written for yuletide 2006.
THE FOSSIL RECORD
What was most unsettling of all was that her sisters never seemed to exercise any care in when they decided to turn up.
"--you know, you really oughtn't to poke at your blisters so."
Pauline Fossil shrieked and ran the needle she had been aiming at her pinkie toe instead into her thumb, where it stuck. She pulled it out angrily and sucked on the bright pinprick of blood that instantly swelled out, glaring. Completely unaffected, Posy tossed her red curls and popped up onto her toes.
"To think you've forgotten all you learned at the Academy about what to do with blisters from our toe shoes!" she sniffed. "I rather believed you'd remember the important things, Pauline, even though you are a Hollywood film star now."
"Likely she has somebody to deal with nasty things like blisters for her," Petrova offered with a quirked eyebrow, putting her arm around Posy's waist.
"I do wish you wouldn't come in on me so suddenly," Pauline said irritably, removing her injured thumb from her mouth. She looked at her sisters, both of them smiling at her and a little watercoloury around the edges, and sighed. "Then again, I suppose it's dreadfully complicated for ghosts to send notice."
Petrova leaned her dark head against Posy. "She's still calling us ghosts," she said. Posy crossed her arms and assumed a stern look.
"Quite enough to be glad you're seeing your sisters a'tall when they're halfway 'round the world, never mind fancying them being phantasmagorias," she said, and despite the peculiar growly voice it was an accurate enough impersonation of Nana that all three of them burst out laughing. Pauline recovered herself first, because after all her thumb was still throbbing and the blister on her pinkie toe wasn't going away.
"All right, we shan't get into that mad discussion," she told the other two. "It's far too much like being in 'Alice' again, and I have enough to think about right now with this film."
Posy looked sympathetic and sat next to Pauline on the divan. "Is it dreadfully hard work?"
"Dreadfully." Pauline paused and twisted some of her hair 'round her finger. "Although it is paying me a terrific amount, so I shouldn't complain."
"Complain all you like." Petrova said comfortingly, setting down on Pauline's other side. "You gave up the most out've the lot of us, so I suppose you've earned the right."
The three of them sat quietly for a moment, the memory of that last vow before they split and went their separate ways rising unspoken. Petrova and Posy slipped their arms around Pauline, who leaned back and wondered if the warmth she felt was all in her imagination.
"I'd like a cup of tea," Pauline said again. The lady behind the lunch counter furrowed her forehead and asked, "...sweet tea?"
Pauline shifted in her high-heeled boots and briefly wondered if she should go back to the set, where a prop teapot of cambric was rapidly cooling on one of the sideboards at 221B Baker Street. "Hot tea," she tried, and was rewarded with the lady going, "oh!" with a satisfyingly clear brow.
Coveted tea in hand, Pauline sat at the counter and thought longingly of those marvelous meals with the Doctors Jakes and Smith as the lunch lady set in front of her a plate bearing the standard studio lunch for bit actresses -- half a tinned peach with a cherry inside and three lettuce leaves topped with a scoop of chicken salad.
"On a diet, beautiful?" A short young man with frenetic eyes came and hoisted himself into the seat next to her, grinning. "Because tell ya the truth, I don't think you need one for another couple of years, tops."
"Only it's rather hard to eat much when you're wearing a corset," Pauline said primly, unfolding her napkin. The man hooted and slapped his knee.
"Hey, you're an English bird!" he yelped. "Nothin' wrong with that, when it comes down to it, how-dee-doo and pip-pip-cheerio."
"Is this the sort of thing you have to put up with?" Petrova's horrified voice asked in Pauline's ear. "No wonder you've been out of sorts! He's a perfect fright."
"Absolutely," Pauline said. The man leaned forward with one eye scrunched almost shut and jabbed a finger at her.
"I betcha you're working on that Sherlock Holmes picture, right? Now there's a deduction for ya! Elementary, my dear Watson! "
Petrova was disgusted. "Get rid of him, Pauline! He's horrid!"
"What should I do, Petrova?" Pauline asked, clearly and out loud. "Should I mention that I have a boyfriend and that he's considering asking me to marry him? Do you suppose that would work?"
The man jumped back in his seat and tugged at his collar. "Then again," he said, "a British bird might be a little too, uh, royal for my blood. Yessir, I'm a good red-blooded Yankee boy, I figure I better stick to what I know best, one of those pretty little local girls." He scrambled down from his stool and practically ran off, much to Petrova's amusement as she spun her stool around to watch him go and leaned her elbows back against the counter.
"Have you really got a boyfriend?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow at her sister. Pauline examined the cherry and put it in her mouth, shaking her head.
"Everything still feels so strange," she confessed. "Even with Garnie here, it doesn't seem quite like home." She tore a leaf with her fork. "I hardly feel myself half the time, so what's the use of getting a ‘beau', as Cook used to call them?"
"Not that there haven't been dozens of them to choose from, I'm sure." Petrova grinned slyly. "You should consider it, Pauline. It might make you feel more like you have people here who care about you." She tucked a dark wing of hair behind one ear; Petrova still wore her hair bobbed, but now it was in a sleek Louise Brooks style that Pauline thought quite fetching.
"And you," Pauline said in the same sly tone, "does Alexander make living near the aerodrome feel more like home?" She had the satisfaction of seeing her sister flutter her eyelashes before defiantly declaring, "He does indeed! And he isn't at all tiresome about my wanting to fly aeroplanes and drive motor cars, like some boys are."
"And some girls, no doubt." Posy lolled against the counter and fixed Pauline with a considering look. "Perhaps you should consider something else, Pauline, other than boys."
Pauline put down her fork and looked in astonishment at her sister, who had two pink smudges of colour high on her cheeks and a secret, excited look. "Posy Fossil!" she declared. "I would never have guessed."
Posy shrugged, an elegant roll of her shoulders. "You would've," she said. "After all, you're the one who figured it out about the Doctors. You're only startled because we never thought of the three of us it might be me who turned out this way."
"Figured what out about the Doctors?" Petrova interrupted, puzzled. "Thought who would turn out what way?" Her sisters bit their lips to keep from giggling and Pauline managed to say, "nothing, dear."
Pauline supposed that most people should be terrified to find ghosts in bed with them at night, but she was beginning to think that she wasn't like most people.
"The studio party was lovely," she murmured, rubbing the back of her head against her deep, soft feather pillow. "There were so very many film stars there, the terribly famous ones too!"
"And here our own Pauline among them," Posy said in admiration. She dug her fingers into Pauline's side to convey her pleasure. "Soon you shall be more famous than all of them!"
"You as well," Pauline said, and Posy complacently agreed, "Me as well."
"Manoff will make her the prima ballerina any day now," Petrova said. Posy made an affirming noise.
"Probably at the same time Gum makes you the aeroplane pilot on one of his expeditions. What dreadfully exciting things we're all doing!"
"Only, Pauline isn't as happy as we are." Petrova turned onto her side, propping her head up on her elbow to solemnly survey the other two. "Which isn't right."
"It isn't right at all." Posy propped herself up likewise and they both looked intently at their sister.
Pauline shrank into the covers haplessly. "I don't know why you insist on bringing this up," she protested. "I'm perfectly fine! I'm acting, which is marvelous, and I'm making loads of money, which we need, and ... and ...."
"And you're lonely," Posy accused. Petrova nodded. "And you wanted to be on the stage, not in pictures."
"I don't mind it so much," Pauline said slowly. She sat up a little, frowning. "I don't mind it so much," she said again, distinctly and louder. Petrova and Posy looked at each other, and Pauline said with a tone of wonder, "...in fact ... I rather like it!" She sat all the way up, reaching for her sisters' hands. "And I've met other actors who say that they can still do theatre work when they're not working on pictures, to keep them busy! I could do that!"
"Of course you could!" Petrova exclaimed, and Posy clapped in delight.
"This is wonderful!" Pauline squeaked. "I feel – oh, I feel as though a weight's been lifted off me! How could I not have noticed that I started to like being in pictures?"
Petrova looked wise. "P'raps you were still thinking about the Academy," she offered. "They didn't do much in the way of teaching people to act in films."
"Madame didn't care for them," Posy embellished airily. "She thought they were vulgar. But Madame was practically ancient, and Pauline's not."
Pauline flopped down on her pillow again, blinking, her heart racing. "I feel as though I've woken up and remembered it's Christmas morning," she said. Petrova leaned over and kissed her forehead.
"Silly," she said, "it is Christmas morning."
Posy stroked Pauline's arm. "And now it's time for us to say goodbye, Pauline," she said, in a tone more tender and grown-up than Pauline had ever heard her use. She looked up in alarm and saw that the watercoloury wobble around her sisters was getting more wobbly, and they were starting to blur over.
"No!" Pauline blurted. "No, you can't leave now!"
"We only got to come and see you like this because it wasn't fair on you, stuck all the way here in Hollywood just so we could have money for the things Posy and me wanted to do," Petrova said. Her voice sounded like jelly. "Now you've found a way to be as happy as we are, we shan't need to come anymore."
"But I want you to!" Pauline wailed, completely past caring that she sounded like a child crying for its mother. The thought of her sisters (no matter how nebulous and insubstantial) leaving her was far more important and verging on devastating. "Petrova! POSY!"
The two blurry shapes of her sisters shimmered one final time, then disappeared as the door opened and Garnie came in, wrapped in her dressing gown and with her slippers half-on. "Pauline, whatever's the matter?" she asked, worry clear in her face and voice as she sat on the bed. "Darling, I thought I heard you cry out!"
Pauline butted her head against Garnie as she hugged her, willing the hot itch in her eyes to go away. "I'm all right, Garnie," she said wearily. "Only I miss Posy and Petrova so much."
Garnie put an arm around Pauline and kissed her head. "Well, then -- I have a lovely Christmas surprise for you," she said, and out of the pocket of her dressing gown she pulled two enormous cream-coloured envelopes. "These came by post yesterday -- your sisters wanted me to give them to you this morning, together."
Pauline took the two letters with trembling fingers and pressed them to her heart. "Oh, Garnie," she said rapturously. "Oh, isn't it strange the way things turn out for us!" She hugged the letters until they crumpled and Garnie watched her fondly.
"Strange is one word for it, dear," Garnie said.
"It's been great working with you," Charlie said, holding out his hand. Pauline gave it a firm shake and said, "and you as well." She smiled, and Charlie stopped smiling, and wrapped his fingers more tightly around hers. He took a breath, and Pauline said calmly--
"If you haven't any plans for this weekend, Charlie, there's a picnic that the prop department and set dressers are giving."
Charlie's chin twitched. "No actors allowed?"
"Only certain actors, us unimportant ones." She tipped her head. "Would you like to come with me?"
His eyes lit up; he clasped both of his hands over hers and said earnestly, "I would love to escort you, Pauline Fossil."
"He's terribly polite," Petrova drawled. Posy pirouetted circles and said, "But Pauline can stay 'Fossil' when they get married, because it's her stage name."
Pauline's smile edged wider.