There is Nothing like a Dame
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2017 & 2018 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'
Chapter 25 A big surprise.
We were up early the following morning, so maybe the time difference worked in our favour. Reggie had to return to university, but I had a couple more days break before I was expected back in Stratford. Emma knew I was back and we had arranged that I would drive over to Bridchester and see her for lunch and a good old 'chin-wag'. I had been in touch during my time away, but there's nothing like a face-to-face chat.
Reggie had regularly started 'Bluebird's' engine and driven around the block, so she was all ready to go. During the trip over I stopped to buy two bunches of flowers. I made a point of driving past what I still thought of as 'Mum's house' and was pleased to see the garden looking neat and tidy, and no obvious signs of disrepair on the house. I believe that if the exterior of a house looks good, then there's no reason to worry about the interior.
My next stop was the cemetery where I took one of the bunches of flowers to Mum and Dad's grave. I was pleased to see that there were fresh flowers already there, so Emma must have paid a visit recently. Since there was no-one around, I had a brief chat with them. I know this sounds silly but it was my way of dealing with their loss.
“Hi Mum and Dad, I'm back again. Thanks for looking after me while I was away, especially when I took that dive off the steps at Tanglewood. I promise to be more careful in future.”
I chatted for a bit longer and then glancing at my watch realised that Emma would be expecting me for lunch, so I left, promising to call by again soon.
It was wonderful to see Emma again even though it had only been two months since I saw her last. I offered my second bunch of flowers and then we hugged for several minutes before stopping to look at each other and it was then that it dawned on me.
“Emma! You're expecting!”
Emma blushed (maybe it runs in the family). “Yes, I am. It wasn't exactly planned, but we're still very pleased.”
I laughed. “You should have warned me and I would have brought back some baby clothes from the U.S.”
“As it happens, I still have some. I was just on the point of giving them to a charity shop, but you know the saying 'charity begins at home'?” Emma replied, and we both laughed.
Emma then led me into the kitchen where the table was laid out for lunch, but before that, I had some presents to hand out to everyone. Stella, in particular, seemed to have visibly grown since I last saw her and I was so pleased that the pretty dress I had bought for her was big enough as I'd had to guess her size.
Once all the children were settled into their chairs we began to eat, although Emma had frequent interruptions to attend to the children. In the end, we settled for small talk and waited until everyone had eaten and the children busy playing before we finally sat down with a cup of coffee and Emma said: “Well, tell me all about your trip.”
There was a lot to tell of course and an hour went by before I paused for breath and we had another cup of coffee.
“So you took a dive off the stairs from Juliet's balcony, that must have been scary,” said Emma.
“It certainly was. The first thing that I thought of when I came to and learned that I had knocked my head was that it might have affected my memory, but fortunately it didn't,” I replied.
Now it was my turn. “So tell me about the new baby. You were saying it was a happy accident. Maybe David should have a vasectomy?” I said with a smile.
Emma suddenly looked serious. “As a matter of fact, he did have a vasectomy about a year ago. We did all the right things, taking precautions until he had a negative sample. Then a few months back I missed my period. I wasn't too worried, but then it happened a second time and I began to feel sick in the mornings. A baby was the last thing on my mind after David's vasectomy, but I went to the doctor and after examining me she said she was almost sure I was pregnant. That was a big shock I can tell you.”
“So what happened then?” I asked.
“She did a pregnancy test in the surgery and it was positive. I just burst into tears wondering how this could possibly have happened. The doctor was very nice. She said she was sorry but she had to ask, was there any possibility that someone other than David was involved? I was shocked but swore that was definitely not the case. It was then that she said there was one other possibility. Sometimes a vasectomy spontaneously reverses over time when the two ends of the tube that carries the sperm reconnect. She suggested David have another test.
“That evening when David came home, he sensed immediately that something was wrong. When he asked me, I burst into tears and told him I was pregnant. I was so afraid that he would think that I had cheated on him, but when I told him about the possibility that he had become fertile again, he immediately said that must have happened, and he had no hesitation in agreeing to take another test.”
“And what happened?” I asked.
“Well the day he took the test was a very long one for both of us. David would be getting the result of course, since it was his specimen. He had to go to the theatre to conduct a rehearsal, which at least kept his mind occupied, while I had to sit and wait. I thought he would ring me, but instead, he came home. My heart raced when I saw him come through the door, but he immediately said: “Darling it's alright; well it isn't really, but my test was positive! The doctor said I had a count of twenty thousand sperm per millilitre with ten percent live sperm which sounded a lot to me but she said a normal count is at least fifteen million, often more like one hundred million, with at least half of them live. Becoming fertile again only happens in about one in four thousand vasectomies but it's happened to us. I'll have to have the procedure repeated.”
“So the chances of you becoming pregnant again were really very low,” I said.
“Extremely low, but then as the doctor said, it only takes one sperm to make you pregnant.”
We continued to chat for a while and then Emma remembered something.
“I was shopping in Bridchester with the young children a week ago when I happened to see June Whitlow. Do you remember you stepped in to play the Fairy Godmother when she was ill? Well her son Phillip was with her. Naturally, they stopped for a brief chat. Phillip seemed very interested in Stella, more so than the other children. I couldn't help thinking that they look a bit similar.”
I confess my heart jumped, but I said nothing. Emma didn't know about Reggie's vasectomy. We had sworn a pact that we would tell nobody else about it – no exceptions.
“Oh well, a lot of children look like someone who isn't their parent,” I said, attempting to laugh it off. “There have been some famous examples.”
The way Emma looked at me, I wasn't sure that she was convinced. Anyway, nothing more was said about it.
I had a lot to think about as I drove home. What if the same thing had happened to Reggie? Was there a possibility that Stella really was his child? I had always made a conscious effort not to think of Reggie in bed with Sophie. I knew that he had married her for my sake, but I didn't have to think of what that entailed. Then again, was it possible that Phillip was her biological father?
That evening, I told Reggie all that had happened that day.
“So you're saying there's a faint possibility that I really am Stella's biological father?”
“A very faint one,” I replied. “But the only way to tell for sure would be a repeat sperm test and then a DNA test on you both. Do you think it's really worth it? She's your daughter regardless.”
“I see what you mean,” replied Reggie. “The only reason for knowing would be if she needed an organ transplant or something like that.”
We discussed it a bit further and decided that the best option was to 'let sleeping dogs lie'.
The following day, with Reggie at university again, I spent my last day in York for a week or so, shopping for some food and then cooking and freezing some meals for him while I was away. I really enjoyed cooking and being a housewife once in a while. For me, it was a novelty, but I'm sure that some readers who have no other option than to be a housewife would be saying 'half her luck'.
Now that I was back in England, I rang Dame Emily. She wasn't home, which was hardly surprising when she was so much in demand, so I left her a message to say that I had called. Then I phoned the one person who would know where she was, Richard Green who just happened to be my agent as well as hers. In fact she had kindly referred me to him when she realised I didn't have an agent. He had taken me on as a favour to her, but I think he was now glad that he did since my career was really taking off.
“Harriet! How good to hear from you,” he said when he picked up the phone. “I was just about to call you. I've just heard from Hiram Thompson's secretary. It seems they were so pleased with your time there that he's paid you a bonus. Are you sitting down?” I wasn't, so I did as he asked and was glad I did. Hiram had paid me very well for my residency, but the generosity of his bonus took my breath away. Billionaires are just not like other people!
“Are you alright?” said Richard after the silence at my end had lasted about ten seconds.
“Err, yes. I'm just a bit shocked but in a nice way. He must have been really pleased with my contribution to the theatre there. I was actually ringing you to ask if you knew where Dame Emily is at present? She asked me to ring her when I returned to England.”
“She's shooting a film in Spain at present. She should be back next week,” he replied. “I know you are playing 'Juliet' again in a few months. That was a shame about Tanglewood.”
“Yes, I call it my 'Tanglefoot' moment,” I replied, and he laughed. “I'm going to Stratford tomorrow. They're about to mount a production of 'The Scottish Play' and I've got my eye on 'Lady M'.”
“You're doing my work for me,” said Richard. “I'll feel guilty about taking your money. Will they make you audition?”
“That depends entirely on the director, and I'm hoping to find out who it is when I go there tomorrow.”
I cooked a really nice roast dinner for when Reggie came home from the university, and after we enjoyed it, we had an early night as we often did when I was going away for a while. It may seem a strange lifestyle, but it worked for us.
The next morning, after kissing Reggie goodbye, I loaded my suitcase into 'Bluebird' and headed south the Stratford. I stopped off first at the flat I shared with Dale and Frank. I had been in touch with them while I was away, and they knew I was due back that day. To my surprise, Frank was there in the flat.
“Frank, darling, it's lovely to see you,” I said as I gave him a hug. “Not at work today, are you alright?”
“I should be asking you the same question, Harriet. I was so worried when I heard about your fall. Are you fully recovered?”
"I'm fine, really,” I replied. “So how you been?”
“Wonderful!” he replied. “Dale has asked me to marry him as soon as we can. In the meantime, we are going to have a Commitment Ceremony. It will be just like a wedding.”
“That's great news!” I exclaimed, giving him another hug. ”What took him so long?”
“Oh, you know what some men are like,” said Frank, laughing. “When it happens, we'd like you to be 'Best Woman'.”
“Oh Frank, that is so sweet,” I replied, tears starting in my eyes.
“Don't start crying now or you'll set me off. How about we have a cup of tea?”
I was very pleased for them of course, but couldn't help wondering if this meant that they would finally want to find their own place. Well, I'd leave that until it happened. I had hoped that our particular form of 'ménage à trois', as we laughingly called it, would go on indefinitely but all good things come to an end.
As it turned out, it was another ten years before the same-sex marriage bill passed the British parliament, and the first weddings took place in 2015. However, there was a Civil Partnership Act passed in 2004 and enacted a year later, and this was very similar to a civil wedding in the rights and responsibilities gained by the partners.
We sat down and had a 'cuppa'. Frank had baked scones, so we had a 'Devonshire tea' which was very nice. He was an excellent cook. It turned out that he had a rostered day off and had decided to spend it in the flat, cooking and also making sure that it was 'spick and span' for my return. In that, he succeeded; I certainly couldn't fault it. You could almost say it was the defining test of whether a guy was gay or not, just how clean and tidy his home was, and Frank always passed with flying colours!
After tea and a brief chat about my trip to America, with the promise of more and a picture show to come later, I changed my dress and headed down to the theatre and my appointment with Duncan Morgan. Penny Lane, his secretary smiled as she saw me walk in.
“He's currently in a meeting with Sir Stuart Patrick, but he shouldn't be long.”
I sat down and flipped through a magazine while I waited. In a few minutes, the door to Duncan's office opened and the famous actor emerged. I wondered if he would be starring in a future production. He gave me a polite smile and nod even though I'm sure he didn't know who I was, said 'good morning' to Penny and left the office. Duncan beckoned me into his office.
After we both sat down, he said: “Welcome back, Harriet. I don't have to ask how America was; I've had a most glowing report from Hiram Thompson. He's even said he'd love you to return there in a few years.”
“He's very kind,” I replied. “I had a great time and learned so much, I just hope I gave back as much as I received.”
Duncan smiled. “Modest as usual, Harriet.” I blushed as no doubt he expected.
“The only downside was my attempt to fly at Tanglewood,” I said, and he laughed. “Before I left, Mr Thompson invited young Miriam and Itzak Rabinovich, together with their parents to accompany him and Mrs Thompson to England to see me and Richard Jenkins perform in 'Romeo and Juliet' later in the year. In the circumstances, I'd like to get them really good seats and of course I will pay for them myself.”
I think Duncan felt a bit bad about his previous remark because he said. “That really won't be necessary, Harriet. It will be my pleasure to arrange the seats for them. I understand those two young people who performed at your recital are stars in the making.”
“I believe so,” I replied. “It was a privilege to have them to join me on stage. I can see the day coming when they will be too busy with their own careers.”
Duncan changed the subject. “As you know, while you were away we've mounted a production of 'Othello', and we have a new young actress, Edith Evans, playing the rôle of Desdemona.”
“That's a famous name, her parents must have had a premonition that she'd end up on stage,” I said.
“I believe she's very good, but I'd like your professional opinion,” said Duncan. That surprised me. After all, she had presumably been selected at an audition and passed the selection committee which included the company's artistic director and the play's director as well. What on earth could I add? Still, the old saying is “When the boss says 'Jump', the response is 'How high, sir?'”, so I said, “Would you like me to attend a performance, sir?”
“Yes, and report back to me, please. When can you go?”
“Excellent. Speak to Penny; she'll arrange a seat for you.”
It was apparent that the interview was over, so I stood up.
“Thank you Mr Duncan. It's good to be back.” I smiled and left the room.
Penny produced a ticket when I walked to her desk. I hate to be predictable, but it seems I was. Anyway, the ticket was halfway back in the stalls and the middle of the row, just where I like it.
“Penny, I'm auditioning for 'The Scottish Play'. Can you tell me when they are being held and the director please?”
Penny smiled at my superstitious reference to the Shakespeare play. “Yes, they are on next week and the director is Ioan Thomas. You'll be getting a call to tell you when to turn up.”
'Ioan Thomas eh?” I thought. 'That's novel, a Welshman directing a play by an Englisman and set in Scotland.' I only knew his name and reputation but had never met him. I had already read and memorised the part but decided to review it.
I drove back to the flat. I was looking forward to eating the tea that Frank was cooking, but I also had to be back at the theatre for the performance of 'Othello'. I decided to 'dress down'. Some people in Stratford knew me, and I didn't want to look like 'an actress trying hard not to be noticed, while really trying to be noticed'. After all, I had a job to do that evening.
Of course, a few people did notice me. I can always tell from that 'double take', but fortunately in Britain no-one asks for a 'selfie' or autograph. I slipped into my seat just a few minutes before the curtain went up, and settled down to enjoy the play. When I say 'enjoy', of course I was analysing it at the same time, particularly Edith Evans' performance as 'Desdemona'.
She was good, I mean very good. I really couldn't criticise her performance. Of course, there were places where I might have performed it differently, but every actor has their own interpretation of a rôle, and that's not to say that one is right and one is wrong. This was interesting; she was obviously going to be a rival in seeking rôles. I wondered if that was why Duncan Morgan had asked me to see her perform.
To be continued.
Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing.
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