Over the next few days Rose’s routine didn’t vary. Each morning and lunchtime she rang her father, each time there was no answer. She understood his avoidance technique, she didn’t particularly want to talk either but it had to be done or she would never find out the truth. So each night after work she drove to Richmond. Each night her father’s car was in the drive but The Weavings was empty. Slight changes suggested the house was occupied at some point during the day – on Wednesday night there were empty milk bottles on the doorstep which weren’t there on Thursday night, on Friday evening the rubbish bin was at the kerbside awaiting collection on Saturday – so she could only conclude that he was still alive and getting on with his life. Rose decided to follow his example.On Friday night she didn’t get home until after 10pm. She gobbled beans on toast, sprinkling extra cheddar on top because she couldn’t resist the smell of melted cheese, and almost instantly fell asleep on the sofa in front of the TV. Her dream was vivid. There was a babushka doll, whose face was hand-painted in tiny brushstrokes, without eyes or lips. Every time Rose opened a doll she found a miniature inside, each one getting smaller and smaller. Every face was blank; even the tiniest, the size of a thimble. Then with a pop the featureless face disappeared and Rose woke with a start. It was midnight; there were cheers from the TV, a women’s basketball match, smiling faces, scowling faces, angry faces. Not one face on TV was expressionless.
She locked up, went to bed, and slept like the dead.
Saturday morning dawned wet. Every night this week she’d stayed late in the office to catch up, no time spare for adoption research. So as soon as the library opposite opened at 9am, she was in there. She took the three books off the shelf. A Little Blessing, Adoption and Fostering 1950-1970: the Richer Report, and A History of Adoption. She stood in line at the ‘books out’ desk behind a smart elderly gentleman holding a weighty biography of Churchill and a whey-faced teenager clutching the equally weighty Women’s Health Questions Answered under her arm. As she waited, Rose flicked through the books on the ‘Must Read’ table and added Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to her pile.
She walked home via the corner shop to pay her paper bill and picked up a six-pack of Coke, a bunch of bananas and an ‘affordable classic’ copy of Great Expectations from the bargain shelf. She must stop buying random books.
At home a pile of post was waiting on the doormat including a large brown envelope marked ARAP. Out fell a booklet, the colour of Djion mustard, entitled Searching for your Birth Family.
At 10.30am she started reading the booklet. Adoptions in the Sixties could be made in all sorts of ways and the booklet made a major assumption: that you knew how yours was done. Rose had no idea. Not for the first time she wished she had someone to ask. She read on. In a survey conducted by ARAP in 1972, only half of adoption placements were made by voluntary agencies or local authorities, the rest were made by private arrangements. Rose stroked Brad as she tried to apply the statistics to herself. She knew local authorities, she’d reported on council meetings and interviewed mayors and officials and councillors, local authorities were run by civil servants. They were anal about records. But for them to talk to her she needed to know her birth name and where she was born. Hopefully the adoption advisor would give her the facts. She’d got a cancellation for Monday evening.
Next she picked up A Little Blessing. A thin A5 sized paperback with a picture of a baby on the front with a halo over its blonde smiling face. It was the book her mother and father should have read before telling her the truth when she was five.
Why didn’t they? Didn’t they have to, by law?
“No,” said Bella on ARAP’s helpline. “At the beginning of the 20th century it was accepted that the best thing for the adopted child was a clean break with no contact with their birth parents, and no rights to search for them when the child had grown up. Then in 1953 a Government report recommended that adopted children be told they were adopted or chosen.”
“But only recommended?” interrupted Rose.
“Yes. The report said that if the child wasn’t told, quote: ‘at best there is a serious risk of totally destroying the child’s trust and confidence in the adults who have been deceiving him/her about his/her parentage until then’…”
Yes, thought Rose, my trust has been destroyed. She forced herself to concentrate on what Bella was saying.
“… recommended that adoptive parents be forced to tell their child of its origins, but no law was passed and telling was left to the whim of the adopters.”
“But if a law had been passed, Mum and Dad would have legally had to tell me and I wouldn’t be sitting here now wondering if my real parents were acrobats or journalists or bricklayers. I would know whose genes I inherited.” And whose medical history, whose skills, whose nose and smile and toes.
“Yes,” said Bella. “Nature or nurture.”
“Nurture explains modern success. People aren’t born with skills, they learn them. I know I have, I studied and trained for enough years to become a journalist. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now.”
“You sound very analytical, Rose. Most people I speak to are in pieces.”
I am in pieces, thought Rose, just because I don’t weep and wail doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it.
“Just remember its okay to allow yourself time to get upset about what has happened to you.”
“I do get upset, I am upset.” No, that sounded too sharp. “Sorry Bella, that didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean to snap, you’ve been great. Thanks.”
Rose settled down with Adoption and Fostering 1950-1970: the Richer Report. It was dry reading. By 4pm her temples were tight and she felt more like a thorn than a rose. She reached for the remote: tennis of course, Brief Encounter, horse racing, quiz show, horse jumping, cricket chat, Wizard of Oz, previews of tomorrow’s tennis, highlights of yesterday’s one-day international cricket from India, exclusive interview with England’s retired cricket captain, live county cricket. Rose didn’t like cricket.
“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow.”
Rose watched Dorothy find her way home to her real family then went to the bedroom and fished her red stilettos out of the wardrobe. She’d bought them to go to a New Year’s Eve party with James and only worn them once. Although they made her legs seem five foot long, they had rubbed her heels raw and her feet had slipped down to the toes and jammed into the leather like a test crash car hitting a wall. James said that didn’t matter, that the shoes would only be on her feet for seconds when they got home. James would choose sex and blisters over comfortable shoes any day, as long as he got the sex and she got the blisters. But then again… the red slippers had worked for Dorothy.
So Rose sat on the sofa wearing the red stilettos, cut-off denim shorts and a white cotton vest, with Brad purring beside her, and felt the best she’d felt for a week.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #33: Lily’s talk with William about babies doesn’t go to plan…
This is the 32nd 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.