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Stravaganza: City of Flowers

Chapter 1: A Blue Glass Bottle

Sky woke, as usual, to the smell of flowers. But it was stronger than usual, which meant that his mother was up and uncorking bottles. This was a good sign; perhaps she would work today.

Heaving Remedy, the cat, off his feet — another good sign because it meant he must have already been fed — Sky made his way to the kitchen and found his mother spooning coffee into the cafetiere. She looked bright, with a rather hectic flush on her cheeks.

?Hey, Mum. Morning,? he said, giving her a hug.

?Morning, lovely boy,? she said, smiling fondly at him.

?Why didn?t you wake me? It?s late.?

?It?s only half past seven, Sky.?

?Well, that?s late,? he said, yawning. ?There?s a wash to do before school.?

?Already on,? said his mother proudly, pouring the just-boiled water on to the coffee. Then her mood changed abruptly and she sat down at the table. ?It?s not right that a boy your age should have to worry about housework,? she said, and Sky saw the tell-tale glitter of tears gathering in her eyes.

?Now, none of that,? he said, deliberately heading her off into a different mood. ?What?s for breakfast? I?m starving.?

He didn?t want one of those heavy ?We?re all each other has got? scenes so early in the morning. His mother couldn?t help her illness, which was so erratic that some days, like today, she would seem normal, and on others she couldn?t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom, which meant he had to tend to her most private needs.

And Sky didn?t mind looking after her; it was true that they were all-in-all to each other. Sky?s father had never been around, except on CD covers and concert posters. Rainbow Warrior, the famous black rocker of the ?80?s, had been interested in fair, shy Rosalind Meadows for all of one night and that was all it took.

When Rosalind found out she was pregnant, her best friend, Laura, who had dragged her to the Warrior?s concert in the first place, wanted her to have an abortion, but Rosalind couldn?t bear that thought. She dropped out of university and went home to brave her parent?s wrath.

Even though her parents were strict Plymouth Brethren they were surprisingly understanding, even when the baby turned out to be chestnut brown in colour (she hadn?t said a word about his father). But when Sky was eighteen months old, they had suggested she might be happier in London, where a very paleskinned blonde with a brown baby might attract less attention than in a sleepy Devon village. Not attracting unnecessary attention to oneself was something Rosalind?s parents considered to have the force of an Eleventh Commandment.

So she had packed her bags and her baby and arrived in London with the deposit on a flat in Islington, a diploma in Aromatherapy and no other means of support. Her greatest consolation was that Laura was also in London, working as an MP?s secretary, and she would often babysit while Rosalind built up some contacts in the evening with people who wanted aromatherapy.

?After all,? Laura would say, jiggling Sky inexpertly on her lap, ?he wouldn?t be here at all if I hadn?t taken you to that concert in Bristol.? Rosalind never mentioned that Sky wouldn?t be there at all if she had followed Laura?s other suggestion too.

When Sky was two, Rosalind wrote to Rainbow Warrior, feeling stupid about not knowing how to address him. In the end, she just wrote:

    Dear Rainbow,
    I don?t suppose you remember me but I was at your concert in Bristol in ?97. Your son, Sky, is two years old today. I don?t want anything from you, only for you to know that he exists and to have this address in case you ever want to get in touch with him. I enclose a photo taken a few weeks ago.

She hesitated. Should she put ?love from?? It was a common enough empty phrase but she didn?t want him to get the wrong idea, so she wrote ?Yours sincerely, Rosalind Meadow?. The letter was sent care of the Warrior?s agent and marked Personal and Urgent, but the agent took no notice of that; women were always putting that sort of thing on letters to the Warrior. And it was definitely from a woman; the envelope smelt of flowers.

?Hey, Colin? he said when he next saw his famous client, waving a letter. ?It seems you?ve been sowing some more of your wild oats.?

?Don?t call me that,? said the singer irritably, snatching the envelope, ?and don?t open my personal correspondence — how often do I have to tell you??

Gus Robinson was one of the handful of people in the world who knew that the great Rainbow Warrior, famous across four continents, had been born Colin Peck on a council estate in Clapham Junction.

The Warrior sniffed the envelope, read the formal little letter, looked at the photo and smiled. That ?Yours sincerely? got to him the way no hysterical tear-stained diatribe would have done. Yes, he remembered Rosalind, so shy and so smitten. And the little boy was cute.

?You should get that letter framed,? said Gus. ?So you can prove she said she doesn?t want any of your dosh.?

?Mind your own business,? said the singer, and that night he wrote a letter of his own, not very well-expressed and full of spelling mistakes but enclosing a huge cheque, which he could easily afford.

Rosalind had been stunned and wanted to send the money back but Laura convinced her otherwise.

?It took two, didn?t it?? she demanded. ?And he should have been more careful. It must have been obvious that a goose like you wouldn?t even have been on the pill.?

?But he says he doesn?t want to see Sky,? said Rosalind, her tears spilling down her cheeks.

?So much the better,? said Laura firmly. ?Take the money and run.?

In the end Rosalind had used the money to pay off her mortgage and return her parents? loan; there was no denying how useful it was. She wrote to the singer again, saying that she would send a photo of their son every year, on his birthday. This time Gus Robinson didn?t open the letter or all the other sweet-smelling envelopes that came from her once a year, but handed them to his richest client without a word.

Rainbow Warrior had been married three times and had fathered eight children, but no one knew about the brown-skinned laughing boy and his fair mother, except for the singer himself and his agent. And between them the subject was never mentioned.

Nor was it often mentioned between Sky and his mother. When he was old enough to understand, she showed him a picture of his father, in Hello! magazine. He was getting married to wife number four, a leggy Columbian model called Loretta. There were lots of children at Sky?s primary school whose parents had split up, so he was not particularly disturbed by the photos of the tall dreadlocked singer and his new wife; they all seemed to have nothing to do with him.

Rainbow Warrior felt much the same way each year as he looked at the latest photo of his secret son. But he kept them all. Sky didn?t know that his mother sent pictures of him to his father. There was a period of some months around his thirteenth birthday when he rowed with Rosalind almost every day and once threatened to find his father and go live with him, but these violent feelings eventually went away and soon after that Rosalind fell ill.

It was the flu, and she stayed in bed for a week, with a fever and a cough that no amount of hot lemon and honey brought relief to. The week turned into months and that was when Sky began to learn how to look after himself and his mother.

ME, said the hospital doctor to Rosalind after months of visits to the GP and being told to pull herself together. No treatment &#