Chapter One Arctic Red
Frankie Appleton was counting gates. Heavy rain was flicking forward-slashes onto the car windscreen and the botanical temperature inside the car was steaming up the glass like a curtain but she was soon able to find a rhythm. Wipe the glass, count the gate. Wipe the glass, count the gate.
As the glimpsed gates sped by, wrought-iron, double-hinged, Buxton, lattice, Frankie’s fingers grazed the slip of paper in her coat pocket, a sentence from the magazine Garden Gates – A Definitive Guide: ‘A gate is the first thing that a visitor sees and its appearance gives an indication of what lies beyond it, providing either a positive or negative first impression.’
She didn’t just like counting gates. She liked designing them too. She’d written the quote in red felt-tip pen on her bedroom wall, behind a Madonna poster – the ‘Angel’ one, where she’s wrapped in a blue towel, or maybe it’s a blue dressing gown. She could never quite decide which. As with most things, one day it was one thing, the next day another. It was also glued onto the eight shoebox lids beneath her bed, the boxes housing hundreds of pencil sketches of gates, all named after rivers, because, like rivers, gates led elsewhere too.
Some were named after famous rivers like the Nile and the Danube, others after lesser-known rivers such as the Yellowknife and the Arctic Red. Fellow gate-enthusiast David Miller, author of her most treasured book The Grandeur of Gates and a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence agreed: ‘A gate is the ultimate link between you and what lies ahead and both functionality and aesthetic appeal are of equal importance.’ His gate designs were some of the most innovative and inspirational that Frankie had ever seen; so much so that she’d spent three days last summer composing a fourteen-page letter to him. She was yet to receive a reply.
But she hadn’t given up hope. Designing gates took patience, letter-writing, similarly so. And he was no doubt extremely busy. There were so many neglected gates to renovate, so many empty spaces to fill. Their paths would cross one day, she was sure of it, but there was no time to think about exactly when that might be because her current favourite gate was a mere five gates away. Distance for Frankie was always measured in gates. She quietly counted down, building up the tension like they did when announcing Miss World: 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . And the winner is . . . 7, Darwin Crescent was a long-limbed four-storey redbrick townhouse that bowed and swayed like a drunken sailor.