Musical Chairs [alt/original fiction] a short schmaltz by April Hladis aka Ah-ladis

Nora and Wendy work at a silent movie studio that has just begun to usher in sound. A minor incident during filming one day sparks off a chain reaction of emotional ups and downs for both women.

Musical Chairs

Copyright © August, 2002



April Hladis

Disclaimer: There really isn't one other than the fact that this is an original short story copyrighted by the dame listed above. So no funny stuff, ya get me?

Warning: There's just a tad of bad language. Too ghastly, I know. However, some things can only be presented in quaint, rustic vernacular.

Brass Tacks: If a soggy, emotional, slushy soap opera is what you crave; your dose is ready.

There's no hardcore sex, just good old-fashioned petting between women. In other words, if tea isn't your cup of, it might be a little lightweight for you ;)

All you little underage kiddies who surfed in by accident ought to skedaddle

Comments are always welcome and answered!


A brief commentary: Grandma had a very good friend Aurora who she knew during their carnival days back in the 1920's. Together they met lots of show people both famous and non-famous in their travels across the U.S. As a little girl I heard a lot of conversations between them I wasn't supposed to :) What is written here are bits and pieces of what I've remembered as well as some slight embellishments to make it all connect. Though the setting doesn't take place in a carnival it's a composite of only a few of the more questionable stories their friends told them.



"Look ladies, I know sound is new to you, but try not to forget where the goddamn mike is," Felix Vale, their director, instructed, "I want em' to hear your voices clearly in the back row. And I want 'em to love you even more when they do. Wendy? Could you set the mood for our girls again?"

Wendy dutifully flipped a few pages, found the scene outline and began to read.

'Debra levels a troubled eye at the closed door. Had she locked it? She wouldn't want anyone to walk in on her unexpectedly. Heaven knows what they'd think.


A slight weight shift across her legs brings Debra's attention back from wandering. Sitting on her lap is Ann. She's just flung a wet, weepy face over Debra's shoulder and is now crying up a storm.'

"Got the idea ladies? Give us plenty of mush. OKAY EVERYONE, QUIET ON THE SET! THIS IS A TAKE. SPEED. ROLL 'EM OVER. SLATE US IN GEORGE."

The two women in the scene settled into their positions and waited.

"Shop Girl, Scene four, Take three," George, a huge guy holding a clapper slate in front of the camera, clapped it hard and rushed out of view.


The actors, already in character, began to...act.

"Awwwww sweetheart, what could be so serious?" Debra asked in a worried tone.

She enfolded the woman on her lap in the warmest hug she could muster, but the sobs continued inconsolably. Debra gently caressed her visitor's tousled bobbed hair and pressed her lips against it. The guest nuzzled closer.

"Poor Annie," Debra murmured softly in her ear.

The young woman began to quiet down a bit and loosened the iron grip around Debra's neck.

"Can't you tell me what's wrong darlin'?" Debra whispered.

"No, mommy," the other actor 'Ann' whined in a child's voice then guffawed rather loudly.

"DAMMIT!!! CUT!!!" their director yelled then a deafening bell rang off.

"COULDN'T RESIST FUCKING UP ANOTHER TAKE, COULD YOU NORA?" he screeched at the glamorous redhead.

"Oh simmer down Felix," Nora casually replied as she wiped away a few stage tears, "you have to admit it was getting too, too cornball to sit through."

Nora quickly hopped off her co-star's lap.


Some of the all-male crew also grumbled their opinions of what ought to be coming to her. They admired Nora but they were tired and wanted to get home on time for once. Wendy, Felix's assistant, cringed at her boss's warning. She knew he was at a breaking point and might make good his threat.

"Mr. Vale," Wendy piped up, "D.B. wants to know if you'll be setting up the color frames with Rick today."

Felix's attention fell upon the elegant, blonde, all business creature sitting next to him and smiled. Her soft voice and swift efficiency always calmed his thorny side.

"Ah, me. Has Rick been blubbering to D.B. again?"

"Yes sir, and his blubs appear to have been effective."

"I've told him we're not using that tint shit on this picture! Okay then, get George to call an hour break my dear. I'm going to try to smooth Rick's feathers."

She passed along Felix's orders and George blew his whistle.


Wendy scooped up her leather folder crammed with papers then made her way to Nora's dressing room. She knocked on the door and waited.

"Come on in," Nora's distinctive lilt drifted from the other side of her door.

Wendy entered and tossed her bulging folder aside.

"Well, you nearly did it this time," she said, dropping down into a roomy chair behind Nora.

Nora looked at her friend through the dressing room mirror as she answered.

"Thanks for saving me, lovely," Nora smiled and touched up her makeup a dainty dab at a time.

Wendy brightened at the special nickname that Nora insisted on calling her.

"Listen, I'm serious Nora! Felix is just itching to iron you outÚin front of everyone."

Nora suddenly got up and sat next to her friend.

"Say, what gives?" Wendy blurted out uneasily.

Nora's expression darkened.

"Felix knows how nervous I am about being in a talkie! He's had it in for me the whole time!" she threw her arms around Wendy bursting into a fit of tears.

Wendy patted her friend's back in a gracious effort to sooth her. Nora nestled closer into the curve of Wendy's throat weeping pitifully in short erratic whimpers.

"Felix isn't really going to hit you...he always says things like that," Wendy offered, feeling rather hopeless at this sort of thing.

Nora sat up and looked into her friend's troubled gray eyes.

"Are you sure?" Nora stammered in a teary voice.

Wendy took out a hankie and meticulously mopped at some of Nora's tears.

"Well...I'd knock his block off if he tried."

Nora instantly retreated into Wendy's arms again.

Letting down her wall of reserve, she held Nora snugly; temporarily lost in the warmth of another body. But reason soon prevailed. Wendy came to her senses letting the embrace drop away and broke the silence too.

"He wouldn't be so angry if you put an end to those shenanigans of yours."

Nora drew back to meet with Wendy's flustered gaze again.

"And if I don't?"

The look in Nora's eyes was unmistakably playful, teary but playful.

"SAP!" she yelled out.

Laughing, Nora planted a quick hard kiss to Wendy's shocked lips.

"You should see your mug! I sure got you that time!"

Nora merrily hopped away to the mirror to fix her makeup. Bewildered, Wendy sat routed to the spot quietly fighting an outraged temper and a knot of complex emotions.

During Wendy's internal battle, Nora had been totally absorbed in finishing the artwork on her face.

"There, good as new," she said in a singsong oblivious to her guest who'd let a couple of real tears escape.

"What's wrong with you?" Wendy suddenly barked, "Must everything be a stupid game?"

Nora turned around and stared in disbelief at her, staggered by the outburst.

"Well, you can just go on playing the silly clown with someone else," Wendy paused in her heated reprimand to control her voice that had become shaky with emotion, "I won't be your dupe any more."

Wendy snatched up her overstuffed folder and made for the door. Nora quickly reached out to stop her.

"Lovely...don't leave...I'm sorry..." Nora purred taking Wendy gently by her hand.

Wendy put her other hand over Nora's and patted it coolly.

"I've taken enough from you. Let me go."

Nora held on a little tighter, reluctant to release her.

"I swear I'll iron you out myself!" she snarled, "Let go!"

Wendy glared angrily down at her impish friend trying hard to control herself. Nora finally realized that she'd gone too far. She did as she was told and Wendy hurried out leaving the dressing room door wide open.


A few weeks later, Nora timidly strolled by Wendy's office hesitating to knock.

Gwendolyn KrausmeyerÚ


ÚIt read, in fairly sizable script on frosted glass. Even her name painted in upbeat gold lettering didn't radiate friendly that day.

She took a deep breath, promptly threw her shoulders back and tapped on the door lightly. Nora didn't wait for an invite she just darted inside.

Wendy was seated at her desk leafing through scripts. Now and then she scratched across a page with a blue or red pencil; blond head bent, reading glasses askew.

"Ahem," Nora announced, "care to join me for a spot of lunch?"

Wendy's heart skipped a beat at the sound of the treasured jaunty voice. She tried not to let on and didn't look up.

"I'm busy."

Nora over-dramatized a deep sigh.

"Very well then, how about a quick spot of coffee?"


"What if we just have the spot? Come on lovely, I really miss you."

This got Wendy's attention; she promptly removed her glasses. Nora was an absolute dream standing there in her 'flapper' attire. Today she sported a flowing dress in a shade of pale yellow with matching hat. To make matters worse, Nora was smiling brilliantly with lips painted a prominent red.

'That perfume! Those lips...' Wendy thought to herself then quickly pushed it away and tried to hide the slight blush she felt glowing in her cheeks.

"You're," Wendy hastily forced out, "new hat?"

"New everything. What a bundle it cost! They sure saw me coming." Nora took off her cloche hat and propped it on an edge of Wendy's desk, "And it's all your fault for not being there to talk me out of it!"

She fluffed up her bobbed mane then poked here and there at items on Wendy's desk.

"I do like the affect though," Nora stated as she picked up a framed photo of a group of people she didn't know or remember and placed it back in a different position, "it really brings out the ol' peepers. What do you think?"

Nora slinked over and knelt right next to her. Wendy was compelled to look down into Nora's breathtaking sapphire eyes to answer her not-so-innocent question.

"So...what do you think?" Nora pressed on, though now it was in a serious tone.

"I think you're wasting my time." Wendy replied, coldly staring at her.

Tears twinkled in Nora's eyes begging to spill over. She swiftly choked them back.

"I'm really sorry for treating you so badly."

"I told you then that I had enough. Leave it alone. Leave me alone," Wendy shot back.

Nora laid her head in Wendy's lap and shed pained tears.

"Why won't you forgive me?"

Wendy heaved an exasperated sigh.

"Jesus Nora, don't..."

"I can't go on like this. I need you in my life," Nora cried.

Nora affectionately wrapped her arms around her friend's legs. Wendy nearly ground her teeth to dust trying to resist Nora's plaintive charm.

"I know this leaky act always gets you your way. Not with me."

Wendy tried pushing her off with no success.

"Please lovelyÚ"

"No. Stop it! You're making an ass out of yourself."

Defeated, Nora relented.

"Okay," she said getting up slowly.

Nora smoothed out her clothes and made for the exit dabbing at soggy eyes as she went. Wendy watched her closely wondering what routine she might pull next. Nora stopped in her tracks.

"I wasn't play-acting this time," she muttered softly.

Nora didn't look back; she twisted the doorknob and left. Wendy ran to the door and listened. She was sure she heard faint weepy noises echoing through the hallway.


Two days later on the set...

At Mr. Vale's request, Wendy was needed to double as script girl. This was usually a tedious job when the actors knew their lines.

"OKAY, THIS IS A TAKE! QUIET ON THE SET! SPEED, ROLL 'EM," Felix called through his megaphone.

"Shop Girl, scene nine, take one," George yelled, clapped his clapper then ran out of shot.

"AAAAAND...ACTION!" Felix shouted.

The actors instantly came to life.

"So this is how you repay a friendship; trying to steal my Jerry away from me!"

"I did no such thing!" Nora, in character, answered anxiously.

"Jerry gave me these letters," the 'Debra' actress announced shaking a handful of papers, "He said you wrote them."

The gears of the cameras could still be faintly heard, even though it had been placed in a huge padded box. An enormous microphone loomed above the actors just out of frame. It was Nora's turn to speak to it.

It was obvious that Nora seemed a bit agitated. The reason for her tense mood wasn't only the microphone; it was Wendy's rather aloof presence.

"No, I-I didn't," Nora spluttered out.

"I don't believe you Ann. It's clearly your handwriting. Why don't you come clean?" 'Debra' countered.

This was Nora's cue to fall onto a sofa installed nearby and bawl. Camera two swung gradually to the right following Nora as she hit all her marks. She lay there on the sofa crying so much it seemed disturbingly genuine.

Camera one dollied in on Debra's reaction to Ann's misery. Predictably, a softened expression registered on her face as she made her way towards Ann.

Debra paused for a moment looking at Ann sympathetically then sat next to her and gathered the weeping girl into a kind embrace.

"You hate me now...I know you hate meeeeeee..." Nora as Ann gasped out.

"No, noÚI don't hate you. How could I ever hate you?"

'Debra' kissed Nora's head and rocked her back and forth. A few seconds elapsed then a sudden...


The crew exploded into applause, but Nora had already adjourned to her dressing room. She didn't come out to jokingly wave like a queen at them like she usually would. Instead, Nora sat collapsed in a chair leaning forward on the vanity. Her head was buried in her arms and she sobbed bitterly.

There came a dainty knock on the door; it opened with a weak snap. Nora picked her head up and tearfully looked in that direction. Wendy stood quietly in the doorway.

"Have you lost your way or something?" Nora sniffled.

"Actually, no." was all Wendy could think of saying at the moment.

In fact, Wendy was there to commend her on such a moving performance. Nora awkwardly grabbed for the tissue box resting conveniently on her makeup desk. She nervously mopped at red, puffy eyes.

"...I just wanted to tell you how wonderful you that scene." Wendy continued with difficulty, "Felix said it was beautiful. And it really was so beautiful. We were all crying with you."

Nora could stand no more of these niceties. She shook uncontrollably and gushed fresh tears. Wendy forgot herself once more and rushed over. She cradled Nora's face between her hands fervently planting little kisses on her wet cheeks. Wendy halted the impulsive loss of control to catch her breath. She felt the ground being pulled out from under her feet struggling feebly against it. Passion swelled in her heart and she allowed its tempting resurgence.

"I've been so miserable...without you," Nora sobbed.

She crumpled in a tearful mess into Wendy's open arms. Wendy held her, tenderly petting the frizzy red hair; now and then curling her fingers gently through it.

"Shhhh, it's all right now..." Wendy whispered.

In time, Nora managed to calm herself enough to speak. Wendy briefly worried that her melodramatic friend would pull out the "sap" line again. She waited and held her breath.

"I feel like such a bumpkin when I'm around you," Nora offered shyly, "but you must've guessed that already."

As a matter of fact, Wendy never suspected.

"Why, for goodness sake?"

Nora grasped one of Wendy's hands and held it tightly.

"You're so lovely and clever; a real city gal. I'm still a hayseed underneath all these fripperies."

"You hide it awfully well!"

Wendy's moment of levity didn't quite go over.

"Sure, I get by." Nora replied very seriously, "It's just that...I do it for you; so you won't be embarrassed."

"For me?" Wendy shot back, "When Nora Gill is the idol of countless fans and the envy of others? That's simply crazy! There's so many who admire your every move, and actually believe you can walk on water. They love you to pieces!"

This didn't seem to impress Nora at all. She turned away, self-conscious of her brimming emotions.

"I only care how you feel."

Wendy smiled, but she still felt inept at finding the right words to say.

"Don't you know me by now?" Wendy replied honestly and went to give her a friendly kiss on the cheek. Nora moved purposely so that the kiss would land on her mouth. It did and Nora savored the fleeting moment.

Noticeably offended, Wendy stiffened.

"I've loved youÚbeen in love with you...forever it seems." Nora quickly declared.

Nora waited impatiently for her to speak. Wendy was now struck dumb and still reeling from that last cheap tactic. Okay, she did love Nora in her own chaste way...not as a suitor! Loving another woman as a friend is one thing, but being in love with one? That was a world of difference.

Wendy suddenly let go of Nora. She stared rigidly into her friend's anxious face studying it carefully with a whole new perspective.

"What, like one of those freakish women? You're kidding me, right?"

Nora was definitely not kidding. She hesitantly searched Wendy's piercing eyes.

"I'm one of those women; been one as far back as I can remember."

Wendy sprang up and paced nervously about the small room.

"Oh God, this isn't happening! You can't be one of them!" Wendy blurted out, "What about all those double-dates we've been on? And Fred! What about him? You nearly had a breakdown when he left you!"

Nora sighed through her nose.

"I didn't care a fig for Fred," she replied calmly.

Wendy stopped pacing.

"That's an out and out lie!" Wendy bristled, "I was there, remember? I'm the one you sobbed all over!"

Nora wrung her hands agitatedly. This whole thing was going so wrong. She considered not answering, though she felt she owed her friend some clarity.

"You used to talk a lot about marrying Dave. I thought I'd lost you. That's why I was so upset. I couldn't just say, 'dump that dope for me' now could I?"

Wendy was livid. The position Nora forced her into was unfair as well as distasteful. All the good times they shared, the bad times, fun times, sad times, were lumped together in one big horrible mixÚand getting worse by the minute.

The pained, imploring expression Wendy presumed was on Nora's face made her angrier. She didn't want a female lover! But oh, those twin spheres of sapphire blue; how she'd longed to lose herself in their dewy, no! Absolutely not!


"I can't give you what you want and I wouldn't try. It's best that we don't speak of it again."

Though Wendy's words were calm enough, she was fighting a mighty urge to slap Nora's dejected face.

"But we'll have to talk about it sometime! I'm not made of wood! I can't just shut off my feelings when I'm around you!"

Wendy closed her eyes momentarily. She felt as if she'd explode any second.

"You did a bang up job of hiding those obscene feelings for two years! Put them back in the trunk and lock it up again."

Nora, tired of being on the defensive, stood up.

"I never realized what a rotten little bitch you are! Go to hell and stay there!"

Wendy barely had time to huff as Nora pushed passed her and marched outside. Those were bold words back there, yet her heart still ached for that woman.


The studio seemed so big and empty without the crew bustling about. Nora quietly walked to the darkened 'Shop Girl' set and slumped down onto the stage sofa.

"So this is how you repay a friendship; trying to steal my Jerry away from me!" Nora shouted to the air.

"I did no such thing!" she replied to herself in a higher pitch, mocking her own performance.

"Jerry gave me these letters," Nora continued while shaking an invisible handful of papers, "He said you wrote them."

"No, I didn't..." Nora stopped her lone recital and began to cry.

"Hey, you should've stuck 'round afterward."

Nora jumped a bit at the unexpected sound of another voice then saw that it was her co-star Cindy and settled down.

Cindy prattled on.

"Felix sang some fine praises about our scene today. So unlike the darlin' boy."

"I thought I was alone," Nora stated dryly, hastily brushing her tears away.

"Well, ya know what they say: 'you're only alone if ya want to be.' Would you rather I took a powder?"

Nora tried to collect herself enough to respond but dissolved in despairing tears instead. Cindy warily sat next to her sobbing host on the sofa. After a short time she slipped a caring arm around Nora.

"Whatever it is, it ain't worth the misery sugar," Cindy reassured her, "You want to be by yourself, so I'll just be moseyin' along."

Cindy got up and started to make her way to the exit.

"Wait," Nora called to her.

Cindy walked back with a very puzzled look in her big brown eyes.

"You forget somethin'?"

Tears and mascara were running down Nora's lovely face.

"Could you sit here...with me for a while?"

Cindy understood and nodded. She sat beside Nora and enfolded her in an amiable hug.

The two women stayed peacefully like that for some time, until the studio lot security guard shooed them out.

After Nora washed up, they leisurely walked together towards the main gate. The cool evening breeze caught at their clothes floating the light materials slowly about.

"Ya know what I think?" Cindy asked, but didn't wait for an answer, "I think we should go get a little somethin' to eat and schmooze."

"Schmooze? What's that, some sort of drink?"

Actually, the first thing it sounded like to Nora was smooch. Yet, Cindy didn't seem to be the kind of a gal to offer that. She was always a very sweet and polite person to work with.

'Pardon mam, may I please unbutton your blouse?' Nora mused silently to herself.

She quickly swept aside the ridiculous notion that her co-star would try to make an off-hand pass at her.

"Say, you don't get around much, do ya? It's Yiddish for havin' a chat, darlin'."

Nora eyed her doubtfully.

"Now how would a Georgia belle like you know of such things?"

Cindy smiled.

"Oh, I know a lot more'n how to get the vapors from bein' in the kitchen too long."

Nora wasn't entirely sure what she meant by that, but laughed just the same.

"All right I'll tag along, though I'm not up to talking much."

Cindy reassuringly patted Nora on the shoulder.

"That's okay sugar, I can do the talkin' for the both of us."

Of that, Nora had no doubt.


When Wendy got home she found her boyfriend Dave sitting on the stoop waiting. He clumsily sprang up to greet her.

"This is a fine time to be getting home!" Dave chided, as he rubbed his benumbed bottom, "I'm stiff as a...hey, what's wrong?"

She had decided to walk home, certain it would ease the pain of thoughtlessly losing Nora's friendship. It hadn't worked. Not one bit and it showed. Wendy put her arms around Dave and kissed him; wishing for that special something that would make it all better.


The End

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