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Just Before New Years

by Elinor

AN: For this contest, and a backstory about the main character of my current work in progress. Not sure how well it stands on its own, so honest thoughts are appreciated. ;) 

Judy twisted the music box in her hand, and let the familiar tune comfort her. She sang it softly to herself, knowing the lyrics by heart.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne?

It was still three days from New Years’, and Hanukkah had only ended the day before. It was a quiet day, one that seemed to exist outside of space and time. It had snowed the night before in their little Michigan town, and everything outside was so peaceful that Judy thought that someone could encase it all in glass and make it into a perfect little snow globe.

She set the music box down. Sam Levy was due to arrive any minute now. He wanted to take her skating, but Judy suspected that wasn’t all he wanted. She hoped it wouldn’t come to that, because she didn’t want to turn him down again. She liked Sam, and in another life, he would have made a fine husband. But they were headed down different paths.He would never leave Michigan. He’d marry a nice girl and have a few kids and take over his father’s candy store.

In less than a week, she would be going to Los Angeles. The sun would be shining and it would feel like summer even though it was January. When they’d spoken on the phone, Mr. Armstrong had hinted that while she was talented and magnetic, certain things would have to change. Judy Goldstein could never be the name of a movie star, so that would be the first thing to go. Her eyebrows were too thick. Her hair was about twenty years out of date and made her seem like a Victorian schoolgirl. But her eyes. Her eyes were so lovely they’d capture everyone, and soon, there wouldn’t be a person in America that didn’t know or love her. That’s what Mr. Armstrong had said.

Judy wondered what her new name would be, and if she’d ever get used to it. Just then, she heard someone walk into the room. She sat up, startled. It was her mother.

“When is Sam coming?”

“Any minute now,” Judy replied.

“What’s wrong?” Her mother asked.

“Nothing,” Judy said curtly. She looked at the door, hoping that Sam was close, because she didn't want to endure another lecture on why it was a bad idea to go to Hollywood.

“Sam’s a nice boy,” her mother said. Judy nodded.

“I’m going to start dinner,” she continued. “Do you think you’ll be back by then?”

“I should be,” said Judy.

A moment later, Sam knocked at the door. He was dressed for skating, and had a bouquet in his arm. He smiled when he saw her.

“For your table,” he said. Judy thanked him and put them in a vase. Her mother said hello from the kitchen, but went back to her cooking. “Have fun,” was all she said.

“Do you have your skates?” Sam asked.

Judy took them from the foyer, and Sam helped her with her coat.

The drive to the pond was short and quiet, but Judy noticed Sam stealing looks in her direction every chance he had. Judy kept her gaze squarely out the window. The snow covered trees. The quiet stillness. It wasn’t even that cold, and the sun was out, but barely anyone was out. It could almost be the backlot of a movie studio.

They parked close to the pond. It looked like one other person was there, but other than that, they’d have it to themselves.

“I was thinking we could get hot cocoa after.”

Judy nodded. “Yes, that would be nice.”

“Will you be here for New Years?” Sam asked her next.

“Yes, I leave on the 2nd.”

“So, when am I going to see you in the movies?”

“Soon, I hope,” Judy said, a smile creeping onto her face. “They have to change my hair, my name. Then when Mr. Armstrong has a picture coming up and a part for me, he’ll put me in it.”

“They’re going to change your name?”

“Sure, why not? Judy Goldstein’s plain, anyway,” Judy said nonchalantly. She twirled a strand of her long, thick hair with her finger. “And I wouldn’t mind a haircut.”

“But I think you’re beautiful just the way you are,” Sam said. He really was sweet, and he was going to make some girl really happy one day.

“Ginger Rogers changed her name,” Judy remarked, slightly playfully.

“Let’s go skating,” said Sam.

Once they were on the ice, Judy let herself glide away, and for the briefest of moments, all of her fears evaporated.She closed her eyes and thought back to a few short weeks earlier, to the closing of King Lear. Each night, she’d only had a few short scenes to make her impression as Cordelia. Yet, one Andrew Armstrong had been in the audience. Visiting his sister in Detroit. But wanted to find new talent while he could. Talent for his new studio. Had she ever thought about being in pictures? He’d make her famous… he’d take her out to Los Angeles, to do a screen test, but that would mostly be a formality. He knew she had the talent, and knew she could shine on stage.

She’d had a right to distrust him, at first. Vitaphone Pictures was new and didn’t yet have any credits to its name. But he was changing that. Building a roster. He’d worked for a while at Universal and could get her a few walk-on parts while they were still building their pool of talent.

Her mother had filled her head with stories about what would happen if it didn’t work out. But what if it did?

It would be nice, Hollywood….

Red carpets, nightclubs, gowns prettier than she’d ever worn…

She caught herself and found herself inches from Sam’s face. He had her in his arms.

“Hello,” he said. “Didn’t want you to fall.”

“That’s all right,” said Judy.

“Don’t go,” Sam asked. “You don’t even like movies. And I love you, Judy.”

Judy felt a lump in her throat. While she’d half expected this, she’d hoped that it wouldn’t happen. Sam was so nice, and she supposed he was handsome. If he was her romantic lead, she wouldn’t have minded kissing him. “Sam…” She trailed off, unable to find the words. He wasn’t entirely incorrect about how she didn’t like movies. She found most of them trite. But the ones that were good were really good. And while she always imagined herself on stage in New York, maybe the movies could help her get there. “I’ll always care about you,” she finally said.

Sam nodded vaguely and released his arms from her, realizing what her words meant. “You’ll come back and visit, won’t you?”

“I’ll try,” said Judy.

for a moment they stood there on the ice, facing each other, letting the soft winter wind rustle their clothes.

“Sam, I don’t want to forget who I am.”

“Then don’t,” Sam replied.

Judy smiled at him vaguely and started to skate on the ice again. She thought of the music box, and the song, and how it had always comforted her, and sang it to herself. 

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132 Reviews

Points: 10932
Reviews: 132

Wed Sep 01, 2021 7:39 pm
Valkyria wrote a review...

Hi Elinor!

Happy Review Month! Valkyria here with a review for the Checklist Challenge!

I thought this was a really sweet story with a hint of bitterness in it. I also love how simple the characters are. Their motivations are clear. Both Judy and Sam are well developed, and I cared about them and their relationship.

The choice of Auld Lang Syne is perfect, given the meaning behind the song. I like how it's brought back at the end of the story. However, I think it would be better if the song was playing as Judy was skating, and then she thought of the music box.

Overall, this was a great story!

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228 Reviews

Points: 20604
Reviews: 228

Sun Aug 01, 2021 9:50 am
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RandomTalks wrote a review...

Hey Elinor!

RandomTalks here with a review!

This was quite a beautiful story. It's short, it's a little melancholic and it gives you these wonderful winter feelings even while it's scorching outside. I really liked the introduction with the music box. You can tell that it is important to the character somehow and it has been with her for quite some time. She draws comfort from this object and it works quite well in the story with the way you tied it into the ending. It feels almost symbolic.

You have created quite a well developed character with Judy. Since you mentioned this is a work in progress, I thought that I wouldn't be able to connect to the characters somehow. But Judy's thoughts, worries, doubts and even her interactions with the other characters in the story were so genuine that you instantly get an idea of who she is as a person.

I especially liked the part where she was reflecting on whether she would fit into the world of spotlights and mirrors. She seemed excited about the idea, but the nagging doubts in the back of her mind made it more realistic. It is a big step for her, and she should be nervous.

For me a big part of the story was about identity. She feels that the life on stage would turn her into someone she wasn't, and her fear feels natural. She has a very new and daunting adventure ahead of her, and it might set her on the path of success and it might not. Her admission to Sam that she does not want to forget who she is puts her in a whole new light and allows us to connect to her and feel her vulnerability.

At times I felt that you could do with a little more description. You put so much thought in the main character and the way her mind works, that I think you shied away away from several points you could have explored. Like the night, the lake, the snow. It was all there. But I feel like there could have been more. Just an opinion though!

' “Don’t go,” Sam asked. “You don’t even like movies. And I love you, Judy.” '
This felt a little out of the blue for me. She was just skating and about to bump into him and it just felt a little sudden. Maybe you could include a bit of conversation at first to make it sound more natural? I liked the fact that she rejected him though. From the beginning it was clear that she wasn't romantically interested in him, and that the life on stage is what she desires. She knows what she wants and she won't get swayed until she is there. I think that is remarkable.

' “Do you think you’ll be back by then?”“I should be,” said Judy. '
This part feels a little clumsy. Break Judy's reply into a different paragraph so that it reads:

' "Do you think you'll be back by then?"

"I should be," said Judy. '

Overall this was a really good story. And it works quite well as a stand alone piece, so in case you were worried, don't! This was great.

That's all for today. Hope you have a great day and keep writing!

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767 Reviews

Points: 80583
Reviews: 767

Sun Aug 01, 2021 8:40 am
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MailicedeNamedy wrote a review...

Hi Elinor,

Mailice here with a short review! :D

At first glance, I like your background story and how you have presented it. You could get a good picture of the characters and what's bothering them from the text, even without any further information. I think it's a good theme and already gives a motive for Judy in your work-in-progress.

I think it's well done how the story jumps back and forth between reality and thoughts. It doesn't seem like a stall in the plot (as I think the main part is the thoughts and the unspoken words than now the visit to the pond. You can see that very well with your introduction, where you show a short sentence during an action, before it goes over to the lyrics and then more is said about the time and the events. I think you can get a clear picture of Judy from the lyrics alone.

The transition from her thoughts to Sam is also good, it seems like in a scene where she keeps the jukebox with her, and sinks, and then suddenly reappears because a certain thought has come.

You also get a great glimpse at the beginning of why she seems so pensive and melancholic; her departure for Los Angeles. On the one hand, she seems happy, but at the same time you write subliminally that it won't be easy for her and that there could be complications. Especially this conflict, that she has to change everything about herself, from her looks to her eyes, is an interesting statement, because it seems as if Judy is afraid of changing / losing her personality and her origins. Along with that, I thought it was good that you put her appearance in there so that the reader can imagine Judy better.

The conversation with her mother seems as if she is still absorbed, as if she is standing on a crossroad that has already been set but she is not yet sure whether she should go there. What I'm interested in is if skating is something she likes to do (or is a common recreational activity in Michigan; isn't it always so cold there and isn't the state spread out between the Great Lakes?). At the same time, I think it's a great metaphor to put that in because it feels to me like it's an example of her indecision coming up. She's thinking of going to Hollywood where it's warm, but then with that, the ice she's skating on melts. So she doesn't directly have anything to hold on to anymore.

I also really like the conversation between Sam and Judy. Again these doubts come up and it seems a bit like Sam is insisting that Judy makes the decision that will make him happier. But he doesn't come across as extremely pushy, but also tries to make it subliminal. Judy going back into thought when they are on the ice I think is a great ending, and also think that in conjunction with the last sentence where she is thinking of the melody of the jukebox it is a better distraction than just being on the ice. Maybe she longs to be back in the room with the jukebox, locked away, thinking.

I thought the narrative voice of the story was well split. It doesn't seem like it's coming directly from Judy, yet it's noticeable that the voice is coming from her direction. I also like the structure very much, except for some minor points which I mention below. Overall, I liked the quiet, somewhat sad and dark tone of the story. (I feel like there's not a lot of light in the story and the only bright thing is the snow that melts sometimes.) I think it's a great backstory for the WIP, and reads reasonably well as a short story on its own, just because your characters, especially Judy, are so diverse and so well portrayed.

Some other points that caught my eye:

“I should be,” said Judy.
A moment later, Sam knocked at the door.

I find the transition here a little too blurred and strange. Judy was just talking to her mother and immediately afterwards Sam knocks. It seems like everything is frozen. Where is the mother? Is she still standing there? What is Judy doing? What does she feel? Joy or sadness? I think you could definitely make the transition a little smoother, like you did with the other transitions.

Judy took them from the foyer, and Sam helped her with her coat.
The drive to the pond was short and quiet,

I would make a bigger space between the two paragraphs so that you notice that the location has changed. It also looks a bit clunky here.

Yet, one Andrew Armstrong had been in the audience. Visiting his sister in Detroit. But wanted to find new talent while he could. Talent for his new studio. Had she ever thought about being in pictures? He’d make her famous… he’d take her out to Los Angeles, to do a screen test, but that would mostly be a formality.

On the one hand, I like the description here of how Mr. Armstrong first saw Judy. I also liked that you used shorter sentences to build up the tension. Unlike the other paragraph where you talk more about her dream of Hollywood (which I think is also a great tension, think of all the souls who have travelled there to become famous and never heard from again), this one is in a very different writing style. I wouldn't say you have to change everything, but I think sentences like "Visiting his sister in Detroit." can be expanded and connected. Afterwards, when the focus goes back to Judy, I like that a question is thrown in and the sentences lengthen.

for a moment they stood there on the ice,

Here is only the “for” written in lower case.

Have fun writing!


Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.
— William James