Sunday, 8 August 2010
Another piece that needs more work. My tutor tells me there are too many adverbs and it is too "writerly". These are the things I aim to address although I think the concept of this story is a good one. It is just the style that needs attention.
The wallpaper in the room was the same as Diane remembered. Heavy purple flock only with bald patches worn in over time. The amateur painting of Ayers Rock hung crooked above the cream tiled fireplace. The vibrant colours made her think of her mother.
She lifted it from the hook and placed it in a plain covered chair away from the chaos of the background and stood back to look at it. No. She didn't want it. She put it back. Perhaps she should have tried to find her parents to tell them of Granny's death but she didn't know where to start and she didn't see the point. Australia was a big place and they probably weren't interested. She didn't know where to find Granny's distant cousins either. She'd only met Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dick once. Diane asked Granny where they lived when she was taken to the Home but she just said : “Oh, they moved down south years ago and I don't bloody want them here anyway.”
Diane should have got in touch. At least if they had been at the funeral, it would have made up the numbers. Only Stella, Granny's carer, and the nursing home manager were there and he kept looking at his watch throughout the short service.
Diane dipped into her pocket and pulled out a roll of bin liners. She shook one open. The sideboard seemed a good place to start. The drawers contained old bills, like the TV licence from 1975, cards, and newspapers. Diane shook her head and tipped the junk straight into the bin liner. A scarred, pillar box red OXO tin jumped free, the lid bounced open, and the sewing kit inside scattered on the floor. As the pins and needles flew in all directions, she remembered that slap. The finger marks long gone, Granny's rage still fresh.
“It's all too much for a woman of my age. If it wasn't for me you'd be a home!” she raged as she sewed and then raged some more when she pricked her finger.
Diane knew she shouldn't have worn that new dress for climbing trees. It was bound to get ripped, however careful she was, and it caused a rancid end to a nice stay that time when Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dick came over. They had a daughter a bit younger than Diane, a quiet, shy girl, who didn't want to play and sat close to Aunt Kathy sucking her thumb. Diane coaxed her upstairs with the promise that she could wear her plastic toy high heels. The little girl, whose name she couldn't remember, squealed with delight as she clip-clopped around the room. She let her wear them the next day when they went to the park. The girl watched and waited as Diane climbed her favourite tree and then giggled, one finger sticking out of the side of her mouth, as Diane gripped her legs around a thick branch. She did a somersault and heard the rip as the cotton caught on a twig as she came right side up. Her hand covered the damage as she she sneaked in, the girl behind her. Granny's hawk eye swooped on them like caught field mice.
“What's that?” She pulled Diane's hand away from the bottom of the dress and saw the tear.
“Did you do this?” she looked angry. Her pokey nose close to the girl's face.
Diane protested that it wasn't the little girl's fault. She'd been showing off but Granny said she didn't care. “In it together, I wouldn't be surprised,” she said.
The girl started crying. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Dick came rushing in from the living room.
“What's all this?” Aunt Kathy shouted.
Her daughter ran to her and hugged her legs. Kathy looked short, squashy and comfy. Granny was skinny with a withered face and her mouth looked like it had been made upside down. There wasn't much of a family resemblance except they both had wiry grey hair with black strands.
“You spoil her far too much and it shows”. Granny let go of Diane, put her hand on her bony hip and faced Kathy. Her head shook up and down.
“What are you talking about?” Kathy was stroking the girl's hair.
“She's obviously egged our Diane on. Brand new this dress is and look at it! And I'm still paying the catalogue bill for it. You know I'm struggling. There's two of you and one of me. You could help out more.”
Uncle Dick turned to his wife. “I told you we shouldn't have come here.”
Diane remembered his silver hair flattened back with Brylcreem. He was a nice man. He bought her sweets when he came to the house and kept saying how pretty she looked. She didn't know why he kept touching her hands and face, and her bottom once, every time he talked to her. The thought walked down her spine and made her shudder.
Diane had scraped that Oxo tin lid in temper as Granny moaned and sewed after Kathy and Dick left the house. The marks were still there. Now rusty outlines of the brand name etched into the metal. She clipped the tin shut, and threw it in the liner, twisted the bag and knotted it. Hands on hips, she moved swiftly to the cupboards beneath the drawers which were stacked with magazines. It appeared Woman's Weekly was Granny's favourite and she liked the TV Times. Diane hauled them out. A cover story about Australia made her sit back on her thighs and start reading. Her eyes touched over the photos of Sydney Harbour and settled on one of Aborigines. Their suspicious eyes narrowed toward the camera which captured the barren landscape behind. It looked like the end of the earth to Diane. She slapped the magazine shut and binned it. Like Granny had said. It was best not to think about “them.”
She said it when Diane told her about that dream.
“It was dark and really cold,” she'd said as Granny sat down at the breakfast table. “I was looking down at my feet swinging over the edge of a wooden bench. I don't know where it was but my shoes were all posh and polished like I was going somewhere special. One sock kept falling down because the elastic had gone. I felt comfort on my face as I snuggled into the crook of mum's arm, her fur coat as soft and lovely as my bed. It was so real. She was smoking and I was trying to copy her with my breath in the cold air. Mum opened her coat and snuggled it around me.
“All wrapped up like a baby,” she said to me. The sound of her heartbeat in my ear sent me to sleep. The next thing I knew I was dreaming in my dream. Soaring high over fields of flowers, reds, oranges, and scarlets and I flew over the sun. Then your face was over me, lifting me into the back of a taxi in the drizzling rain.”
Granny didn't say anything, she just chewed on her toast, her jaw swinging, as if she was trying to find teeth to grind it among less than a full set.
The old woman seemed to simmer at first and then red blotches began to appear on her turkey neck. Her chair screeched across the tiled floor as she pushed it back from the table. She stood, paused with her mouth open as if to speak, but then she didn't say a word. She cleared away her half eaten breakfast and spoke as she crashed the plates into the sink.
“It's best not to think about them – even in a dream,” she said. “Just be grateful that you've got me. God knows where you'd end up otherwise.”
Diane put the bin bags together by the door. She glanced at the crucifix on Granny's mantlepiece, and the two glazed pot shire horses each side that as a child she'd bought the old woman one year for her birthday. She'd leave those. She took a last look into the living room and was about the close the door on it when she remembered the small drawer in the coffee table. More old bills and club payment cards but nothing useful like an address book. It wouldn't hurt to write to Kathy and Dick and tell them the news. They might want to know after all this time.
Diane wondered if Granny also drove her parents away. She'd chased off everyone else she'd ever got close to including her only serious boyfriend Ian.
“You either come with me now or it's over,” he'd said one day after a silly row with Granny over a bacon sandwich.
“That bacon cost me three pounds a pack and it won't last two minutes if that greedy swine doesn't stop packing that buttie,” she was always worrying about money.
Ian yelled that he was entitled because he contributed financially to the household. Diane wasn't sure whose side to come down on.
Granny grabbed the bacon and threw it at Ian. “Here have it then!” she said.
A slice slapped itself around his face. He wasn't amused.
“Come on Diane,” he said as he peeled it off.
Diane moved towards him. Granny suddenly clutched her chest, staggered sideways and flopped into a chair. Diane rushed over to help her and screamed at Ian to call an ambulance. But he just stood there and watched and waited for an answer : “Well? Are you coming or not?”
She spent all night with Granny in the hospital. Her suspected heart attack was diagnosed as trapped wind. What life would have been like if she had left with Ian had often haunted Diane. She bumped into him soon after the funeral. He introduced her to his wife, Susan, who said “hellooo” before she drifted off to look at a black polyester skirt on the sale rail in the clothing department. Diane thought she looked like a wet dishcloth. Tall, with lank mousey hair, a thin face, and big feet in flat shoes.
Ian had gained weight and looked shorter than Diane remembered. The lens in his glasses had got thicker. He'd gone bald and the wisps of hair combed down at the front looked odd. They chatted small talk about the weather, his new job as a railway booking clerk, his two kids, both at school, and he made the right noises about how sorry he was to hear of Granny's death.
“Whatever you saw in that gormless, four eyed git, is beyond me,” Granny had said as Diane sobbed in her lap after he walked out.
She giggled as the words came back to her now and almost tripped on the worn Axminster stair carpet which still had the same hole in the step, third from the bottom. A sharp right turn at the top and she was in Granny's bedroom, relieved the job was nearly over. The house could go up for sale as soon as it was cleared.
Faded chintz matched the bedspread and curtains, the faint smell of urine and mold hung on the suffocating air but she couldn't open the window. It was painted shut. She tore off a liner from the roll and headed toward the large double wardrobe at the side of the bed. Diane threw clothes, skirts, blouses, fleece jackets, and Granny's favourite crimplene trousers into a liner. A pair of black court shoes, brown, fur-lined suede boots with a zip up the front, and a pair of worn, navy blue Jesus sandals were piled at the bottom. Too old and battered for a charity shop, she thought. Diane wondered if she should strip the bed or leave it for the clearance people. Granny's drawer on her bedside table stored the things she needed to hand like her medicine and hand cream. It was cleared when she went to the home. The junior school photo of Diane as a child, that sat on the top, also went with Granny when she left. Her will stipulated that the the photo should be buried with her. Diane got all emotional when the solicitor read that out. The thought made her eyes water again.
Under the bed was clear. She stepped up onto the mattress and balanced and bounced on her tiptoes to get a view of the top of the wardrobe to check that she hadn't missed anything. A small case was just visible and pushed right back to the wall. Diane couldn't reach it from the bed and so she grabbed the wooden dining chair from the corner of the small room to stand on. It was difficult to reach the handle of the case but she eased it forward with the tips of her fingers until she could clutch them around it and grasp it with her palm. She lifted it down with her other hand underneath to steady it's transition and placed it onto the bed. It was dusty and indented. From the 1960s, Diane guessed. She brushed the cobwebs away with her hand. The red piping around it was worn and exposed the cardboard underneath the cracked plastic. The clasps were rusty. Diane pressed both thumbs on each side and pushed. They flicked open more easily than she thought they would.
On top of the paperwork lay an old photo of a beautiful young woman who looked in her early 20s. It looked like mum in the dream. Even though it was mostly black and white, there was a touch of rouge on the woman's cheeks and the trace of red on her lips. Diane saw a cigarette dangling from that mouth. She sat on the bed. Maybe it was older than she thought. Perhaps it was an old colour photo of Granny when she was young that had faded. There was a certain similarity. Diane couldn't be sure. Her own memory of her mother was too vague. She was only three or four when her parents left her. She lifted the photo out and put it on the bed next to the case. Underneath the photo was a brown envelope, a few letters, an old newspaper, and at the bottom, a postcard. The reds and scarlets caught her attention and she pulled it out. It was the same image of Ayers Rock that had been used for the painting that hung in the living room on that awful wallpaper.
The handwriting on the back was just legible and was similar to her own scrawl which made it possible to read. “Got the job! All's going well and everything's ready. I'll be back on Nov 26th. to pick you up and I'll go straight to the station when I arrive. We can have a couple of days in London before going to the docks. Be ready with Di Di, give her a kiss from me, and look after squiggle. All my love always, Bill xxx”
Diane shivered. Her head was banging. The smell of the room and stale air made her feel nauseous.
She saw mummy sitting in the yard, the postcard tucked into the bottom of the easel as she brushed strokes in colours on the canvas. Mummy stopped to light a cigarette, drew on it, and then rested it in an ashtray on a small table at her side where she kept the oils and brushes. Diane saw it all and herself skipping as she watched mummy paint and smoke in the hot sun.
She wiped her forehead with a tissue that she dragged from her pocket and cleared her throat. June 1962 dated the postcard. “Squiggle?” She had no idea what that meant and loosely recalled an old dog they used to have.
Diane dug back into the case. The letters were love notes between her mum, Marion, and her dad, Bill. He'd obviously got a job in opal mining. His letters mentioned that a lot. There was talk of being a “one pound pom”. Bill said how great it was that they had this opportunity of a new life. Marion said how upset Granny was that they were leaving to go to the other side of the world. Daddy had even got a school in mind for her.
Rain crashed against the bedroom window like drummer boys marching across the glass. Diane zipped up her fleece. It was dusk outside. She got up from the bed and flicked on the light switch by the bedroom door. The glare of false light made her eyes squint. She rubbed them hard and everything went blurred for a minute until they adjusted.
The headline of the newspaper was magnified under the new light which made it visible to see from where from she stood. “Man killed as widow waited,” it screamed. She picked it up and saw three photos. The one of the young woman in the photograph that now lay on the bed, one of a young man about the same age, he had Diane's nose and a smile that flashed from ear to ear. The third photo was Granny. Diane recognised her face like wrinkled fruit. The same face that loomed over her as she was lifted into the back of the taxi. “Grandmother, Mrs Violet Cummings, delivered news as mother and daughter wait at the station,” the caption read.
The room began to spin, Diane's throat was dry, dust and grime clung to the back of it, she baulked. Hand over mouth, she dashed to the bathroom, wretched into the toilet. Her eyes were screwed shut and watered as she puked.
She saw mum looking at her watch. She dropped her stump on the floor, uncrossed her stockinged legs, and twisted her foot over the tab end. A spark escaped the crush and Diane watched it fizzle away in a second. The smell of train diesel that came with the memory made her wretch into the toilet again. She saw it all clearly. She was at the station with Mummy waiting for Daddy to come. They were there ages. She wanted to stay awake but she fell asleep. Granny came and got them.
Diane sat on the floor by the bowl. Her heart beat rapidly, as if trying to punch it's way out of her chest. A strand of hair hung down by her eye, sweat pumped out of her face, and dribbled along her neck line. She stood, slowly, and then went to the sink.
She splashed her face and became a child again. Mummy sploshed the water in the bath as Diane giggled and tried to flatten the bubbles.
“Not long now Di Di,” she'd said. “We've got a lovely new house and the baby will be the first proper Australian in the family.”
Diane looked up into the mirror, stared into her own eyes and saw them change.
“Squiggle!” She remembered it all, lying in bed with mummy, and not being able to get her tiny arm around Mummy's big fat belly. Watching mummy get into the ambulance with her overnight case. This case.
“She's in Australia now with Daddy,” Granny had said when Mummy didn't come back. “Be happy that they are together.”
Diane felt as if she was looking at someone else's reflection in the mirror. “Of course!” she said aloud.
She dashed back to the bedroom and scrabbled among the paperwork, there had to be something here somewhere. She grabbed the brown envelope and ripped it open. Mum and dad's marriage certificate, her birth certificate, her father's death certificate, and then a clump of documents all held together with a paper clip.
She took a huge breath, and read intently, silent tears involuntarily dripped down her face as she went through the paperwork. Mum died giving birth to a baby girl who was born in January 1963. Both certificates told Diane as much as she needed to know. Dad died coming to get them. Mum died having a baby. She had a sister.
The final document in the batch was an adoption paper. The little girl was called Daisy.
“Of course! Daisy! That was her name!” Diane saw again that shy child who sat so close to Aunt Kathy. Daisy. Her sister. Packed off to live with distant, childless relatives. No one cared. A child brought up by an old couple. A child like Diane who needed someone.
“They were here when I needed them but I won't be getting in touch until she apologises,” Granny's voice came back to her.
“Selfish bitch,” Diane growled aloud.
She read each line of the adoption certificate and found what she was looking for. A starting point. An address in Bournemouth. Somewhere in that town was a child, a woman now, maybe even married with children of her own.
Diane gathered up all of the paperwork, the photo, the newspaper, the documents, and packed them back into the small worn out case. She wiped her sleeve across her face to smudge the tears and sat on the bed for a while. Cold set in around her and she hadn't noticed how black it was outside or how bleak this room looked in the naked light. Her shadow grew against the wall as she stood and stretched. She felt stiff and hobbled downstairs, tripped on the worn step, but managed to catch her balance and not drop the case she clutched tightly to her chest with one arm. She paused by the front door for a moment before going back into the living room. She lifted the painting off the hook and wedged it underneath her other arm. She stepped out of the front door and filled her lungs with fresh, clean air and then blew out heavily. What she had found was a beginning. The truth was always the best place to start.