The first thing Rose looked at when she awoke the early next morning was Kate’s photo.
Hello Mum, she thought. Mother. Mummy.
She strode lightly from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen, flicked the switch on the kettle then logged on and searched for Kate Ingram. Loads of entries, but different Kate Ingrams. A town councillor in Ayrshire banned for dangerous driving. A footballer who scored the winning goal in Dewsbury Ladies’ 3-2 win over the Doncaster Darlings. A four-year old victim of a hit-and-run driver at a zebra crossing.
Kate died almost 30 years before the internet was in general use, she didn’t have a Facebook page or an entry in Equity’s online directory. The waking urge to talk to her, to know more, became a fully conscious need, like the need to eat or pee or sleep. With a wave of shame, Rose realised she didn’t know where Kate was buried.
Bizzie would know.
“St Agnes’ in Kingston.” Rose could hear the smile in her Gran’s voice. “Where your Mum and Granddad are. Comfortable benches. I go to see them all once a week. So so.”
This made Rose, who hadn’t been to the graveyard since standing beside her mother’s six months ago, feel even more guilty.
Just as the church clocked struck seven, Rose was walking through a wooden gate and along a grass path fringed by weeds and wild flowers, past gravestones, past rambling brambles and ivy. Some graves were neatly kept, grass clipped, headstones scrubbed. She stopped for a moment beside the graves of her mother and grandfather, laying shoulder to shoulder in the early morning sunshine. Howard Ingram and Diana Haldane lay with their heads against a south-facing brick wall, sheltered from inclement weather, beneath an old rambling rose. Her grandfather’s grave was comfortably messy, like an old squashy sofa, lived-in and loved, and space on the granite headstone for Bizzie’s name when her time came. Rose thought of Bizzie last night looking at Howard’s photograph, and knew he was missed every day. In contrast, her mother’s grave was a wound in the earth, a thin sprinkling of new grass covered the turned earth, a small wooden peg marked ‘363.’
Rose stood for a moment looking at the earth which covered her mother. She wanted to ask so much, but it didn’t feel right standing here now, as if she’d crept up and caught her at a disadvantage. She resented her mother’s lies, but didn’t hate her though she had expected to.
She looked at the next plot expecting to see Kate’s name. ‘Albert Querry’ said the words on the headstone. Where was Kate? She walked slowly along the winding path under the archway of a tall yew hedge, this section of the graveyard still in early morning shadow, to a shady area where brambles, buddleia and bergenias thrived. Dusty green grass sprouted at the base of one pink marble headstone, the stone cross of another leant to the right as if its occupant had had one too many.
Then, past a large oak tree on the left, and there it was.
In Loving Memory
20th February 1950 – 1st January 1969
Much loved daughter and sister
And mother, thought Rose. My mother. They left that out.
“They even lied on her headstone,” she said aloud into the empty morning air, shocked at how her loud voice echoed in the stillness. Why was Kate alone? Why did one sister get to be with her father but not the other? Who made these decisions?
Kate’s gravestone was hard and unchangeable, like the facts she’d discovered. Rose knew she had to accept the truth, accept that some questions would remain unanswered, if she didn’t she would turn into a bitter woman.
Blinking away tears, she pulled up the long grass at the foot of the white marble slab, emptied the sad twigs and brown slime out of the marmalade jar and rinsed it under a nearby tap, then filled it with the yellow freesias she’d bought at the 24/7 garage en-route from Wimbledon.
She knelt beside the grave. “I’m sorry, Kate, for everything that happened to you,” she whispered. “I don’t know the full story, and I can’t claim to understand why you gave me away, but I know you must have had your reasons. I’m much older than you were then and I can’t begin to think how I’d cope with what happened to you.” Her voice grew stronger. “I’m glad I know about you and I’m proud to be your daughter.”
Unable to decide what to say or think or do next, she knelt in silence for a moment then, feeling the damp seeping through the knees of her jeans, she sat on a bench nearby. She’d never enjoyed silence before. She was a city girl, busy streets, traffic, talk, noise, but when she felt the first vibration through the soles of her sandals, then heard footsteps crunching on the gravel path which led from the vicarage through a moss-covered wooden gate in the wall, she felt sad.
A shadow fell over the grass path by her feet. A vicar stood three yards away with two Yorkshire terriers, pulling on long retractable leads, their top-knots tied with tartan ribbon dancing and nodding as they sniffed Rose’s shoes.
“Lovely morning, isn’t it?”
She nodded, half-rising to her feet. She wasn’t keen on dogs but it didn’t seem appropriate to shoo them away so she contented herself with taking a step back.
“I don’t think I recognise you from my congregation.” He smiled, waving her down onto the bench. “Everyone’s welcome. Sunday, 10.30.”
She sat. “Thank you. I’m just here to see my mother’s grave.” She waved towards the yellow freesias.
“Ah, well. I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” He let the Yorkies loose and threw a stick along the path for them to chase. But he didn’t follow them.
“I’ve just found her, you see.” The words popped out of her mouth without forethought. It felt good to say it aloud. “I didn’t know she was my mother.” She pointed at Kate’s grave.
“Ah?” He waited, examining his shoes. The bigger Yorkie ran back to examine them too.
“I found out a week ago that I’m adopted, and last night I found out that Kate is my birth mother. I’ve been sitting here talking to her.”
“It must be difficult, to want to find someone so much only to find that they are gone.” He spoke with the sing-song rhythm which Rose associated with church services. “You must miss her very much.”
“Yes, I do. Even though I never knew her.”
He sat beside her, his elbow comfortably warm against hers.
“How are your parents coping with the news?”
“There’s only my father now. It’s been… difficult… I…” she stopped, not knowing what to say next.
The vicar patted her lightly on the arm and Rose felt encouraged to continue.
“… I don’t want to upset him, but I do need to ask him questions, find out what happened, what… ” Her words trailed into nothingness, seldom did words let her down. But the vicar was smiling at her and Rose felt reassured that he understood the unspoken.
“I could do a blessing for you, when you think the time is right. I have a short family service which welcomes an adopted child.”
“But I’m an adult.”
“Your age doesn’t matter, child. We are all children in the eyes of God, and our parents, until we die. The service includes a prayer for your natural parents and for your adoptive parents. It’s a way of coming to terms with change and embracing unity. It helps everyone to look forward with hope.”
“Could it take place here, by her grave?”
“I’ve never been asked that before.” He rubbed his chin, there was a tiny piece of tissue stuck to his jaw, bloody from a shaving nick. It made him seem vulnerable, ordinary. Then he smiled at Rose. “I don’t see why not.”
It felt right to accept Kate as her mother here, at her resting place, with her father, Bizzie and Lily at her side and her mother and Granddad Howard a stone’s throw away.
But the blessing would have to wait. She wanted her birth father to be there too.
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #40: Rose tells Lily about Kate, but Lily doesn’t react as expected…
This is the 39th 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.