Lily stormed along the street, not knowing if she’d turned left or right.
How dare Rose imply that my life’s a mess. Of course I want to get pregnant, doesn’t everyone? Poor Dad, poor poor Dad. And poor Mum too, she wanted a baby so much, she must have been at the end of her tether, so lonely. No wonder she asked her sister for help. Well she was lucky she had Kate to turn to. I wish I had a sister like that.
That was a cruel thought, and Lily wasn’t used to being cruel. But it was true. Instantly she felt alone on the crowded pavement. Rose wasn’t her sister any more. Being cousins wasn’t the same at all. Suddenly Lily sensed she was being stared at. She was muttering to herself. She shut her mouth, took her sunglasses out of her bag and put them on. She stopped to re-arrange the pile of diaries better in her arms but the blue one on top slithered to the pavement. A metal lock burst open and loose pages spilled onto the hot pavement. Lily bent to her knees to pick them up and the words flew off the open page straight into her heart.
“Ovulation takes place 12-16 days before a period and these two to five days are the only time it is possible to fall pregnant.”
The handwriting, written in faded ink inside a bleached blue hardback book, echoed exactly the instructions on the ovulation test kit Lily had bought that morning.
“Oh Mum, it was the same for you.”
And then it hit her. If Mum had early menopause, she maybe never got pregnant. I might be adopted too. Two emotions swept over Lily, overwhelming her in their truth. Now for the first time in her life she felt jealous of Rose for knowing the truth. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so harsh with her just now, but really sometimes Rose made her feel like arguing for the sake of it. But now she understood how Rose must have felt when she first read the diary. Afraid. Not knowing was more painful than knowing the truth, whatever it might be. Realising she was still kneeling on the pavement, she started to gather her belongings. This wasn’t just about Rose being adopted any more, it was about her too. She had to know.
Fumbling, she gathered everything together. She must read them now. Walking quickly, she pushed roughly past someone wearing red.
Lily turned to apologise then stopped. It was a young mother with a buggy, face pale, eyes puffy, red sweatshirt full of uncontrollable boobs, short finger-dried hair fluffy in the afternoon sun.
But you have a baby, Lily wanted to shout at her. You should be happy. If I had a baby I’d never be unhappy again.
She found a quiet cafe, away from the mothers and their buggies and babies, and ordered a cappuccino. Then she looked at the cover of the bleached blue book and hesitated, did she really want to know?
I shouldn’t have let her go without apologising, I should have run after her, but really sometimes Lily…
An eastbound train pulled in and Rose found a seat by the window in a half-empty carriage. The train had just started moving when her mobile rang. Lily’s name flashed up. Rose hesitated. It was a tiny hesitation and Rose hated herself for it.
“Sorry,” said Lily.
“I’m sorry too.”
And there was a moment’s silence.
“Sorry,” repeated Lily, “I was so busy getting upset that I forgot how upset you must be. You don’t always show your emotions, you know, and sometimes it’s like you have no feelings.”
“I do have feelings, Lil, I’m not a robot.”
“I know, and I’m sorry for saying you’re obsessed.”
“Well, I have been a bit obsessed. But no more…” Rose knew she had.
“… I know, no more than me trying to get pregnant. Sorry.”
“I think that’s enough apologising. “
That word floated in the air and Rose got the feeling Lily had something else to say. She waited.
“… but there’s more we need to talk about. When I left you I went to a café and started to read Mum’s diaries and…”
“No.” Lily spat the word out like a bullet. “I can’t possibly tell you over the phone.”
Oh for goodness sake, thought Rose, and was then immediately glad she hadn’t said it aloud. It suddenly dawned on her that the diaries might say Lily was adopted too. This is mega. I need to be there with her, not going in the opposite direction at 60mph.
She deliberately calmed her voice and got ready to say soothing things about them being sisters of the soul and that blood wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Well I can’t come back, I’m late for this stupid press reception already.” She dropped her voice a tone and softened it, like she did when doing sensitive interviews. “Tell me, Lily. Is it news about me or about you?”
“Both of us. Mum definitely had me, I mean she gave birth to me. It’s all there in her handwriting in the blue diary. I had a horrible moment thinking she’d adopted me too, because in the first bit I read she writes about not conceiving. But then later on in the same book it’s there, in her own handwriting, about my birth.”
Rose felt such a swooping joy for Lily that she almost whooped aloud. “Oh Lily that is fantastic, I’m so pleased you are my cousin. What a relief.” And it was. Rose hadn’t realised until now exactly what it would mean if Lily was adopted too. She so regretted not sitting down with all those other diaries and reading them cover to cover nine days ago. It would have meant nine days less pain for Lily. “Heh,” she was almost laughing now, “that means you can get pregnant too.”
“Yes, it does.”
Lily sounded strangely muted. Rose wanted to shout it aloud to all the passengers. ‘My sister can have a baby!’
“Rose,” Lily’s voice repeated in her ear.
And suddenly Rose realised Lily wasn’t celebrating with her, and an iron vice gripped in her stomach. Was there something else?
“Rose, Mum wrote more about you. About when she’d just got you. She says…”
“What?” If Lily didn’t want to say it must be horrible.
“Lily, just say it. We both need to understand what Mum was going through if we’re ever going to get to the bottom of where we come from. And it is about both of us now, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I know it is… but I want you to hear it from me… only from me…”
The hushed tone of Lily’s voice, her hesitations, her heavy breathing, her sadness transmitted through the satellite phone signal and made Rose float away from her seat on the tube train, away from the rattling of the track and the tinny basebeat of someone’s i-Pod so she was sitting in a bubble while the outside world rushed on as normal around her. “Go on, please.” She had to hear it. Life would stop until she’d heard whatever it was.
“There are a couple of mentions about how she couldn’t rock you to sleep. She was worried you would never love her properly, like a real mother, and it seemed to bother her that you didn’t look the slightest bit like her. And…” Lily stopped.
There’s more? “What? What?”
“…and that having you wasn’t the same as having her own baby.”
Rose heard Lily’s breathing, irregular little gasps.
“Oh it’s so awful Rose, I knew I shouldn’t have told you on the phone.” Her tone was rising towards shriek level again. “Maybe I read it wrong, maybe she wrote that entry after a really difficult day, maybe…”
“No, you read it right.” Rose’s stomach dropped like lead and hit her feet. Of course her mother must have felt like that, there had been many difficult days throughout Rose’s childhood. She remembered one day in the queue at the butcher’s, she must have been about four and Lily three, a stranger had patted Lily’s blonde pigtails and said ‘aren’t you a cutie? You’re a miniature of your mummy’ and looked over the top of Rose’s head as if she didn’t exist and their mother said nothing. That still hurt.
“Rose? I’m sure she didn’t mean it.”
“It’s okay. Well no, it’s not okay, but it’s not a surprise. No woman can expect to bond instantly with a tiny baby she hasn’t given birth to.”
Rose felt her own breaths start to follow the same panicked rhythm as Lily’s. She tried to be calm. I am calm. “Lily, it’s alright. Honestly.”
“No, it’s not alright, it’s really sad. I want to help you Rose, if there’s anything I can do. But I’m sure you’ve got it all in hand, I mean…”
“Yes please. Thank you for asking. You can help.”
“Really? Ooh, I’ll write a list.”
As soon as Rose heard the gratitude in Lily’s voice she knew she shouldn’t have cut Lily out. She should have asked her to help from the beginning. “I didn’t realise you wanted to help. I’m sorry I haven’t asked you before. I don’t know… it’s like I had to do things on my own so I could deal with the enormity of it. There are lots of things to check out, I don’t just follow one line of research at a time. That’d take forever.” Rose immediately thought of her lines of enquiry and what was still to do. What could she give to Lily?
“There is one thing the counsellor suggested something last night. It might be a bit of a wild goose chase…” Too late, Rose remembered Hapy, the goose fertility symbol on the front of the notebook. She opened her bag and looked at the book, the picture was silly but Lily obviously believed this sort of crap would help her get pregnant. A positive mental attitude etcetera.
“I’ll do it.”
Rose could picture Lily’s face shining with eagerness. She had been holding her breath and now she let it go. Of course Lily didn’t need Hapy now or her thermometer or ovulation chart to get pregnant. An invisible boulder lifted off Rose’s shoulders. “My birth was registered in Enfield. My counsellor is finding out if the Social Services department there has a file on me. But we can try to get other information, the sort that’s not in files. Can you ring Enfield Council and find out where they keep the records of old mother and baby homes in their area? It’s so long ago, but you never know, there might be something. Maybe the library can help. The home was probably absorbed into a children’s home or an old people’s home. We might be able to find a nurse who remembers Kate, or a patient who was there when Kate was.”
“Okay, so what do I ask?”
“Ooh, the sort of information they don’t put in the records. Anything. Everything. What the home was like, photos…” It was the longest of shots but she had to try, if only to cross that avenue of enquiry off her list, “… where the medical records are now, that sort of thing.”
“I’ll do it. Just don’t let’s argue like that again. I couldn’t bear it if we fell out like Mum and Kate did.”
“We won’t.” And not for the first time, Rose wondered exactly what had torn the sisters apart so horrifically that they could treat a baby like a commercial transaction.
“Rose, why do you think they argued?”
“I don’t know, but I wish every day that I’d asked Mum about Kate just once more before she died.” She’d asked so many times as a child about their mysterious Aunt Kate but received only a slap around the back of her legs for being rude and inquisitive. When she was big enough not to be slapped she should have asked again, but Aunt Kate’s curiosity value had been superseded by how Maltesers were made and whether Marc Bolan’s hair was real or a wig.
“You could ask Gran.”
“No,” said Rose vehemently, “I’m not going to make Bizzie cry again.”
For a moment, they were silent.
“Rose, I promise never to argue with you like that.”
“I promise too.”
© Sandra Danby
…in IGNORING GRAVITY #42: Rose and Maggie talk to the spirit world, and get some answers they didn’t expect…
This is the 41st 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.