IGNORING GRAVITY #42

Rose left the Pre-Tox Party Kit press reception two hours later with another PR goodie bag. At Waterloo she ran but reached the barrier less than 30 seconds before departure. She watched the rear of the train disappear.

‘Philip Sansom junior, as a child’ by Richard Westall [photo: tate.org.uk]

‘Philip Sansom junior, as a child’ by Richard Westall [photo: tate.org.uk]

She rubbed her aching neck and looked up at the indicator board in Waterloo station: 20 minutes before the next Wimbledon train. Her muscles and emotions were bound as tightly as a new ball of wool. She’d need some serious help to relax tonight. If she was quick she could nip into her favourite shop on Waterloo Bridge Road. She seldom left Cool Beauty without a bottle.

So she nipped. As she stepped through the door of the shop, the unravelling experience began. She sniffed and sampled her way along the shelves through ‘Refresh’ and ‘Revive’ to ‘Renew’ and with each step her shoulders eased as a frayed end of wool teased its way loose. But she knew that only when she lay up to her chin in fragranced bathwater tonight would the last strands of tight muscle unwind from her neck and down her spine, releasing each vertebra one at a time. Then she would rub Soothing Rose Lotion into every square inch of her skin and allow the French rose petals to renew her.

*

The bath didn’t happen. She spent an hour at her laptop fiddling with the Direct Gov website, trying to order her birth certificate, until finally the site crashed. ‘Not responding’ was the Windows message. Rose’s brain wasn’t responding either. And now she was late for her yoga class, inspired by Lily she had signed up for a course of 10 called ‘Ultimate Relaxation.’ She ran to the church hall where she spent the next 60 minutes laying on the floor, hands at her side, palms upwards, feet splayed out, trying not to worry about not relaxing.

A sore spot nagged her right shoulder blade where the bobble of her bra strap dug in deep, a blister on her left heel caught against the hard wooden floor, a lorry beeped as it reversed outside. She breathed deeply, her eyes closed.

Did Kate tell her boyfriend that she was pregnant, that the baby was his?

Rose wasn’t sure what was worse, if he did know about the pregnancy and didn’t help, or if Kate didn’t tell him at all.

And if… no, not if… when… when I find him, will he love me?

Will. Breathe in.

He. Breathe out.

Love. Breathe in.

Me? Breathe out.

She stretched her legs, fingers and arms in turn, feeling each muscle relax until she stretched out her left foot and inadvertently knocked the blister. She opened her eyes, lifted her head a fraction and looked around. Everyone’s eyes were closed, so she lay flat again. There were so many questions to ask. She was good at that, working out her questions in advance, planning interview tactics. A restaurant would be a good place for the reunion, or a hotel, somewhere busy, somewhere with lots of people where they wouldn’t be on their own, somewhere with distractions to make polite conversation about.

She was good at making conversation, it was part of her job.

‘Did you know Kate was pregnant?’

‘Why didn’t you ask her to marry you?’

‘Did you lo…’

Suddenly her head was pressed back down to the floor with a firm pressure on her forehead which brooked no objection.

“Lay down, you’ll never reach a true state of relaxation if you don’t concentrate.” The yoga teacher’s hand weighed a ton.

An hour later, Rose walked home feeling an inch taller. Tonight would be a night off from adoption, she decided as the door shut behind her with a satisfying clunk that said ‘peace’, ‘privacy’, ‘home’. Tonight would be about pampering, self-indulgence, calm, peace. She poured a glass of wine and wandered from room to room, picking things up and replacing them in exactly the same place, straightening the already straight cushions on the sofa. Moving Kate’s photo from room to room with her. She turned on the TV and channel-hopped for a while. A preview of Wimbledon tennis … the Prime Minister at a primary school reading Dr Seuss to the reception class… puffins in Scotland…

She wandered to the window, threw it open and looked down onto Monument Road. A man in his sixties holding a beer can walked slowly by on the pavement beneath her window, a younger man at his side. Father and son? The older man studied the footpath in front of him as if searching for £1 coins. The younger man, a mirror copy of the elder, waited patiently at his side. Every now and then the elder would stumble and the young man took his elbow. Their words drifted up to Rose’s windowsill. “The game…kick-off… no ball control that Billy…wide right…wanker…flatten ‘em…” They crossed the road and disappeared from sight into the black hole that was the open door of The Eagle. ‘European Football Live’, said the sandwich board outside, ‘Guinness Special.’

They looked like they shared genes.

They could be my father and brother, she thought. They were dark, like her. The younger man’s hair curled around his ears, like hers did. They looked bonded and Rose realised she didn’t know what that felt like. She wanted to go the pub, to ask them what it felt like to have that 100% bond of blood.

Tears came from nowhere and suddenly she felt very alone. She dialled ARAP but Bella had gone home for the night.

“Stop crying,” she said aloud, hearing the words somehow made her take more notice of them. She went into the kitchen and filled up her wine glass. “Just forget all about this stuff for one night,” she said into the fridge. “Just one night.” She paced around the kitchen table, Brad retreated, his back to the wall, his eyes wary. “At least I’m not crying,” she said as she passed him for the 15th time.

The doorbell rang. It was Maggie with a bottle of plonk, a tube of Pringles, a chocolate orange and, under her arm, a newspaper.

“Girls night in,” she declared. “I want to hear all about the adoption advisor last night.”

“Oh Maggie,” said Rose, and fell forwards into her friend’s arms. “You are my friend aren’t you? You are, aren’t you? Say you are.”

“Of course I am, hey come on, it’s not like you to get emotional.”

“I know,” Rose said and made a noise that was part-sniff and part-snort. “You’re my only friend in the whole world and I know you’ll tell me the truth.”

Maggie glanced around the room and took in the wine bottle, the puffins on the TV. “The truth? Okay. The truth is, you need a big glass of water.” She nudged Rose backwards onto the sofa, filled a tumbler with water and sat down beside her.

“Tell…” her words dried up as she stood up again and examined the sofa. “Hey, since when did you put a cotton throw on top of your wonderful velvet sofa? It’s the nicest thing in this room.”

“I’ve gone off red,” said Rose, blushing at the thought of James and inner-thigh material.

Maggie sat down again. “Fine, whatever, don’t tell me then.” She tore the foil top off the Pringles in one sweep, and looked at Rose expectantly.

Rose passed her the form from hell. Maggie who read it slowly, silently, as if proofreading a front page story. Finally she looked up. “Who is this?”

“My Aunt Kate, Mum’s sister.”

“The hippy one?”

A nod.

“But I thought she died?”

Another nod.

“Oh, whoa. You’ve really unleashed the genie, haven’t you?”

A third nod.

“Didn’t it occur to anyone this little family secret that was bound to come out in the end?”

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

“Let’s get drunk,” said Maggie.

And so they did, horribly. So drunk they decided the best way to find out the truth was to ask Kate. Really ask her. Maggie thought the new Chinese destiny was the thing to do, Rose preferred the ouija board. They were in Rose’s flat, so she won.

“Kate are you there? Who is my father?” Rose felt stupid, talking into space. They sat hunched forwards. Nothing happened. Rose repeated her question.

“It’s not working. This is a stupid idea.”

“Sshh,” giggled Maggie, “you’ve got to give it time. Kate may be a long way away.”

Rose slapped Maggie’s fingers where they rested on the upturned tumbler. “Heh, don’t cheat. You’re not allowed to push it.”

“I’m not pushing it, you are,” said Maggie as she leant forwards over the table.

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

Rose stood up, swayed slightly, and pointed her finger at Maggie. “Are too.”

“Am not.”

Maggie stood up so they stood nose-to-nose, swaying from side to side, scowling. And then they burst into laughter.

“Let’s have another drink.”

“Okay.”

They topped up their glasses, sat down again, straightened their faces into a pose of mock seriousness, settled their fingers lightly on the glass and stared at each other with glassy eyes. Maggie’s eyes dipped to the table.

“Look at me, look at me,” Rose repeated, “you’re not supposed to look at the glass. Don’t force the answer, it has to come naturally.”

“I’m not forcing it.”

Rose reached out towards Maggie’s chin, lifting it slightly to their eyes met. “Yes, you are.”

“Am not,” Maggie mumbled.

Rose sighed. “I’m not doing it Mags if you don’t take it seriously.”

Then Maggie suddenly gasped. “Oooh.”

The glass started to move.

Rose gasped. “Look. V. I don’t know anyone with a name starting with V. Do you?”

Maggie shook her head, her eyes focussed on the glass.

“Vince,” said Rose. “Can’t think of another name beginning with V. No, yes I can. Violet. Verity. Vernon.”

“Your father’s got a man’s name, idiot. Since when did you know a man called Violet? Or Verity.”

The glass stopped next beside the letter L. Then A. When the glass stopped moving it had spelt out VLADMB GORSBSYK.

“Oh God,” Rose jumping to her feet, “my father’s Russian.” She collapsed back onto the sofa. “Smirnov, Molotov, Gorbachov, Maria Sharapova. My real name is Rose Gorsbsiyuk…”

Maggie shook her head. “No, you’re not Russian. This isn’t working,” and she tossed the glass over her shoulder where it bounced off the back of the sofa and crashed against the skirting board, intact.

“Can’t spell in Russian,” said Rose. “Can’t speak Russian… never be able to understand him.”

“Forget it Rose. You’re not Russian. Can we try this now?” Maggie picked up her copy of Xtra and pointed to a headline on the cover: ‘Find your destiny the Chinese way’.

“Okay.”

Maggie read the instructions, then tore up some blank paper into scraps and wrote the numbers one to 100 on them. Rose twisted them into balls. The pile grew like a heap of discarded sweet wrappers.

“Okay, we have to ask a question. Out loud.” Maggie closed her eyes and wrinkled her nose. “I want to know… when will I meet my true love?”

“That’s a bit slushy.”

“Nothing wrong with slushy.” Eyes still closed, Maggie stuck her hand into the pile of paper twists and pulled one out. “34.”

Rose ran her finger down the list. “34 is Cloudless Sky. Your heart is clear and the way is open. That’s not true, it’s your legs that are always….”

“Don’t be filthy.”

Rose giggled before reading on. “Be honourable and sincere. Do not plague yourself with doubts. Everything will go as you wish.”

“Yes,” Maggie’s smile was like a ten-year-old eating a whole tub of chocolate ice cream. “Chinese proverbs are cool.”

“Everything will go as you wish? And you believe this… this rubbish?” Rose tossed Xtra onto the floor. “I’ve been saying this to you for months, stop looking for the right man and he’ll turn up, but you never listen to me. Anyway, who are you so keen on?”

“No-one, just hypothetical.”

“Yeh right.” Rose wrenched the crumpled paper square from Maggie’s fingers, re-twisted it, and replaced it in the pile. “My turn now.”

“Oh,” Maggie pulled a face, “… it’s not such a pile of rubbish after all then?”

Rose scowled then closed her eyes. “I want to know… who is my real father?” Then she slid her hand to the bottom of the pile of paper twists, picked up a handful and scattered them through her fingers onto the sofa. “20.”

“Hmmm. 20.” Maggie read from the magazine. “After the Rain. You have found the hidden treasure.”

“Hidden treasure? Well, he’s definitely hidden because I haven’t found him.” Rose drained her wine glass.

Maggie read on. “It says, Be happy, the nightmare wasn’t real. Work hard for your dreams.”

“Well the nightmare is real.” Rose swept the paper twists off the sofa into a heap on the floor. “I want another drink.”

Maggie disappeared into the black hole that was Rose’s hall cupboard and emerged with their third bottle of wine in one hand, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the left, and a cushion under her arm. She settled again on the sofa, propping the cushion behind her head, and waved the book at Rose.

“What’s this?”

“Heh, give that back.” Rose stood up and reached for the hardback book.

“An English degree, a journalist on a national newspaper, and you’re reading children’s books now?”

“He’s adopted too.” Suddenly Rose felt stupid. She hoped Maggie hadn’t noticed the other adoption books in the cupboard, or looked too closely at the cushion. Her Mum had embroidered it for her 18th birthday. Rose thought the rose design was the naffest example of home-made sewing around.

“Well at least your adoptive parents didn’t lock you in a cupboard like Harry Potter’s did.”

“Give it back.”

“You didn’t have to hide cakes under a floorboard, did you?” Maggie’s hand wavered as she poured the wine, sauvignon blanc splashed over the coffee table and today’s Guardian. “They didn’t abandon you at King’s Cross with an owl and a trunk.”

Rose’s mind registered the spillage, the newspaper pages puckered and the wood veneer paled.

“Actually, as good as. When I went off to uni they took me to the train station with all my bags and…” Rose could still picture it, she was opening the window as the Bristol-bound train pulled out of Paddington, eager to wave, only to see her parents’ backs disappearing through the exit. She sniffed. “… and they didn’t wait to wave goodbye. They left.”

Maggie stared at her. “You’ve never told me that, we’ve known each other, how long…” she counted on her fingers, “… I can’t count any more.”

“It’s not something I’m proud of, to have emotionally cold parents.”

Maggie tossed the book into the air. It landed out of sight with a dull thud. “That’s a bit harsh, Rose. Admittedly your Mum was a bit challenging, but your Dad’s not bad, for a bloke.” She sank back onto the sofa.

Rose wasn’t sure she liked Maggie telling her the truth like that. “Hugs are important. Everyone needs a hug.”

“You just need a man.”

“No I don’t, I’m perfectly okay on my own thanks.”

“Every woman needs a good man.”

“Oh. My. God. I never thought I’d hear you say that. Lily, yes. But Maggie, Queen of the One-Night-Fucks, needing a good man.” Rose sniggered.

Maggie’s face was red now. “I said YOU need a good man, not that I do.”

“Well maybe you should get yourself one too.”

Silence fell. Maggie emptied her wine glass then looked at the bottom of it.

Rose drained her glass in one swig and turned towards the kitchen. “Do you want a mug of peppermint tea?”

A noise came out of Maggie’s mouth that sounded like a snort. “Since when do you drink peppermint tea?”

“Always.”

“Never, more like. We’ve been pissed hundreds of times and I’ve never seen you drink peppermint tea.”

“Nick made it for me,” Rose admitted in a small voice, not wanting Maggie to know how much she liked him, but wanting to talk about him all the same. “Nick Maddox. The beauty guy. He made me a cup, that time he came when I was ill. Except I wasn’t ill, not in the way he thought I was.”

“Ugh, dried-up leaves. Disgusting,” said Maggie, shaking her head as if it was a duster she was trying to rid of dust. “You’re not going to turn into one of those creepy women who adopts her boyfriend’s likes and dislikes as her own, are you? If you’re that keen on him, as you obviously are to even consider dead plants, why don’t you just ring and ask him out for dinner? It’s that easy, you know.”

“Oh. My. God.” Rose’s hands flew to her mouth. She suddenly felt cold and very sober. “Nobu.”

“What?”

“Dinner. Nobu. Well that’s it. He’ll never ask me again.”

“What?”

“I was supposed to have dinner with him tonight. I’ve got to call him.” She stumbled towards the phone, knocking the empty fruit bowl off the coffee table on her way.

“Rose, it’s…” Maggie glanced at her wrist watch, “…one o’clock. He’s not going to be pleased if you wake him. I don’t think that’ll help, and anyway he hasn’t called you, has he? Have some peppermint tea instead.”

“But I want to,” Rose dialled as she talked, “I want to tell him… he has the cutest…ssssh… ssssh…his machine is talking to me.”

“Why are you whispering?”

“Dunno.”

Then just as his machine beeped to start recording her message, Rose burped. Not a delicate lady-like burp, but a burp from the depths of her gut that smelled of last night’s vegetable stir-fry. She slammed the phone down and the two girls rolled on the sofa, hiccupping and hugging.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #43: Rose attempts to apologise to Nick…

This is the 42nd 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.