Rose crossed and uncrossed her legs, then crossed them again, snaking her feet around her ankles, the toes of her tan gladiator sandals squeaking slightly as they rubbed together. Then her mother’s firm voice rung in her head, ‘You’ll get varicose veins if you sit with your legs crossed, sit like a lady.’ Rose uncrossed them and pressed her knees tightly together. Her inner thigh muscles began to ache.She’d been sitting up straight in this corridor for ten minutes, a tunnel of wood-panelled walls, darkened with years of polish and dirty fingerprints. She started to cross her legs again but remembered in time and forced her knees back together. This was more efficient at muscle toning than that horrible machine at the gym, the one where you sat with your knees wide apart and tried to push them together against the weights. Her mother would certainly have disapproved about the legs wide apart bit.
Footsteps approached from the left.
“You must be Rose, can I call you Rose?”
The social worker was a large lady wearing a tailored jacket and pussybow blouse, a brown wool skirt stretched across her ample bottom. Rose hadn’t seen clothes like that since Mrs Thatcher.
“Please sit down. I’m Mrs Greenaway. I’ll start by asking you a few questions, Rose, and then I’ll answer yours. Is that okay?”
Rose nodded. She recognised the method of buying-in from her teamwork seminar: frequent reaffirmation that everyone was on board, reaffirmation of the team’s ongoing commitment to the project, reaffirmation that no-one could do a runner. She’d seen the technique work at the Herald.
“How long have you wanted to find your birth mother, Rose?”
“I’ve only just found out I’m adopted. It was a bit of a shock. I… well, I had no idea.” Stop jabbering like an idiot and speak clearly, she told herself, and smiled, realizing as she did it that the smile was too wide.
But Mrs Greenaway didn’t seem to notice anything odd, she just nodded and leaned forward to peer at Rose’s file. Rose folded her hands in her lap and tried not to be irritated that the woman hadn’t bothered to read the file before the meeting. The folder only seemed to contain two pieces of paper.
“I want to find my birth parents.” She hadn’t meant to shout. “If they’re still alive, of course, to see if we’re alike. I’ve always felt a bit different from my…,” she hesitated, not sure how to make it clear which family she was talking about, but Mrs Greenaway was still nodding so Rose ploughed on, “…my family but never known why. So I’d like to find my birth family because my differences might be like theirs, so at last I belong to a family where I fit.” The last words came out in a bit of a rush and she realised she’d said ‘family’ a lot.
Mrs Greenaway nodded again, her hands folded on the desk in front of her.
Rose took the nod as signal to continue. “I want to understand why my mother, my birth mother, why she gave me away and why no-one stopped her, and if she was eventually happy or… or not.” On her way here she’d thought carefully about what she wanted to say, but now it was coming out all twisted. “I just want to know the truth.”
“Have you asked your adoptive mother any of this?”
“She died six months ago. I found out after she…” Rose closed her eyes and was standing beside the grave again, watching as her coffin was lowered into the hole. There was a polite cough. Rose opened her eyes to see Mrs Greenaway offering her the box of tissues. She shook her head.
“Alright to go on?”
“Alright then. You talk a lot about your birth mother, Rose, and hardly mention your birth father. Why is that? You seem to be blaming both your mothers, without paying much attention to your fathers. Do you blame your adoptive mother for taking you away from your birth mother?”
Yes. Yes. The words screamed inside Rose’s head. She hadn’t thought of it like that. She viewed Mrs Greenaway more cautiously now. “I guess I do blame her, yes, because I found out I was adopted by reading her diary. Not a diary my father wrote. And the most basic connection is between mother and child, isn’t it? So I feel betrayed.”
Mrs Greenaway nodded, encouragingly. “Well the search won’t be easy, Rose. The older you are when you search the harder it is, and you’re not guaranteed to find out anything additional to what I can tell you today. Searching takes a lot of time and energy and money. It will help if you try to involve your adoptive family in what you’re doing. Show them papers and photos. But some of your relatives and friends may be unhappy with what you’re doing. How is your adoptive family taking the revelation?”
“My Mum’s dead and my Dad doesn’t want to talk to me about it at the moment,” Mrs Greenaway raised an eyebrow, so Rose rushed on, “but I’m persevering with him. My sister is supportive though she has her own… her own issues at the moment.”
“And is your sister adopted too?”
“No.” Why didn’t I think of that? But Lily is so much like Mum they must be blood relations. Is that why Lily keeps asking for the diaries?
“Well keep talking to them.” Mrs Greenaway took a quick glance at her watch. “Right.” She shuffled the papers.
Rose wished she had x-ray vision. “So, who were my birth parents?”
“There are some things we need to cover off first. Finding your birth parents is not a solution to problems you may have now with your adoptive family. In fact, it can cause more problems. You should be prepared for an emotional time.”
Talk about stating the obvious. Rose bit her lip and forced herself to nod. With all the nodding going on she felt like the basset-hound noddy dog her father re-placed on the parcel shelf of their dark blue Austin Maxi every time their mother moved it to the glove compartment.
I need this woman’s help. Is it too much to nod and smile at the same time? She tried it. Mrs Greenaway nodded and smiled back.
“Look, I do know all of this. I know I’m older than average for making this sort of discovery. I don’t blame myself for whatever it was that made my birth parents give me away, they had their reasons. I just want to understand, I’m not seeking to blame them for inadequacies in my own life.”
She glanced out of the window, the view was a red brick wall, the glass speckled with raindrops. She could feel Mrs Greenaway’s eyes focussed on her left ear. “I have had a fantasy since I was a child that I had a friend, a friend who was fun to play with, a friend who understood me.” She swallowed. “Since I found out I was adopted I’ve wondered if she might be my lost sister, if she was some residual memory from when I was a baby, that I have a real elder sister.” Wanda’s face swam into focus.
“But the sister you grew up with, err…” she looked down at the file again.
“Yes, Lily, she is still your sister. You grew up together, you share a common history. No-one can take that away from you.”
Rose looked Mrs Greenaway straight in the eye. “No, they can’t. But I’m tired of wondering. I want to know if I have a lost sister or not, so can we just get on with it?”
“Sometimes the birth mother may be dead or…”
“Or a criminal, or worse. Yes, I know. I have thought about these things.” And I’m trying to be positive, Rose reprimanded herself. My mother could be a businesswoman, an actress, an opera singer, an author. A journalist, like me.
Mrs Greenaway straightened her shoulders as if she had made a decision.
Rose leant forward. Is this it?
“You have a legal right to the following information.” Mrs Greenaway’s voice sounded as if she were quoting from an official handbook. “Here is form CA5.” She pushed a sheet of paper across the desk towards Rose, text side down. “It gives you the information on your original birth certificate: your name at birth, the names of your birth parents, and the district of your birth. I’ll give you a moment to read it.” And she left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her like a doctor leaving a grieving relative.
Rose looked at the paper for a moment, savouring what was to come, triumphant that she had come so far so fast.
Her own name was in the top right hand corner of the form:-
Adoptive Forename and Surname: Rose Haldane.
Forenames at Birth: Alanna Jane.
Rose stopped reading. Alanna, it was beautiful, it sounded gaelic.
“Alanna,” she tried to say it aloud but all that came out was a whisper. “Alanna.”
Did she feel like an Alanna? No, she was Rose. The name even felt different in her mouth. She tried again. “Alanna.” Her voice was louder this time, and her tongue clicked flat against the roof of her mouth on the first syllable.
Alanna. Not Alberta or Alison or Alice. The baby in the photo was Alanna. My real mother called me Alanna. There it was, a connection to that sad lonely woman who had known she would never see her baby again but still named her. And such a beautiful name. Alanna was an unknown quantity except, Rose realised, she wasn’t, she had seen Alanna’s face already in the creased photo hidden in the purse.
For a moment, Rose wanted to tear up form CA5, tear up Alanna’s name and go back to being just Rose. But her eyes were drawn like gravity to the page again.
Birth Mother [if known]…
Next to it was a name Rose knew. She read it three times before she admitted to herself that she recognised it.
Katherine Ingram? Aunt Kate? Mum’s sister, Bizzie and Howard’s youngest daughter. Hippy Aunt Kate who’d died in the Sixties. The actress. How could Aunt Kate be her mother? Rose didn’t even know what she looked like. But she’s dead.
She re-read the form, words swimming.
Birth Father: unknown.
Kate must have known. Where was he when her birth was registered, didn’t he have to sign the register too? Was this document legal?
District of birth registration: Enfield.
Enfield. She’d been born in Enfield? She’d never been to Enfield.
Birth date: August 29th 1968.
Yes, it’s me.
Instead of being Rose Haldane, Virgo, born August 29th 1968, she was Alanna Jane Ingram, Virgo, born August 29th 1968 in Enfield. What did Alanna Ingram look like? Alanna sounded blonde but Rose was dark. She sounded tall and soft and willowy, Rose was small, wiry. Alanna was a girly name, a giggly name, Rose knew Alanna hugged her friends a lot. Oh how Rose longed to be hugged right now. Her hands fell to her lap and the form slipped to the floor. Her breath faltered.
There was a light knock at the door, it was Mrs Greenaway. For such a large lady she moved lightly on her feet and Rose was grateful now for her delicacy.
“Alright?” She held out a plastic cup.
Rose took it and sipped the lukewarm metallic-tasting water from a machine, waiting for it to lubricate her dry throat. “Yes,” she croaked, and sipped again. “She’s dead.”
“You won’t know that until you look for her,” reassured Mrs Greenaway, showing a chink of Eileen Greenaway – wife and mother – beneath her professional veneer.
“Yes, she is. She’s dead. The name of my birth mother on this form is the name of my aunt who died when I was four months old.”
“Oh my dear. Well, perhaps that’s why you were adopted. Perhaps she had a serious illness.”
“I don’t think so. At least no-one in the family has ever mentioned that.” But Rose realised she had no idea how Aunt Kate had died. Cancer? Car crash? Why didn’t she know? Why were there so many secrets in her family?
“Are there other files on me?”
Mrs Greenaway turned back to the file. “Here’s a copy of your short adoption certificate, you mentioned you hadn’t found it amongst your adoptive mother’s property.”
Rose took the piece of paper: a small document for a small child. She’d expected something bigger. It looked like a normal birth certificate, nowhere did the word ‘adoption’ appear. She scanned it quickly: date and place of birth, sex, adoptive name. Nothing new then.
“But this is insufficient for legal purposes, to confirm your identity or apply for a passport for example. For that you need your full adoption certificate which is like a replacement birth certificate.”
That’s where my father’s name will be registered. “How do I get that?”
“You can download a form online then post it. Now let me see if there’s anything else to give you.” Mrs Greenaway passed over another paper. “Here’s the court information sheet which names the court where your adoption was processed.” One more search of the folder. “No, there’s nothing else here that I can add. Your next step…”
Disconnected words floated around Rose as she held the official pieces of paper. A world she did not know surrounded her, the air smelled different. Aunt Kate? Rose passed her hand in front of her face; she could see it move, it looked normal, but nothing would ever be the same again.
Mrs Greenaway was still talking, smiling reassuringly at her but Rose was struggling to match the sentences to her moving lips.
“… so my best guess is that your adoption was arranged privately. 1968 was the year in which the highest-ever number of adoptions were made but, pre-computer, I’m afraid that many files contain nothing. I’m sorry I can’t be more positive.”
Ah, she got that sentence. Mrs Greenaway was sorry. Rose forced herself to speak through the churning water which surrounded her. “I’m a journalist, I’m used to finding things.”
“Very well. There is one more place I can ask. In the case of a privately arranged adoption, a file may be held by the social services department in the area of the court where the adoption order was made. There might be nothing, but it might contain information about your birth and your first few days. Would you like me to ask, on your behalf?”
“Yes, please.” Rose was on automatic pilot but Mrs Greenaway was looking at her, waiting, so she must have asked another question. Rose shook her head. She didn’t know who might answer the question, somebody else was inside her head now. Could she be Rose and Alanna at the same time? How were they split? 50/50. 20/80. 1/99? Mostly Rose with a touch of Alanna?
Without remembering how she did it, she was standing up, shaking hands with Mrs Greenaway and walking out of the office.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #37: all is not well when Rose finds her father at the allotment…
This is the 36th 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.