Authors: Charlotte Silver
t six o’clock sharp, the alarm clock rang. Cassandra got out of bed first. Sylvie, sans iced Americano and nursing her now-bandaged thumb, refused to budge. Finally: “You go,” she commanded Cassandra. “You go drag the table down to the corner and start setting up. I’ll join you.”
Drag the table? Drag the table on her own? This was not, so far, a promising start to the day. But I have to do it, she told herself regretfully. I promised Sylvie I would help.
So Cassandra dragged the table all the way down DeKalb Avenue, until she got to the corner of Fort Greene Park. She set up the table and draped one of Sylvie’s vintage tablecloths over it. The tablecloth was gray velveteen laced with a pattern of coral-colored roses and, the girls had agreed, very chic.
Some time passed, and Sylvie appeared struggling with untold numbers of Whole Foods tote bags. For such a small person, Cassandra never failed to marvel at how much stuff she could carry.
“Let me decorate,” said Sylvie, budging Cassandra out of the way and beginning to readjust the tablecloth. “I have this really specific vision in mind.”
“Maybe I’ll go get us coffee then,” Cassandra suggested, yawning.
Ordinarily this would have appealed to Sylvie, except that she had gotten an iced Americano for herself and polished it off already. So instead it irritated her that this early in the day Cassandra already was asking to take a break and she worried about the quality of her work ethic.
“Yeah, but I was thinking you could make us some signage, like to post around the neighborhood. I brought some paper and some pastel charcoals. Don’t you think that’ll be pretty? Here.” And then, much to Cassandra’s dismay, she reached into one of the tote bags and procured arts-and-crafts supplies. Even as a child, Cassandra had been deathly bored by such things.
“You can draw, like, cupcakes or something. Be creative. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s really pretty!”
Glumly Cassandra took a piece of paper and a stick of pink chalk and tried to draw a cupcake. God, it was all coming back to her now, she thought, remembering the dusty, dismal art classes of elementary school. She had always hated getting her hands dirty. At this rate, her fingers were going to have pink chalk on them all day.
And Sylvie, glancing down at Cassandra’s drawing, thought: Next time she’d hire some unemployed art school students to make signs. Clementine can draw a more realistic-looking cupcake than that. Clementine was two.
“When is Gala coming again?” asked Cassandra. Gala Gubelman also lived in Fort Greene these days and had said that she would help out.
“Oh God, that reminds me, I have to text her to remind her. You know how it is with Gala. She’ll probably wake up in some random guy’s scuzzy bed out in Bushwick or somewhere and forget all about it.”
“Bushwick. Christ! Are people living in Bushwick now, too?”
“Cassandra! People are living everywhere.”
“Speaking of Gala, I was doing some calculations in my head, and if, like, every other guy she’s had sex with in Brooklyn bought a glass of lemonade from us, we’d be making a killing.”
“By the way. Is Gala sex-positive or just plain slutty, do you think? I’ve never quite gotten a handle on the distinction, myself.”
“I think that the idea behind being sex-positive is, you own being slutty. Like, you reclaim the word.”
“Oh. Kind of like black people reclaiming the n-word.”
“But I hate the words
. To me they’re not even sexy.”
“That’s because you don’t think anything positive is sexy, Cassandra. You’re a fatalist, Cassandra.”
“I am a fatalist! I’m a
fatalist. And I’m proud of it.”
“Well, there you have it. And Gala’s proud of being a slut, so you two are even.”
The morning passed with a discouraging absence of briskness. There were only a handful of sales. Sylvie fretted to Cassandra about “making a return on my investment.” Gala, at long last, appeared around noon, and Cassandra was happy to see her because for some reason it seemed to be tough going today, talking to Sylvie. She was acting
all of a sudden.
“Oh my God,” breathed Gala, obviously hungover and wobbling on a pair of red patent-leather platforms, far better suited to Friday night than Saturday morning, “that guy was such an asshole.”
“What guy?” asked Cassandra.
“The guy I spent the night with, stupid. I never did catch his name. But he was really bad in bed because I didn’t even get off and—”
“And you get off with everybody,” supplied Sylvie.
“Really, like everybody! With me, it doesn’t take all that much. But this guy! Well, what was I thinking? I let him pick me up on the G train.”
“Oh,” said Sylvie and Cassandra together, in sympathy, “the G train.”
They exchanged a private glance, both of them thinking how much fun it was going to be to gossip and complain about Gala’s antics afterward.
“But he was kind of cute in that, like, sensitive Brooklyn way I go for…”
“Why do you go for that?” Cassandra wanted to know. “Why do you think that is cute?”
“I just do! I always have.”
“That’s right. I guess that’s why you were one of the few girls who always got laid at Bennington.”
“All the time!”
“And she even got off,” added Sylvie.
Cassandra asked her: “Did you ever go to bed with Kojo?”
“The black guy. The one who played Mercutio in
Romeo in the Hood
“Oh, no, I didn’t go to bed with him. I went to bed with the other one.”
“The other what?” asked Sylvie, starting to think that Cassandra and Gala, in tandem, were rather a trying combination. It was not lost on her that the two of them had this in common: both high-strung by nature, they were unusually sensitive to having migraines and multiple orgasms.
“The other black guy at Bennington,” Gala said. “There were two of them, remember? The one I had a thing with was called Manu. I think that’s a Ghanian name or something, but I don’t know, I’m pretty sure he was only from the Bronx. They, like, bussed him and Kojo in. Have either of you ever been with a black guy?”
“No,” said Sylvie.
“No,” echoed Cassandra.
“Cassandra here only ever goes for sadistic upper-class assholes. All is forgiven assuming they went to Harvard.”
“Oh,” said Gala sorrowfully, “preppies.” And then: “Oh God, where are the cupcakes? Do you think I could have one for breakfast, Sylvie? I’m sooo hungry,” she moaned.
And then Cassandra, drinking in the glorious sight of the easily orgasmic Gala eating one of Sylvie’s red velvet cupcakes and licking pink frosting from her fingertips, wondered not for the first time why such a piece of woman should be wasted on the skinny lads of this outer borough. This morning she was stuffed into a purple leotard dress from American Apparel. Sylvie, checking out her boobs, seized on the idea that another way to make money might be to hold a wet T-shirt contest with all of her hottest friends in it and charge admission…
She handed Gala a piece of paper and some pastels and told her to get to work making signs. Hers would be sure to be better than Cassandra’s, at least. But Gala, after a few bored strokes of chalk, crumpled up the piece of paper and turned to Cassandra and said: “So. How many guys do you think you’re going to sleep with during your first year in New York? Everybody sleeps with so many new guys their first year in New York.”
“Oh. Do they? But I have a boyfriend, remember.”
“Whatever, Cassandra,” piped in Sylvie. “Listen to you! I thought you didn’t believe in monogamy.”
“It’s never worked out for me. And guys have a way of being, like, so possessive. Remember when I slept with the bass player in Orpheus’s band?” Gala asked, tapping Sylvie on the arm. “And he
on my pillow.”
“How very animal kingdom,” said Cassandra, impressed.
“Well, in theory I don’t necessarily believe in monogamy. But in practice…Actually there is someone I’m thinking of having an affair with.”
? Nobody has affairs anymore.”
“No, they just hook up.”
“Oh, so it’s just my language you’re saying is old-fashioned—”
“I feel like it’s the whole idea, too.
just sounds so formal or something. Sex today is so casual. There’s none of that, Oh my darling, let me send you a dozen red roses and meet you in a midtown hotel bullshit. You want someone, you just text them. It’s, like, instant.”
“You think this development is a good thing, though? I want red roses! I want to meet up in a hotel in midtown!”
“Midtown? Midtown, Cassandra? I was just saying that to make fun of how outdated the whole idea is. I wouldn’t be caught dead. Anyway. There’re really not that many reasons left to go into Manhattan at all anymore. I’m happier staying in Brooklyn.”
“Oh, so you’d be above meeting a man at the Pierre, would you?”
“What the hell is the Pierre?”
“Well. Maybe you’ve heard of the Plaza?”
“Of course I have, but come on now, Cassandra. How romantic could it be? Everyone knows it’s owned by Donald Trump!”
Then Sylvie, ever alert to her surroundings, saw a father and his little boy approaching and whispered, “Oh my God, customers!”
ll three young women now rose and straightened their shoulders.
“Hello,” said Sylvie firmly.
“Good morning,” said Cassandra more firmly still, though it was not, technically, the morning anymore.
“Hey,” was all Gala could manage, in a thick, silky purr.
“Do you have sandwiches?” the father asked.
The girls were crestfallen. Sylvie began to run through the other options briskly.
“Daddy, I want a cupcake,” whimpered the little boy.
“But, August, it’s lunchtime. First I have to find you a sandwich or something. Your mother would kill me.”
“We’ll be back,” the father said, scooping the little boy up into his arms. “But hey, I think I’ll have one of those iced teas. You have hibiscus? Oh, good.”
An impulse buy, thought Sylvie. Good! I was counting on those.
But all Cassandra could think, getting bored with the lemonade stand already, was: What grown man gets so excited about hibiscus?
She was starting to grow weary of Brooklyn, in its present-day faux-folksy incarnation. Since no way could she afford to live in Manhattan, she sure hoped that Edward would propose soon and then she could go and live in Philadelphia, where you could get someplace elegant in Rittenhouse Square for, comparatively speaking, very little money.
After the little boy and his father left, Sylvie turned to her friends and announced: “Well, that was very useful market research.”
“What was?” asked Cassandra.
“What he said about coming back later, to get that kid a cupcake. Maybe the problem is we set up shop too early. It’s in the afternoon when your blood sugar crashes and you need a pick-me-up. I should have thought of that earlier. I think things are going to pick up after lunch! Now. How are we doing on those signs?
You can’t just keep crumpling up the paper. Art supplies cost money, you know.”
“But I’m not happy with the way my drawings are turning out. I don’t think I’ve done an art project since Bennington.”
“I didn’t even do them at Bennington,” said Cassandra. “I was an English major.”
Christ, thought Sylvie, reaching for a piece of paper and starting to make a sign herself. Was she going to have to do absolutely everything around here?
After lunch, the day got hot and business picked up. Sylvie, sniffing a profit, announced: “Okay, you two. I’m going to stay here and watch the lemonade. I want you to go stand at that corner with a tray of cupcakes.” She pointed. “I feel like we need to diversify our locations.”
“Diversify our locations” was eerie language to Cassandra, to whom business-speak of any kind was utterly foreign. Was Sylvie, like,
about this thing? she wondered. But if that was the case, would she expect her to stand on a street corner in Brooklyn wearing a vintage apron and hawking lemonade every goddamn Saturday? But so many weekends would find her in Philadelphia with Edward, attending black-tie events and concerts on his arm. Didn’t Sylvie understand? The lemonade stand was cute and all, and it would be heaven if it brought in a little bit of cash flow. Lingerie money, Cassandra was thinking, remembering Edward.
But nevertheless Cassandra and Gala went and stood on the corner, clutching trays of cupcakes in their hands with rather frozen-looking smiles on their faces. Sylvie had been right to diversify their locations. Business was good, so good that Gala had to run to get change at a bodega across the street. As it happened, the owner of the bodega had spent the better part of the afternoon taking a smoke break outside and lapping up the pleasant sight of the two buxom girls, especially the brunette in the red patent-leather platforms, standing there with the trays of cupcakes. Now here was a view he could get used to. When he saw the brunette coming, he went inside and got behind the counter.
“Hey, could we have change?” asked Gala, handing him a couple of twenties.
He made change and slowly surveying her deep cleavage asked her: “So. How is business going today?”
“Great!” exclaimed Gala, suddenly excited to be caught up in a rogue operation like the lemonade stand. Plus, the bodega-guy was Guatemalan, and not for nothing had she learned to speak Spanish. She just loved the feeling of hitting it off with people from other cultures. It made her feel like such a nice person. “My friends and I just started this lemonade and cupcake business. I’ll bring you a cupcake later on, promise.”
Gala left the bodega and joined Cassandra back on the corner. A big rattling old electric blue shit-box of a car drove by and stopped. The girls smelled pot. Gala, being, like Sylvie, a pothead, stopped to breathe it in.
“Hey, those cupcakes you got there?” asked the driver.
“All right, give me two.” He took out his wallet. “No, make that four.”
After he was gone, Gala said, “Well, someone has the munchies! God, I really could go for some pot myself.”
“We’ll have to tell Sylvie. That’s a new business angle.”
“Car sales! Drive-through!”
The girls laughed. There were more sales, mostly to parents with children. Then another car stopped at the curb and the driver rolled down the window, only to call out: “Hey! Do you have a lemonade stand, too?”
“Oh, yes,” Cassandra piped up. “It’s just down—”
“I was joking,” the man said flatly, and drove away.
“Asshole,” said Gala, who could always be counted on to get on the bandwagon of hating any man. Hatred was so sexy. That guy had been pretty cute, actually. It occurred to her that the lemonade stand might be a cool way to meet guys. It was getting kind of old, letting them pick her up on the subway.
Business slowed down again, and the girls took the break in activity as the perfect opportunity to start gossiping about their old classmates.
“Oh my God, I forgot to tell you!” announced Cassandra. “Pansy Chapin is getting a boob job. She’s engaged to this hedge-fund guy and
“Well, if he’s a hedge-fund guy, he’d better be! Wait—I thought she got engaged our senior year, to that other rich, preppie guy. Did they get divorced already?”
“Oh, him. Oh, no. He broke off the engagement, when he found out she was sleeping with Kojo. There was this big to-do about it. Anyway—I feel like no self-respecting
should get a boob job. I feel like Bennington girls are supposed to have, like, this natural, bohemian beauty, you know?”
And then Cassandra and Gala, both secure in their own naturally beautiful, naturally generous breasts, god-given full C and D cups respectively, took a moment of silence to contemplate the grave horror that Pansy was inflicting on her own rather more austere body type.
“That sucks,” said Gala. “That she doesn’t love herself the way she is. And she’s so hot, too!”
“Elegant,” added Cassandra, her highest word of praise.
“But still. Think of going to bed with a new guy for the very first time and
not having any boobs.
I just feel like you’d get so sick of the guy always being disappointed with what he had to work with. Can you imagine?”
“No,” Cassandra admitted. “I can’t.”
“Oh, hey. Have you been to that really great sex store in SoHo? I was going to go there this week, if you wanted to come along.”
“Oh no. I mean, I’m adventurous but not in that way, Gala. I don’t like the idea of—toys.”
“But wait. Sylvie said you like being tied up. Me, I like tying guys up. Trust me. They go
No wonder she went for those skinny Brooklyn boys, Cassandra was thinking, and said: “Yeah, but being tied up is an expression of, like, ancient hostility. You don’t need
“What do you use, though? I’m curious. To be tied up?”
“Oh, we use—Oh, hello!” Cassandra turned to see a little girl standing there with her mother. “And how are
today? My name is Cassandra and this is my friend Gala. What a pretty dress you have on! Would you like a cupcake?”
Why is this lady talking to me in that phony voice? the little girl wondered to herself. And why are she and her friend standing out on the sidewalk and selling cupcakes? They were
When the girls went back to check in with Sylvie, she was thrilled to see the fat wad of money they’d made and immediately began to count the twenties.
Cassandra, realizing that she was thirsty after hours of standing out in the sunshine, helped herself to some of the lavender-flavored lemonade.
But Sylvie saw what she was doing and admonished her: “Hey, Cassandra, please don’t use the plastic cups! Those things cost money, you know. They’re going to add up.”
Cassandra just wasn’t getting it, Sylvie thought. Getting it about the lemonade stand, and how incredibly important it was to her. Every time someone handed her a dollar bill that day, she felt this warm, safe feeling such as she so seldom felt anymore. Maybe with Clementine. Yeah, with Clementine, but that was it. The touch of dollar bills—the straightforward power of them, the incontestable relief of finally having them after so many lean years—was the next best thing.
“Sorry,” said Cassandra rather prissily, stopping in mid-sip. Then she looked at it and thought: What the hell? She’d already used the damn cup, she might as well finish the beverage. She had to hand it to Sylvie, though. The lavender-flavored lemonade was absolutely delicious.
“Oh, Sylvie, that reminds me!” said Gala. “I told the guy at the bodega I’d bring him a cupcake. Do we have any of the red velvet ones left?”
This was the day Sylvie finally came to understand the meaning of the words
a cranberry is a cranberry.
Tish, the woman who first uttered those immortal words, was a grown-up, she thought. Cassandra and Gala were still acting like girls.
That was the difference.