Timing is Everything


Timing is Everything

Theatre turns lies into truth—and truth-sayers into liars. Not everyone is cut out for this business, so it surprised me to see my old thespian roommate Joan at Sardi’s that rainy January night in 1936. Sardi’s is that legendary haunt for the after-theatre crowd eager to glimpse someone famous. Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart were rumored to be in New York to promote their Hollywood picture, The Petrified Forest.

When I stepped out of the yellow and black checkered cab, exposing a silk-stockinged leg, I knew the place would be in high gear. Whiffs of porterhouse steaks and bursts of laughter emanated from the dining room adorned with framed caricatures of celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn—and one day, perhaps, yours truly. People inside that coveted room engage in Broadway’s latest gossip, smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes, and raise Martinis and Manhattans in endless toasts.

Blind Alley had just closed its successful Broadway run, and I planned to congratulate—and surprise—Douglas, a co-producer, considering me for a romantic lead in his next play. I spotted Joan at the end of that iconic dark oak bar, eyeing her empty highball as if whomever had accompanied her had just left. She was still pretty if you care for that undiscovered look that gives a woman permission to wear less than the highest fashion and put on too much rouge. However, that Jean Harlow platinum-blond hairdo was so brash, it was as if I was looking not at Joan Gregory—but at a flashbulb’s over-exposed photograph taken to attract my attention.

Two years ago, I slept with Douglas and got the part promised to Joan. In retrospect, it was inevitable that Joan and I would audition for that same promising off-Broadway role. However, once Douglas gave me the part, she shouldn’t have attended the West Village rehearsal. Her theatrics—confronting me on stage with harsh accusations and the back of her hand—were undignified and left me too shaken to attend the next day’s run-through.

But I’m not one to hold a grudge. I had no interest in dredging up the past or commenting upon my brilliant future, what with my Douglas becoming the lead producer of an exciting new Broadway drama. My desire to speak with Joan was simply to experience an ordinary exchange, since my life had few unscripted moments.

I waved to Max, the bartender. He winked and grabbed a bottle of rum to make my daiquiri with extra lime for added tartness.

“Joan,” I said, with a lilt to feign surprise, before taking the empty seat beside her.

“Lucille,” she replied sharply, once again drawing battle lines.

“How long has it been?” I said, both of us knowing it had been two years. “Funny, isn’t it, that I haven’t run into you at any auditions? But perhaps it’s because I rarely need to audition these days to land a role.”

“Or maybe, Lucille, we’re not auditioning for the same parts. Those character roles for older actresses must be so hard to come by,” Joan said.

I forced a faint snicker as I deftly tilted and twisted my head to see if anyone had overheard. A week ago, I’d plucked a gray hair. I was thirty-one, two years her senior, but a decade difference to some directors.

I stared at her glass. “Another?” Not ready to let her have the last line.

While Joan gave Max a flirtatious smile and her ruby nails tapped the glass, I noticed how her off-the-shoulder green velvet dress gave prominence to a single strand of pearls. Could she really not see how obvious costume jewelry was to the discerning eye?

“I heard you left the business for a while and worked at Macy’s? Now that couldn’t be true, could it?” I said with well-rehearsed dismay. “And such a shame, too, because you were so good.”

“Yes, I was, but timing is everything. You taught me that, Lucille.”

“I suppose I did,” I said, taking a long, satisfying sip.

“At least I didn’t lie on my back to pay the bills,” Joan said under her breath but still audible enough to divert Max’s attention.

I coughed as the liquid went down my throat the wrong way. I set my cocktail on the bar, and Joan gloated. If we’d been anywhere else, I might have returned the slap she’d given me. But I was a better woman than that. Instead, I stood and slowly ran my hands down my black satin dress to smooth an imaginary wrinkle, emphasizing my slimmer waist and more curvaceous hips to remind her exactly whom she was dealing with. Then I removed my compact to powder my nose as if I couldn’t be bothered with anything she had to say.

In the mirror, I spied Douglas, with his leading man good looks, enter Sardi’s and give a quick shake to his dark overcoat as he cast off drops with the casual fling of one brushing away an impudent fly. Yesterday, I’d called him to rekindle scintillating memories of our first night at the Plaza Hotel because even the most sophisticated on-again and off-again relationships need pleasant reminders. He smiled our way, but with lips that needed a moment to warm up. At first, I thought how unusual but then realized how awkward this situation must be; him seeing Joan after so long.

As Douglas approached, he said, “Lucille, I wasn’t expecting you. What a lovely surprise,” and kissed my cheek instead of my lips, obviously choosing a more chivalrous greeting with Joan there.

I was about to speak when Douglas took Joan’s hand. “Lucille, I’m afraid you and I will have to catch up later. Come, Joan.”

My mouth parted in a gape but quickly recovered into a starring-role smile. “Of course, darling,” I said, freezing my nonchalance as long as I could stomach watching Joan walk with Douglas into that bustling dining room.

Sardi’s front door opened to a howl of wind, and two giggling ingenues teetered in on their stilettos. They flanked a bald man with a white ascot who looped his arms through theirs as the maitre ‘d escorted the three of them, most likely, to a reserved maroon leather booth in the corner. The girls’ freshness smacked of having recently arrived from states like Nebraska, Ohio, or Kansas. I’d lost my Oklahoma roots a long time ago.

How long, I wondered, before disappointment turned them around to go back home, turned them toward a new profession, or turned them into me?

Max refilled my daiquiri without my asking.

Sylvia Schwartz

Sylvia Schwartz studied literary fiction at The Writers Studio and One Story in New York. Her stories have been published in Bright Flash Literary Review; Ariel Chart International Literary Journal; the Potato Soup Journal; Savant-Garde; The Write Launch; Bold + Italic Magazine; Bull & Cross; Edify Fiction; The Airgonaut; The Vignette Review; and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. Her work has been chosen for several anthologies and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Hoboken, NJ, and is an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. www.sylviaschwartz.com. Twitter: @aivlys99.


  1. Vivid in its depiction of the cattiness women can exude, but, at the same time, written to bring a sincere chuckle to the lips. Linda

  2. humorous and all too time. women don't need men as enemies there are plenty of women to deal with first.

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