An envelope was waiting for Rose on the hall table when she got home from work the next day. A letter bearing the red-inked stamp ‘General Register Office.’ So 24 hours after sitting on the bench beside the war memorial, Rose returned to the same place, seeking calm in her secret green corner behind the library after today’s madness of deadlines, proofreading and caffeine overload. Squabbling sparrows were her only company.

Gentle Hermione  [photo: David Austin Roses]

Gentle Hermione [photo: David Austin Roses]

She turned the envelope over in her hands, wanting to open it, not wanting to open it. The name of my father is inside. Her eyes drifted over the names on the obelisk… Worth… Thewlis… Clarkson… Smith … Brough… Out of a brown paper bag she emptied her hasty purchase from Maya’s limited alcohol shelf: two mini-bottles of gin and fruit-flavoured alco-pop. She drunk one bottle straight down in one go, pursed her lips at the alien taste of saccharine, artificial colourings and E numbers, then put the empty bottle back in its bag. She’d never been fond of gin, mother’s milk, her mother’s drink for special occasions to be mixed with bottled orange juice and sipped through pursed lips but she needed the alcohol hit and it had been this or whisky in a plastic bottle.

Clutching the grey and white marbled pebble she’d picked up here yesterday for luck, she tore the envelope open. Two pieces of paper fell out. On the first, her father’s name was missing. She scanned it quickly again, top to bottom. No, his name definitely wasn’t there. ‘Father Unknown.’ Disappointment pinned her to the bench like gravity, disappointment that Kate didn’t know who she’d screwed, had forgotten his name while her thighs were still sticky, maybe never asked his name.

Permissive hippy chick. Indiscriminate, selfish, stupid bird.

Rose shook her head to get rid of the anger. Insulting Kate wouldn’t help and it made her feel shitty. She looked at the certificate again, reading more slowly this time. There were two new things. Kate’s address at the time of birth, 12 Child Street, London N1; and the place of birth, Westmead Home for Ladies, Enfield.

Enfield had suddenly become a strong lead. Perhaps Lily’s ‘good news’ would turn into ‘Really Good News’. All she knew about Enfield was that it was at the end of the Northern Line, or was that Edgware?

The second piece of paper was Kate’s death certificate. Seeing it in black and white made it final. Death by misadventure.

Rose read and re-read both certificates until their image was burned on her retina and she cried. ‘Father Unknown.’

She threw the bag and alco-pop bottles into a nearby bin, then fished her mobile out of her bag. She would telephone everyone, tell them she didn’t have a father, would never have a father, and that it was okay because she’d done her best to find him.

Wednesday was Lily’s day off, so Rose called her at home. But the answerphone clicked on after three rings. Her mobile went to the message service too. “Ring me, please…I’ve got my adoption certificate. Pleeease…” She didn’t care that she was pleading.

Dad next. His new pay-as-you-go mobile went to the message service too. Damn it Dad.

Maggie, she thought. Maggie will talk sense. But Xtra’s editorial secretary said Maggie was in a brainstorming meeting and would be tied up for what was left of the day.

Next, dare she? Her carefully prepared words of apology dried on her lips as the ringing didn’t give way to Nick’s voice or to Nick’s answerphone but to a recorded French woman talking at high speed. Rose’s GCSE in French didn’t equip her to translate even one word of the official sounding announcement which presumably said something about lines being unavailable. It was clear Nick didn’t want to talk to her. She took a deep breath to calm herself and a wide band tightened around her chest, as it had that time she’d had pneumonia.

Bizzie, bless her, answered on the fifteenth ring. “12 Child Street? Yes, that’s it. You are clever Rose, a proper detective. Oh, hold on.” There was some mumbling in the background then a rustling sound.

“Hello, Rose, it’s Maureen. I remember the squat. Kate lived there with some other girls and a friend of hers. Sheila, I think she was called…”

Sheila what?

“… or maybe it was Sarah. No, no, it was Susan.”

“Susan? Susan what?”

“Sorry, I don’t know. To be honest, dear, I don’t think I ever did know.”

Rose’s heart leapt. She had another lead. A minute ago she’d never heard of Susan.

“I might have met her once though.”

Oh wow, Maureen, thank you. She fought her instinct to shout aloud and tried to keep calm. “What was she like?”

“A pale freckly thing… sorry, mind’s gone blank.”

Rose almost laughed at the irony of it. Her next lead hadn’t come from the birth certificate at all but from Maureen who she should have talked to days ago.

She was home in five minutes. When she opened her door there was another envelope on the doormat, marked in the top left hand corner ‘by hand’ in blue ballpoint. Nick. Had Nick written her a Dear John letter? Because of the burp? Rose’s hands shook as she ripped it open.

There was a single sheet of paper, and a compliment slip with a scrawled signature in the same blue ballpoint which didn’t say Nick Maddox but quite possibly might say ‘E Greenaway.’ The band around her heart tightened a little more.

At the top of the sheet of paper were the words ‘Adoption Order’ and an official red crest.

Child, Name at Birth: Alanna Jane Ingram.

Child, Adoptive Name: Rose Haldane.

Consenting Birth Mother: Katherine Jane Ingram.

Consenting Birth Father: Unknown.

Adoptive Mother: Diana Elizabeth Haldane.

Adoptive Father: John Frederick Haldane [in absentia].

Date of Adoption Order: 30 September 1968.

Name of Officiating Court: EnfieldMagistrates Court.

Presiding Official: James Charlton Roscoff.

The Adoption Order was a photocopy, the print was blotchy and speckled like an old mirror, the handwriting old-fashioned and loopy, blotted with ink stains.

Father Unkown again.

Soon the photocopy was smudged too.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #45: how child-phobic Rose deals with toddler tantrums…

This is the 44th 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.