Pauline couldn't help but smile at the poster with her name on it as she climbed out of her taxi on Broadway - it was still a thrill to see her name written up on billboards, especially now she was returning to the theatre, her first love. She couldn't linger long though, or she would risk being late for her own opening night. She rushed into the theatre a few minutes late, and only had time to exchange a cheerful nod with the doorman as he handed her a sheaf of telegrams.
She resisted the temptation to run to her dressing room, but hurried as fast as she could. She dropped the telegrams onto her dressing table and set about applying her greasepaint and getting into her costume. She didn't have time to look through them until the interval, when she finally had a moment to herself to relax. The pleasure of receiving good luck and congratulatory telegrams hadn't worn off either, and she had rather more to read through now than she had on her theatrical debut. She flicked through them quickly, hoping for a message from home.
She found one, and pulled it out eagerly. Her face fell as she read the contents:
GUM SERIOUSLY ILL IN HOSPITAL <STOP> PLEASE COME HOME <STOP> BRING POSY <STOP> PETROVA FOSSIL
She stared blankly at the sheet of paper in her hand, her thoughts in turmoil. She tried to read more into the brief message – Petrova had never been one to express her feelings readily, and Pauline could only imagine what she’d been feeling as she sent the cable. She was concerned for Gum, of course, but she’d never really got to know him, one of the most important things he’d done for her was provide her with her sisters, and so it was her sisters she was most concerned about.
There was a knock on the door, the callboy asking her to come and give the performance of her life. Afterwards, she had no memory of the second half of the play, but she must have got through it somehow, and suddenly she was taking a bow and heading straight to the theatre manager’s office, the tears that she’d been holding in coursing down her face and smearing her make up.
Luckily, the manager was sympathetic to her plight. He had some difficulty comprehending exactly who Gum was, but once he understood that she needed to go back to England for her sister, he patted her gently on the shoulder and started making phone calls. The most she heard of any of the conversations was the manager saying “It’s a terrible blow, but it can’t be helped.” Her thoughts were with Gum, and Petrova, far away.
The manager escorted her back down to her dressing room and he waited outside as she changed and made a cursory attempt to remove her greasepaint. He escorted her down to the stage door, and on the way he told her that her agent was going to arrange everything, that she wasn’t to worry, her understudy would take over for as long as needed. He patted her shoulder one last time as he saw her into a taxi.
There was another telegram waiting for her at her apartment building, but the message was just the same, Petrova clearly hadn’t known exactly where to find her. She made her way into the apartment, ran straight to the phone to call Posy, offering up a silent prayer of thanks that she was in New York with Manoff and his company. The phone rang as she put her hand on the receiver, and she answered it, somehow expecting it would be Posy.
It wasn’t, it was her agent, Mr. Reubens. She listened numbly as he told her he was taking care of things and that he’d booked her a seat on an aeroplane the next day, the only thing she wanted to know was if there was a seat for Posy too. He had, and he offered to arrange a car to collect them both in the morning. She thanked him and ended the call, then dialled Posy’s number without replacing the receiver, and waited for what seemed like an age until her sister answered sleepily.
She imagined her sister’s puzzled frown, her restless feet, and she knew she needed to talk to her face to face.
“I’m coming over to see you. Now.”
Posy didn’t seem to think this was an unusual thing to do, and she didn’t question it at all.
Pauline tossed the things she thought she would need into a suitcase with none of her usual care and neatness. Nana would have been horrified, but Nana wasn’t there. She’d gone back to England with Sylvia a month before, and although Pauline would have liked nothing more than Nana’s comforting presence at that moment, if gave her some comfort to think that she and Sylvia were probably already with Petrova, that she wouldn’t be all alone.
One last taxi took her across town to the building where Posy was staying with the other dancers of the company. Thankfully to doorman knew her from previous visits and let her up. Posy answered her knock half-dressed and tousle-haired, and greeted her with a smile. Her face fell as she took in Pauline’s dishevelled appearance, and the case in her hand, and she grabbed hold of Pauline’s wrists and pulled her through the door with a strength that belied her small frame.
“What’s happened?” she asked.
“Gum,” said Pauline, “Petrova….” Words failed her again, and she pulled the crumpled telegram out of her pocket and thrust it at Posy.
Posy scanned it quickly, tapping her feet in an anxious rhythm and then chewed on her lip. For a brief moment, Pauline feared that she might refuse to go, that she might choose her dancing over her family, that she’d insist on staying because the public would want to see her and only her dancing.
“How are we going to get there?” asked Posy.
Pauline smiled with relief, knowing she should have expected more from Posy. She explained about the flight, and the car, feeling a tear slide down her cheek as she did so. Posy hugged her impulsively, said she hoped she didn’t mind sharing a bed if she was going to stay there that night.
Pauline said she didn’t mind at all, and it was a comfort to have Posy next to her, even if she did flail and kick out with her unusually cold feet at odd intervals throughout the night. The morning came sooner than she expected, and she waited anxiously for the car, sipping a cup of tea to give her something to do as she watched Posy rush around engaged in some activity that resembled packing, but ended with Posy slinging only one small bag over her shoulder, grabbing her battered attaché case and suggesting they wait for the car in the lobby.
Pauline still thought of her as a very little girl sometimes, and it shocked her occasionally to see how efficient Posy was, in her own unique way. She’d spoken to Manoff before Pauline had even finished dressing. She hadn’t shared the details of the conversation, but Posy had a way of making things happen the way she wanted them to, and Pauline didn’t imagine she would have any difficulties at all making him understand the situation.
The car arrived and whisked them off to the airport. Pauline remembered her trip out to America after she’d signed her contract – a week on an ocean liner, and now she was going to be whisked back to England in less than a day. She couldn’t quite believe it was true, she’d never shared Petrova’s love of aeroplanes, but she thought she could get quite fond of them if they really could unite her and Posy with their other sister so quickly.
The airport seemed enormous, full of smartly dressed people hurrying along busily, looking as if they knew exactly where they were going. Pauline felt utterly lost for a moment, then she felt Posy’s small hand reach out for her own, and Mr Reuben’s hurried instructions from the previous night came back to her. She walked confidently up to the Pan-Am desk and asked about their reservation. The woman behind the desk looked up sharply and gasped when she mentioned the name of Fossil, and she stared at Pauline in awe as she explained about the tickets.
Posy stared back at her as they walked away from the desk, and said, “You’ve certainly made the name of Fossil famous, even if you don’t get it into the history books.” Pauline looked at her and saw a most peculiar expression on her face.
“Oh Pauline, I know we’re supposed to be very serious right now, but I must show you how she looked as she was trying to be very professional whilst desperately wanting to ask you for your autograph.”
She did a remarkably accurate impression, and Pauline couldn’t help but smile, not just at the impression, but also at the irrepressible Posy-ness of it all. The sun was shining as they reached their departure gate, and suddenly Petrova didn’t seem so far away after all.