Art by John Turck @ johnturck.tumblr.com
Morty stared at Sophia, his eight-month old daughter; her face covered in makeup, as he bounced her on his knee, and tried to keep her from getting overwhelmed by the swirling pace of activity. A chubby man in a smock applied his wife’s lip gloss, and workers set up the lights on the set. Sophia looked back up at him and gave a toothless smile. She’d been crying less, but had only just learned to sit up on her own. Morty knew that the tantrum could come at any time, so he let her whip her head around and look at everything in the room. She pulled her tiny hand up and started sucking on her fingers.
“Don’t let her do that.”
Morty looked up and saw the make up artist glaring into his eyes.
“She’ll rub her makeup off.”
He still wasn’t used to seeing his daughter in makeup.
“Sorry,” his wife repeated to the makeup artist. Catherine said it with a forced smile that Morty had seen thousands of times before. Her honest mistake face.
An assistant asked Morty if he wanted a bottle of water.
“No. Thank you, I’m fine.”
He always loved his wife’s smile. It was a face that turned on for the camera, as if she liked having her picture taken. Not at all like his awkward mouth that came off as a sneer. The greatest gift he’d given his daughter to this point, was not passing along any of his looks.
The “father” was having his makeup done somewhere else, and Morty tried to look around to see where he was. He’d only seen his head shots once before, and still couldn’t figure out how somebody so generically handsome had thought to get into commercial modeling.
The impatient photographer walked back and asked, “Sergei, are they ready?”
The chubby makeup artist, held a finger up and finished the last of his brush strokes before standing back and pursing his lips while he appraised Catherine.
“Okay, can you make sure you don’t touch anything?”
She nodded without saying a word.
“You can talk, honey. Just don’t touch the face.”
Morty walked over to her side with Sophia in his arm. She smiled and said, “You know we should get some family shots after this. I don’t want anybody getting confused about the father.” She said it with a laugh, and stroked her husband’s arm. “How do I look?”
“Like a regular model.”
“Please. She’s the star,” she said, while pointing to Sophia. “Her first words are probably going to be, ‘Mommy, find your angle.’” She looked at Morty. “What’s wrong?”
He wanted to tell her ‘nothing’ but knew she wouldn’t stop pressing. “I still don’t like putting her to work.”
“She’s not a child star, okay. It’s a couple of print ads. The money goes to her college fund.”
“She’s just working her way through college?”
“Stop.” She pointed her finger and stared at him with a wide eyed alertness. “Unless you’ve got a big raise coming that I’m unaware of.”
Morty shook his head, and took another look around to see if anybody had overheard their exchange. He smiled and spoke just above a whisper. “And you’re just doing this for her college fund as well?”
She smiled so that little lines formed and pointed toward her nose. “Confession?”
“This is kind of fun. Jealous?”
Morty gave his warmest. “Who wouldn’t be?”
He looked down to Sophia, still looking at her hand with furrowed brows. He realized that every father thinks his kids are the most beautiful creation, but how many had been contacted by a scout? And how many booked steady work?
“Excuse me, ma’am. They’re ready for you and your daughter.”
Morty went in for a kiss, but was given Catherine’s hand. “Gotta protect the face, honey.”
“I’m taking us on vacation with the money from this shoot. My treat.”
“I thought this was for her college.”
“That’s her cut. Mine goes to vacation.”
Morty managed to smile for a second and patted her on the butt as she turned her head around and stuck her tongue out at her husband, while walking away.
He stood along the back wall, trying his best to be out of the way of the lights and the cords. The photographer said something softly in Catherine’s ear, and Morty could see her smile and cock her head to the side. The “father,” was a man named Kevin, who shook her hand and then picked Sophia up out of her hands, and held her high above his head getting a good look at her curious face. He was taller than Morty had pictured in his mind. Maybe 6’4”, and broad shouldered.
“Okay, I want a tight shot of the three of you. Get in close. Mom, hold the baby up so that she’s looking at dad.”
A series of clicks went off in rapid fire, and then stopped while the photographer quickly looked down into his viewfinder. Sophia still hadn’t changed her guarded expression, staring questioningly at the new man pretending to be her father. Morty thought about the last trip to her families for Memorial Day, when everybody said she had eyes only for her daddy. They were being polite of course. She’d smiled at her mom all day long, but she’d already gotten all of Catherine’s looks, and Morty guessed they were trying to give him something to feel good about.
“Can you do something to get her to smile?”
Morty thought about the hip shaking dance that would always get a quick smile, but stayed quiet along the back wall.
The new dad smiled and walked closer.
“Lemme try something. Can I…?”
Catherine once again handed her baby over, and Kevin held her so that her back was to his chest, and then he started blowing raspberries on the back of her neck and her ears, until the baby squealed in delight.
Catherine reflected her baby’s euphoria and started tickling her sides with her fingertips.
“Did we just learn a new trick?”
The photographer started snapping pictures again. The initial awkwardness that his wife or daughter might have shown Kevin was gone. They improvised with different positions, where Kevin would lie on his back and hold the girl up so that she could have drooled directly into his face that way she had nailed her dad so many times.
They looked natural. He realized that Sophie had Kevin’s mouth. Underneath that beard of his, Kevin and his daughter shared a smile. His guess was that they would have wanted the family to look organic, so Kevin was must have been cast because he shared a few of the same features. But it was tough seeing them together.
He had to remind himself that of course Kevin looked more natural in the role. If he hadn’t they would have cast Morty. But now he realized that what this meant. These people were selling a lifestyle, and these three people represented the happy ending to an untold love story. When customers chose between cable providers or dish networks, they’d see this image of the three happy people, and they’d choose cable. And deep down Morty felt as though he would always be the dirty truth.
“Okay, I think we’ve got it.”
The shoot was over. Morty looked down at his watch and noticed that they’d spent two hours shooting. He stayed on that back wall while Kevin gave his wife a friendly hug, and handed Sophia over, thumbing her nose and giving her one last wave, as if he were going to work.
Catherine jiggled Sophia in her arms and walked over to Morty with a smile on her face.
“See, honey? Easy money.”
Morty smiled as he Sophia in his arms, and pressed his ugly hooked beak into her tiny button nose.
“You’d better get into a really good school.”