Was that the moment Rose fell in love with Jonas? In later years, decades, centuries, that was the seed she traced it all back to. The moment when Jonas Cain — with a pinch of help from William Shakespeare — put words, poetry, to the feelings Rose had been pressing down all her life. Because the one time she’d let them roam free, she’d ruined everything.
She’d read them before, of course. If she hadn’t read King Lear, she wouldn’t have known of Edmund, and if she hadn’t known of Edmund, she never would have suggested that name to Irna. And if she’d never suggested that name to Irna, what would she and Mr. Cain be speaking about now?
She’d read the words before. But she’d never heard them uttered outside a well-meaning college professor who made as apt an Edmund as she did a Juliet or Puck. Rose had read the words, she’d heard the words recited. She’d never realized they were about her until they came undulating over the phone line at her office on the East Side of Manhattan.
Rose might have fallen in love with Jonas then and there. But the only thing she said at the time was, “Congratulations. You’ve got the job.”
Rose sent the standard contract to Mr. Cain’s agent, and was surprised when it was returned promptly, without a single change. She wondered if her new employee simply had bad representation — it was an agency she’d never dealt with before — or whether they were eager to see them countersigned before…before what?
What could they possibly be hiding? She’d heard the voice over the phone. That was all that mattered, and it couldn’t be faked. The worst Rose could conceive of was Jonas Cain was a pseudonym; he was already employed on another show which forbade him from performing on competing programs. But Rose felt certain that, if she’d heard that voice before, she’d have proven incapable of forgetting it.
On the morning he was scheduled to come in for his first broadcast, Rose made a point of not dressing any differently. It was just another day, after all. Long gone was the period when a chic autumn coat cost more than her weekly salary. Thanks to Irna’s generosity, Rose could now afford a closet full of crepe and taffeta tunic dresses with their touted slenderizing waists and straight three-gore skirts. She’d even paid extra to have the lapels and pockets dotted in tiny rhinestones, as was the current fashion. The only reason she chose the lightweight green over the navy fine-ribbed option was because the day was shaping up warm, and she didn’t want to overheat. It wasn’t because the white jabot of the latter made Rose appear older — she saved those for meetings with the sponsors — and the over bodice of the former brought out the hazel in her otherwise dull brown eyes. A pair of black Capezios with sharply pointed toe tips completed the ensemble. She opted for flatties. No reason to appear any taller than she needed to.
Because one thing that Rose had already braced herself for was the possibility of Jonas Cain being short. She had no idea why a disproportionate number of deep-voiced men seemed to be challenged in the height — and follicle — department. Maybe you needed to be a compressed entity to generate such a profound resonance. Rose told herself she didn’t wish to intimidate Mr. Cain by towering over him. Not on his first day.
“Jonas Cain is…” the voice of the unspeakably competent assistant Rose met the day of her interview and now knew to be named Hazel, that she was 24 years old, working to pay her husband, Ike’s, way through medical school, counting the days until she could quit and just be a normal wife and, hopefully soon, mother to a brood of baby Ikes, echoed through the intercom on Rose’s desk, “…he’s here.” In later years, Rose would wonder if her taking heed of the unusually long pause in Hazel’s announcement might have changed anything. Would she have been better prepared for what was to come? Might she have circumvented it in some way? Did she wish she had? Would she have wanted it any other way?
“Send him in,” Rose chirped, still oblivious to the message Hazel was trying to transmit.
“How do you do, Miss Janowitz? Jonas Cain, at your service.”
Rose had been in the process of rising to greet him. She’d just pressed her palms into the desktop, which came in handy when she nearly lurched forward, only stopping herself from plunging face first by the fact that her arms were already locked at the elbows.
She’d braced herself for Jonas Cain being short. She’d braced herself for him being ancient, him being a child half her age. She’d braced herself for his having a face Mama called “perfect for radio,” and a host of other deficiencies, as well.
She hadn’t braced herself for him being a Negro.
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!