“It’s that time of year again, folks! Time to move your family away from that dinner table and dust off the dinner trays and watch as Gardenville’s finest singers compete in the annual VOCE Idols competition. A three-hour showdown of talents hosted by last year’s winner, Babby Winters.

And just like last year, the committee has selected twenty contestants from your thousands of video auditions, and tonight, right here on channel three, those twenty contestants will battle it out for the chance to win the grand prize: a two-year record deal with Empress Records…”

Goldie Drave mutes the television and swivels her hands back to the piano keys. If she’s going to win, she needs to focus on nailing this song, not panicking over the fact that she’s going to sing before a real-life, living and breathing audience of people and not her phone’s camera.

Goldie’s performing experience consists of singing into a mic in her room and—after meticulous practice and edits to make sure only her best is shown to the world—uploading it to the internet. This is just slightly different.

There’s not going to be any do-over. She can’t stop and start a section over. And she’s not going to have the privacy of her four bedroom walls to protect her from her sudden bout of performance anxiety.

Why did I think I could do this? I was drunk. That’s the only explanation. Yep, definitely drunk.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Goldie’s cell rumbles across the plastic music stand attached to her keyboard with a new text from her sister.

Her little sister, Shaine, is on a mission to help her overcome her nerves. So far, she’s suggested wearing a helmet-mask “like those EDM DJs”, performing with the lights off, and yesterday, she suggested faking a stroke if things take a turn for the worse. So, Goldie’s a little wary of the contents of this new message.

New message: Lil’ Sis

“Found the solution to your problem. Meet me at that divey bar on Kaufman/32nd.. .pink one you call Pepto’s Palace. Not here in ten minutes I’m coming for you.” Attached to the message is a GIF of a woman pointing her two fingers at her eyes then at the camera saying, “I’m watching you”.

“Time to face my doom.” Goldie’s stool squeaks its protest as she turns and slides off the seat to leave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Goldie squeezes her eyes shut for a second to help her acclimate to the stale, dark of the Kickback Lounge’s interior. Blinking furiously, she opens her eyes in time to see Shaine’s frantic, yet subtle wave of her wrist, beckoning Goldie closer.

“Ey, Mikey. Gimme another Jack.” A leathery-faced woman tosses back the last dregs of the drink in her hand.

“The name’s still Mark. You ever going to remember that, Marmie?” The bartender pours Jack Daniels into a glass with just a spritz of Coke to finish and slides it into Marmie’s hands.

Goldie sits in the seat between her sister and the older woman. Not by choice, but by the careful herding of Shaine’s hand pushing her will at the small of Goldie’s back. She perches on the edge of her barstool, in a failed attempt to maintain space.

“Marmie, this is my sister Goldie. The one I was telling you about, remember?” Shaine talks to Marmie like the adult children who visit their parents in a nursing home—loud and slowly, as if she’s forgotten her hearing aids.

“The pipes. Yeah, I’m not that gone yet, sug’. I haven’t lost my memory, yet. And before you go and get salty, Mark, it’s only ‘cause you’re so cute when you get frustrated. And an old woman needs her entertainment.”

Okay…maybe she’s not as haggard as I initially thought.

“So, your sister here says you’ve got the performance jitters.” Goldie blushes at Marmie’s assessment. “Now, I know I might not look it now, but at one time I was a practicing Godmother.”

“What, like in fairytales?” Goldie doesn’t hide the skepticism from her voice.

“As a matter of fact, yes. Did Mikey or Shaine ever tell you about the time I almost got assigned Godmother to Cinderella?” Goldie looks at her sister, begging for some assistance, before slowly shaking her head.

Marmie states her surprise, “No?” Hiccup! “Oh, well that’s entirely shocking seeing as I’m a bitter old woman who can’t seem to let it go.” Hiccup!

“Well, this is my first time in Kicking Lounge”, Goldie clarifies.

“But that’s why I called her down here,” Shaine jumps in, “because I knew with your skill set, you could help my sister with her little problem.”

Marmie’s right eyebrow tweaks up her forehead as she looks at the three faces across from her. Hiccup! Seeing neither encouragement nor deterrent to share her story, she launches into her tale.

“It’s true. I was once almost chosen to be the famous godmother of Cinderella. You know…hiccup…that blonde broad from France.” Marmie waits to continue her story until the trio nods their understanding.

“Anyway, it was down to two Godmothers: me and that tart, Stella Baumgarten. Obviously, I’m not here looking like a piece of worn cowhide raw from too much attention from a cat’s tongue because I was picked. Nope, it went to Stella Baumgarten.”

Hiccup!

If Marmie’s hiccups were contractions, she’d be about five minutes from popping out a baby. Goldie covers her lips to hide the smirk her thoughts trigger.

“All because I forgot to remove the tails when I turned the mice into coachmen. I mean, it’s not like that would have prevented her from attending the ball. Am I right?” Marmie once again looks from one person to the other, awaiting validation for her defense.

Shaine’s the first to speak up, “Of course not. Tail or not, the important thing was that your charge—Cinderella—would have arrived on time for that ball.” Shaine looks to the others trapped by the musings of this self-proclaimed washed-up Godmother, and silently coerces their cooperation.

“Oh, yeah, no…totally would have been a tolerable choice as her Godmother.” Chimes in Mark. Followed immediately by Goldie’s “you woulda been a decent option”. Yet, these backhanded affirmations are enough to encourage Marmie.

“That’s exactly what I said. Plus, my spells don’t wear off in six hours like our precious Stella’s pristine work. But in the end, it went to her.” Marmie downs her current drink and wags the glass at Mark.

While he fetches the refill Goldie finally speaks her mind. “Not to be a Doubting Thomas or anything, but until this moment, I’d assumed “Cinderella” was just a story. So, it’s a bit of a stretch for me—” Suddenly, Marmie whips out what looks like a glass wand (one in desperate need of a polishing).

“It’s alright, toots. I wouldn’t believe it myself—hiccup—but I’ll show ya.” Marmie wags her wand in what looks like it should be a circle but comes out more like a half-square attached to a rounded triangle. Then she starts her conjuring, ‘Zippity, zappity, zoopity, zop. When you sing calm will start, worries will stop.” With her final wand-flick, Marmie boops Goldie on the nose.

Startled by an electric zap as the wand connects with her skin, Goldie jumps out of her stool and lands with a thud on the floor. “Oh, should’a warned ya that there’s sometimes a—hiccup—slight tingle.”

“I wouldn’t categorize that as a slight tingle”, Goldie pops back up to her feet and faces her three companions. “So, how does shocking me prove you’re a Godmother?”

“Go ahead, hum a few bars of your song”, Marmie wears a smug expression as if she just saved Goldie’s life.

And sure enough, all it takes is humming the opening three bars of her song, and Goldie feels a warmness that starts in her belly and relaxes each muscle in her body. Even Shaine and Mark seem more relaxed by her singing.

Miraculously, Marmie’s mumbling seems to do the trick. “I take back all of my doubts, Marmie, you really are a Godmother with skill.” Goldie’s praise perks the rough-edged woman up.

“Well, that is most pleasing to hear”, Marmie’s all but glowing at her words, “but enough about that, I think it’s best we get you over to the concert hall before people start thinking you’re not gonna perform. And I did not just offer up my services for you to watch from the sidelines.”

Her decision made, Marmie hops off her stool—with more energy than she’s shown all afternoon—grabs the two sisters’ hands, winks at Mark, and struts the three of them outside to flag down a cab.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, for the next contestant. She started making music and teaching music composition three years ago on her website, Golden Harp. And tonight, she’s gracing us with an original lullaby. It is my pleasure to introduce you to this evening’s final performer, Goldie Drave.

From the wings of the stage Goldie can hear the crowd’s cheers and applause. She hesitates, feeling her nerves tighten their hold on her throat. She looks out to the audience for her sister, Shaine’s the most enthusiastic, giving a standing ovation before Goldie’s even stepped onto the stage.

She takes a deep breath and hums a couple of notes. The power of Marmie’s magic propels Goldie to the awaiting mic and as she cues the piano player, a smile stretches across her face.

Let’s do this.

Goldie’s voice shimmers and floats from her chest to the ears of each person that sits before her. Enraptured by the pureness of her voice, their eyes close one by one. Unable to do anything but listen.

It’s working! Goldie relaxes even more as the melody cascades from her lips, like a wave of serenity, the more she sings, the calmer she becomes. She shuts her eyes, overwhelmed with the joy that fills her.

And the audience responds likewise, sitting in contented peace. Not a single cough, seat-shift, or word is spoken—even the piano player ceases his playing as he listens to the remnants of her lullaby fade from the room.

Eyes still closed, Goldie releases the breath she’s unknowingly been holding and dips her chin down to peak at the silent audience. The spotlight from the back of the auditorium does its job just a little too well, making it difficult for Goldie to see the smiles she hopes are awaiting her.

Slowly she’s able to make out the closest rows to the stage and what greets her are three rows of bowed heads. Not a single person’s attention on the stage. She turns to her accompanist, but it’s the same, all she sees is his shining bald spot reflecting in the stage lights.

              Are they crying? Did they like it?

And that’s when she hears it. The softest chorus of wispy snores echo around the auditorium.

Shock and embarrassment freeze Goldie to the stage. She stares at the void, watching this unexpected reception of her song.

After a moment, Marmie’s gravel-husky voice in the far back sighs, “Well, shit.”