The picture session ended up occupying most of the afternoon and into the evening. The photographer they’d hired, one who’d shot dozens of stills for them previously, seemed unable — or unwilling — to give Rose what she asked for. He claimed the lighting was wrong, he claimed the costuming was wrong. The only thing he didn’t claim — out loud — was that the subject was wrong. Since it had been Hazel’s idea, she repeatedly tried to demonstrate what they had in mind. The photographer dismissed her setups as unworkable. After three hours of back and forth, during which Jonas might as well have been a mannequin for all the consideration the photographer showed him, Rose dismissed the man and turned to Hazel, “Would you like to do this shoot, instead?”
Rose realized she perhaps should have made this inquiry prior to firing the photographer, but there was a reason Rose worked in live radio and not film. She preferred tackling problems as they came up, making decisions on the spot, and adjusting to the consequences as she went along rather than painstakingly plotting out each move in advance, anticipating every eventuality. Where was the surprise in that? Where was the fun? Mama would say Rose lived her personal, not just her professional, life in the same manner. Mama was right. And no fun.
The way Hazel’s chin bounced up at the suggestion, the way her eyes widened, and she pressed both hands to her chest, mouth forming a delighted circle, suggested that Hazel would very much like to do this shoot. But then her gaze shifted to the clock on the wall. A wrinkle split her forehead, and her front teeth snagged her lower lip.
“I’m so sorry, Hazel. I didn’t realize the time.” Hazel was an extraordinary assistant. So efficient because she made sure to get every lick of work done before 5 PM, stepping out on the dot and catching the subway to Washington Heights, greeting her husband with freshly prepared dinner after his grueling day of medical school. If there was work still to be done, she did it from home, after Ike had gone to bed — he needed his rest! She’d even set up her phone line so she could connect Irna and Rose, and join in any last-minute conferences.
Hazel’s eyes drifted from the clock to her watch in the faint hope of receiving a different verdict. No such luck.
“You go on ahead,” Rose urged, “we’ll make do.”
“Thank you for your assistance today,” Jonas added. “It was much appreciated.”
Hazel’s square-heeled, white Emma Jetticks shoes were pointed towards the door. But her eyes couldn’t quite detach from the Rolleiflex camera, the kind Margaret Bourke-White had reportedly rescued and used after her ship was sunk in the middle of the night while covering the North African campaign of World War 2. It was the camera of heroines.
Hazel reached for it, whispering, more to herself than to Rose or Jonas, “Ike’s constantly calling to say he’s being held up at work. It should be fine for me to do it just once….”
Rose sent the photographs to be developed, gave Hazel money for a taxi home so she might arrive faster, and somehow found herself walking out of the studio alongside Jonas, who tipped his hat to the security guard as they exited.
The sun had set. Rose was accustomed to clocking out this late, but Jonas had stayed long past his call time.
“Was there somewhere you need to be?” Rose inquired, to indicate she recognized he’d gone above and beyond. “Is someone waiting for you?” She struggled not to sound as curious as she felt. It was none of her business.
Jonas shook his head.
“You’ve missed dinner,” Rose said. Because stating the obvious was safer than stating what she desperately hoped wasn’t equally as obvious.
“Shall we?” Jonas offered her his arm.
Was he asking her out? Was he offering to escort her…somewhere?
Rose didn’t know. Rose didn’t care. Rose linked her elbow through his and told Jonas what she’d been dying to tell him from the first moment. “Let’s.”
New York City, Manhattan, in particular, delighted in their sophisticated, enlightened ethos. They clutched their pearls when talking about those backward people down South and their horrid Jim Crow laws. They sent generous donations to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to strike down cloture practices. They agreed that Marian Anderson should absolutely be allowed to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. As soon as Maestro Rudolf Bing found an appropriate role for her. There were so few. A shame, truly, as she was so talented.
When Jonas walked into the French restaurant around the corner from The Guiding Light’s East Side studio, the maître d’ took in the cut of his suit, the make of his hat, the brand of his shoes, and approvingly reached for a menu. When he spied Rose, he asked whether the gentleman would object to his seating the lady first.
“We’re together,” Jonas said.
That was the end of their chit-chat. Rose and Jonas were walked to a table furthest from the bay windows, left to pull out their own chairs and unfurl their own napkins. Jonas performed the former task for Rose, letting her sit with her back to the wall, leaving himself the seat with its back to the rest of the dining room. The most awkward position, Rose knew from experience. She nearly started fidgeting in discomfort for him, knowing how strange it felt to be watched but unable to look back or to glimpse much of anything. Images were constantly darting through your peripheral vision, triggering a fight or flight response that sped up Rose’s heartbeat. And she wasn’t even experiencing the worst of it. Yet Jonas’s features remained as placid as ever.
They waited for someone jauntily dressed to take their order. When no one volunteered, Jonas raised his arm, a single finger extended. Because of where they’d been placed, right next to the kitchen, his gesture was impossible to miss. It forced every single figure passing directly by them to deliberately avert their eyes and scurry onward. Every time a fellow patron looked towards the doors, they caught sight of the preposterous scene, which drew more attention to a situation the management clearly wanted to avoid.
Realizing it was in their best interests to serve and get Jonas and Rose out as soon as possible rather than prolong their presence, a sacrificial waiter was sent in to ask what they wanted. He tried to take their drink, appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert order all in one go. Jonas wondered what Rose would like to drink. She asked for a martini. Jonas said he would have the same. He told the waiter to come back for the rest after they’d been served. The waiter looked helplessly at the maître d’, who gave a brusk shake of the head and gestured for him to get to the bar and make it snappy. He glowered Jonas’s way.
It made Rose want to giggle.
It was all so ridiculous. Jonas was making them look like fools simply by acting like a regular customer. He had them flustered, all but taking orders from him, when, in the beginning, they’d been the ones attempting to make him feel like an interloper.
The realization sobered Rose up. Here she was, laughing at their blundering when the reason for it was Jonas’s unwanted presence. Jonas’s color. Jonas. Jonas and her. She snuck a peek his way, dreading the censure she expected to see. But there was nothing. No change. No hint of perturbation. No hint that he’d even noticed anything was awry.
“How do you do it?” Rose wondered in awe. “That under-5 on your first day of work? The photographer earlier? Now this? How do you stay so — so unbothered? When I get disrespected — when the waiter asks my date what I want to order, when they hand the man I’m with the bill though I’m the one paying, when the show executives talk to the stage manager instead of to Irna or me — I get livid. I can barely control myself!”
“A beautiful woman who can barely control herself is exhilarating,” Jonas said. “A colored man who raises his voice — who raises so much as an eyebrow — is a threat. A villain. A thug.”
Rose understood that she should be focusing on what Jonas was trying to tell her. It was very interesting and insightful. But had he called her beautiful?
To start Go On Pretending at the beginning, click here.
Alina Adams is the New York Times best-selling author of the As the World Turns tie-ins, Oakdale Confidential and The Man From Oakdale, and Guiding Light’s Jonathan’s Story. Check out her new historical fiction, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region, out now!