate is.”

Rose wished she was writing this down, she’d never remember it all. “Why can’t I just apply online?”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

Rose could hear the sympathy in Bella’s voice, the patience, a warm weariness at explaining this incomprehensible procedure hundreds of times to confused people. “You were adopted prior to 1975. You see, before that date many parents were led to believe the child they gave up for adoption would never be able to find them. So it’d be a bit of a shock, you turning up on their doorstep. There is a fixed procedure to follow.”

“But it’s urgent.” But a reasonable voice in her head said Don’t shout at this lady, she’s trying to help me.

Journalism rule number five: polite apology followed by an appeal to the offended person’s expertise.

Rose apologised.

“Remember, your birth mother may be terrified you’ll hate her and will want to punish her,” Bella warned. “Or perhaps she’s worried her family will judge her. She might have told no-one about you and do everything to avoid seeing you. Ever. Take it slowly, Rose. I’ll send you an information pack to get you started. Let me know how you get on.”

Rose knew she would ring again, just to hear Bella’s calm voice and practical advice. She always found it soothing to plan, so that’s what she did now. She wrote a ‘things to research’ list. It was already in her head but seeing it in blue ink on paper made it real.

  1. Download and fill in Application for Access to Birth Records form;
  2. See an adoption advisor;
  3. Get my adoption certificate;
  4. Find my birth parents.

It took her 10 minutes to do item 1. She read the list again. There was a lot to do. Should she get help? Lily? Maggie? No. She wanted to ask the questions and hear the answers first, work out what she thought before telling anyone else. She would start… she looked at the clock, it was almost midnight… she would start tomorrow.

But real sleep was elusive. Rose tried thinking of the work piling up in the office, the deadlines she’d missed, but Nick’s face hovered in the margins picture, smiling and saying her he knew the name of her birth mother and knew where she lived. Rose lay in the dark for an hour before getting up to make a cup of tea.

Her dirty trainers lay on the back door mat.

She logged onto the telephone directory and found what she was looking for. Easy.


Half an hour later she was driving furtively towards the Thames, following SatNav’s directions through Battersea, looking from the bleak concrete tower blocks on the right to the dark red brick Victorian giants on the left. The chequered flag on her plug-in SatNav indicated she’d reached her destination so she pulled over, turned on the interior light and looked at her notes.

Nicholas Derek Maddox, 23 River Reach, River Drive, Battersea.

Well SatNav said this was River Drive but she couldn’t see a River Reach. She started to jog in the general direction of the Power Station. She’d never run at night before, but once she got over the initial fear that someone was lurking behind each tree with the sole intent of jumping out at her, she started to enjoy it. The cool, the quiet, the empty pavements and roads, so different from jostling elbows with pedestrians during daylight hours, so much better not to have to jog on the spot waiting for green lights before crossing a road. Up ahead she could see a church, an alleyway at its side. She turned and yes… there it was. The Thames, dark, moving with a slow inevitability downstream like a band of dark blue oil leaching into the black night. She ran along the riverside path, praying she wasn’t stepping in any dog shit but trusting her nose to warn her of danger, and then she saw it. A black gate set into a high white wall. A small sign, brushed metal lit by a single downlighter. Clean and polished.

‘Access for River Reach residents only.’

Rose looked up at the glass and steel building which loomed above her. Nine, no ten stories high, tall for this part of London excepting ChelseaHarbour opposite. A couple of windows were asleep behind pulled curtains, some were bright and awake and staring at her rudeness, more blinked at her with half-pulled blinds as if saying ‘Hello there, I am cool aren’t I? Fancy coming up for a cocktail?’

Wow. Did Nick live here? Rose tried to remember Nick’s CV. What had he done before Biocare Beauty? Was there family money? He didn’t seem the type. Or had he exited his previous company with a golden handshake? Possibly, he looked the type of have the sort of contract which included a huge payout even if he got sacked. Rose jogged on the spot, wondering idly how one went about getting a contract like that.

A light went on in a second floor flat, the door slid open and a figure appeared on the balcony. Rose looked around for a bush. Nowhere to hide. She stood back-to-back with the white wall, trusting to the shadows, pulling in her chest and ignoring the sharp edges of the painted concrete sticking through her thin t-shirt. There was a click and the smell of cigarette smoke and Rose breathed deeply, unaware she’d actually been holding her breath. Nick didn’t smoke, at least… he didn’t smell like a smoker. The smoke drifted down and her mood passed. She could go home now.

The return drive took 10 minutes. By 1.30am she was sitting up in bed, nursing a mug of peppermint tea and feeling sneaky. She couldn’t believe she’d actually done what she’d done. If someone had spied on her like that she would never want to see them again. She got out of bed and went to her desk. The note with Nick’s address on it lay beside her mobile. The paper seemed whiter than white, its words written very large in extra bold as if shouting their inappropriateness. She picked up the paper and stuck it in the shredder, waiting for it to chew up the evidence of her sneakiness.

Then she got back into bed and waited for sleep. Her muscles ached comfortably, the warm ache of self-righteousness you get after exercising, though in truth she hadn’t jogged more than half a mile. Just putting on her trainers was sufficient to make her feel athletically virtuous these days. As she waited for her cheeks to cool her mind ebbed and flickered and flowed, wondering about the nature of truth. Was it was always better to know the truth, to know that Mum wasn’t her genetic mother. Would Nick want to know she had stalked him or would he be happier in ignorance? Would she be happier now, unaware she was adopted? She was in no doubt that her Mum would be horrified to know that Rose had discovered her adoption secret, as she would be horrified if Nick knew what she’d done. She’d closed the circle and was back to her sneakiness.

Rose lay with her eyes closed, until she felt the early morning light warm the pillow beneath her cheek, so warm, so familiar, just like the afternoon sun in those endless school holidays in Richmond. She could smell Bizzie’s lemon cake and hear Wanda’s giggle as they sat on the branch high in the sycamore tree, the smell of trees and leaves and dust calmed her. It never rained in her memories.

At last Rose dreamed of a voice humming her to sleep, whispering…

“She is coming, my dove, my dear;

She is coming, my life, my fate;

The red rose cries, ‘She is near, she is near’;

And the white rose weeps, ‘She is late’.

The larkspur listens, ‘I hear, I hear;’

And the lily whispers, ‘I wait, I wait’.”

[‘Maud’ by Tennyson]

And, at last, she slept.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #31:  Lily helps her father plant lettuce seeds…

This is the 30th 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.