Darkness was falling by the time she got to the allotment. She stumbled on the uneven path, cursing herself for not keeping a torch in the car as her mother had told her. She found her father’s patch, empty. For the first time in a long while she felt kinship with her mother who had often pursed her lips at his ability to disappear at moments important to her – parents’ evenings, Christmas drinks with the neighbours, choosing curtains.

‘Monna Pomona’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [photo: tate.co.uk]

‘Monna Pomona’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [photo: tate.co.uk]

A light was flickering in the far corner of the field, like a light bulb with dodgy wiring. He had to be where that light was. Everything else turned black and she stumbled over uneven earth, not caring if she scuffed up sacred lettuce or radish seedlings. Lily would be able to tell the difference, she couldn’t, not even in daylight. She could now see the outline of a shed, a neater one than her father’s, painted bright blue. The tang of fresh paint and something yeasty hung in the air. It was Ron Fosdyke’s shed. His name was on the door, burned roughly out of a lump of wood with a hot poker and nailed to the apex. The sign was blue too, it tilted slightly to the right.

The door was propped open by a breeze block, the voices inside spilled out into the cooling night air. The deeper of the two baritones belonged to a stranger.

“… so I told him, I said, I wasn’t having it, see, I told him…I did.”

“Of course you did… I can imagine…”

“Asking for it he was… nasty little…  he was.”

“Chin up mate. Cheers.”

Bottles clinked, the sound of glugging, then a dull thud as glass hit earth followed by the swish of a bottle top being twisted off. More glugging. The metal disc flew out of the door and hit Rose on the arm.

“Beer won’t bring Mum back, Dad, or get you a new job.” She hadn’t meant to speak and wished her words hadn’t come out as a whisper which drifted away into in the emptiness of the night. She cleared her throat.

“What the… there’s someone outside.” A bulky shadow loomed in the doorway. “Oi, you, get out of it. This is private property.”

“Leave it, Ron mate. Don’t make a fusssss….”  Her father’s voice again.

Rose realized they couldn’t see her and took a step forwards into the pool of light.

“Oh Christ.” Someone burped. It didn’t sound like Ron.

One more step forwards and Rose was in the shed. “I think you’ve had enough, Dad.”

She planned to take the bottle off him but hadn’t bargained on Ron, whose considerable physical bulk moved between her and her father.

“Now then love, don’t be so hard on him. A little home brew’s not going to hurt.”

“Ron. This is nothing to do with you. I need to talk with my father. It’s not about the beer.” She stared up at him, he was at least a foot taller and a foot wider than her. “Please.”

At a nod from John, Ron shrugged and strode into the darkness. For a moment Rose felt alone with her father, then she heard Ron’s breathing, thick with 50 years of cigarettes, and the sound of rustling leaves. He was standing guard. The stool in the shed where Ron had sat was surrounded by a stash of empty beer bottles, a half-drunk litre bottle of whisky, and a rusty biscuit tin which stunk of fag ash.

“Hello Pumpkin, my lovely Rosie. Come and sit here.” He gestured towards Ron’s stool. “Have a whisky.”

“You knew all the time who my real mother was, didn’t you. Dad.” She almost spat out the last word. “Aunt Kate. I’ve got it in black-and-white, Aunt Kate was my mother.”

She waited but he grinned at her like a clown on acid. She wanted to slap him hard but shoved her hands deep into her pockets. “Mum and Aunt Kate had an arrangement. It’s in the diary in Mum’s handwriting. Do you expect me to believe you knew nothing? You’ve lied to me all my life, and now…” she looked at her father who was tipped back on his stool, leaning against a shelf piled high with empty plastic plant pots, “…now when I need you, you’re a mess.”

Her father and the plant pots slid slightly to the right.

“You’ve lost your job, that’s all. You’re not ill. You’re not homeless. Pull yourself together.”

“Have a heart, love,” said Ron’s voice from the shed door. “He’s lost your mam.”

She shook her head. “She wasn’t my mother, Ron, that’s the point. And please don’t attempt to comment on something you know nothing about.”

“Lost Diana, I’ve lost her,” he sniggered. “She’s somewhere around here, I know she is.” And as he bent to look under his chair he retched and the pile of plant pots collapsed on his head.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #38: Rose and Bizzie drink sherry and discuss Kate…

This is the 37th 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.