Authors: Charlotte Silver
assandra never forgot the first night she hung out with Pansy Chapin. She was privileged to be a guest in the living room of Gazelle, the house where Pansy and so many of the other superrich girls lived, Bitsy Citron among them. Bitsy was the house ringleader and her dog, Brioche, the mascot. Brioche was a silver Pomeranian, whose coat went nicely with Bitsy’s waist-length mane of champagne-blond hair, highlighted on the private beaches and yachts of St. Bart’s, where her family was rumored to own fabulous quantities of property.
That night, when Pansy and Cassandra were both eighteen years old and hanging out in the living room of Gazelle, the air was blue with smoke. Everybody smoked in that house, except for Cassandra, who after all was only visiting from one of the tamer, quieter houses across the quad. Some girl had an acid trip while sitting on top of the moss green velvet sofa, beginning to shake uncontrollably and slide down the cushions. Nobody did anything. Eventually Bitsy stormed out of her dorm room, stalked by her boyfriend, the Bulgarian sculptor guy, who was lushly showering her with a fistful of euros. This move had great cachet because the dollar was said to be losing its value even back then. Pansy Chapin turned to Cassandra and asked her:
“Have you ever had an STD before?”
“No,” said Cassandra, who, it being only her freshman year, was still technically a virgin. This crisis was remedied over the course of the following summer, under the deft tutelage of a much older gentleman and family friend. Sylvie, always pragmatic, had gotten it over with back when they were still in high school by crashing a party at MIT one Saturday night and going home with the first guy she found there who looked like he might actually know what the hell he was doing and not turn out to be a virgin himself; with MIT guys, anything was possible. Still, Sylvie preferred them to Harvard guys because Harvard guys were not merely nerds, they were assholes.
“Ugh, yeah, well, I guess you don’t really look the type. But! You never know.
I think I might have one
,” Pansy whispered.
“Oh, no,” said Cassandra, shocked.
“Tell me about it! Because if I do, it’s going to be a disaster.”
“Oh my God, you don’t think you have—”
“AIDS? Of course not. Nobody gets that anymore. But I think I might have, like, maybe chlamydia or something.”
“I had chlamydia once,” Bitsy Citron volunteered.
“You did?” Pansy Chapin squealed.
“Uh-huh. If you have chlamydia, it’s like this…”
Her boyfriend, the Bulgarian sculptor guy, was now sucking her toes in front of everybody. Everybody was used to this: they had sex everywhere, even in the kiddie pool outside of Gazelle in which Brioche was prone to taking a piss. Bitsy had beautiful feet. You could thank St. Bart’s for those, too. The sand made the bottoms all soft.
“My vagina has something
coming out of it,” Pansy Chapin wailed. Pansy Chapin was wearing tennis whites. “Black, I said, black! Oh my God, this is going to be a disaster,” she repeated.
“Why?” asked Bitsy idly.
Pansy Chapin related how that very weekend she was supposed to be going to New York City for a sex-crazed weekend with her fiancé at his duplex on Central Park South, and how he was going to kill her if he found out that she had an STD, because it would mean that she’d been cheating on him again.
“Have you been?” asked Cassandra. Not to be judgmental; just because she was genuinely curious.
Pansy and Bitsy both looked at her blankly. The Bulgarian sculptor guy finished sucking Bitsy’s toes to his personal satisfaction and got up to go back to his studio. Bitsy French-kissed him good-bye.
“The thing is: I can’t fuck this relationship up. I’ve got to marry this guy! My trust fund,” Pansy Chapin now confessed to Cassandra, “you see. It’s one of those small, tasteful ones. Nothing to write home about.”
“Are you from Boston, by any chance?” Cassandra had pegged her as being from one of those old Brahmin families, having grown up on some tony side street of Beacon Hill, maybe.
“Maine. Bar Harbor.”
Better and better, Cassandra thought. Bar Harbor sounded very tony indeed.
“Oh, well. I’m from Boston. Cambridge,” she clarified.
“You know? I think we have things in common,” promised Pansy.
Cassandra’s heart leapt. Bitsy, never having stepped foot in New England before visiting Bennington, wasn’t interested in any of this. Why hadn’t she gone to Bard? she sometimes wondered, say on the dead of a Sunday evening. It would have been just that much closer to the city to make a difference. She changed the subject by complaining about this absolutely humongous diamond ring she had lost at the bottom of Julian Schnabel’s swimming pool while she was fucking some guy whose name she couldn’t even remember: “I think he was maybe, like, one of the art
“Oh poor Bitsy, just ask your family to get you another,” Pansy said. “They
diamond mines, don’t they?”
Brioche then waddled into the living room, wagging her tail and drooling, because one of Bitsy’s friends had just fed her some of her antidepressants.
“You’re in love with Pansy Chapin,” Sylvie accused Cassandra later on that term. It was spring term of their freshman year; the lilacs at the End of the World were flowering outside their window in mad profusion, and Bitsy and the Bulgarian sculptor guy could be found wildly rutting in a ditch of broken daffodils. Every weekend that marvelous season Pansy Chapin vanished to a duplex on Central Park South and she took two weeks off of classes—nobody called her out on it, nobody cared—to be flown to Paris by her fiancé and feted like a kept woman at the Plaza Athénée. For Cassandra, she brought back from Paris a pink umbrella. She used it for years, years after college, Cassandra did, until it was just like the daffodils, that pink umbrella, bought by one Pansy Chapin in Paris for one Cassandra Puffin in Bennington, Vermont: its neck broke. Gala Gubelman was in love that spring, Penelope Entenmann, Vicky Lalage, and Angelica Rocky-Divine, too. If the notorious Lanie Tobacco out of all of the girls wasn’t, it was only because Lanie Tobacco wasn’t sentimental, Lanie Tobacco wasn’t a fool, though she was arrested right around this time by the Bennington Police for “bicycling under the influence.” Chelsea Hayden-Smith and Beverly Tinker-Jones, younger even than Cassandra and Sylvie were then, younger than any of them, had not yet plunged to their deaths through the wide glass windows of the fifth-floor dance studio of the college’s performing arts building; they had not yet applied to Bennington, had not even heard of it or the purported excellence of its modern dance program, perhaps. Sylvie’s hair was black. Cassandra’s, still golden. They were lying in bed when Sylvie made her accusation about Cassandra being in love with Pansy Chapin. Twin beds they had then, the type of beds they would never after college sleep in ever again.
“Am not!” Cassandra protested.
“Are too! You’re fascinated by her. Bewitched by Pansy Chapin! That bitch. Also! That apple green cashmere sweater she gave you? The hand-me-down. If I were you, Cassandra, I’d stop wearing it. It’s
too tight on you.”
“I can pull off a tight sweater, thank you!”
“Yeah, but, I don’t know. Not that one, somehow.”
“Oh yeah, well, you’re in love with Gala Gubelman, so there!”
“Are too! I bet, why, I bet that you want to
with Gala Gubelman!”
“Whatever, Cassandra, everybody on campus has already made out with
And now, years later, Sylvie was living just blocks away from Gala Gubelman in Fort Greene and Cassandra, meanwhile, had crossed the river—the River Styx, maybe—to worship at the devilish altar of Pansy Chapin on the Upper East Side.
itters, I thought. Bitters and soda. You know. I first got into these when I did my year abroad in Italy.”
Pansy reached for the brilliant orange bottle of Campari and began mixing her and Cassandra cocktails. If they both happened to be home on any given evening, that was what they did. They made a ritual out of it. Orange, as it happened, was one of Pansy Chapin’s favorite colors—and all the more striking a predilection, that, because so few people could pull it off; but Pansy, with her deep, moneyed tan and streaky blond hair, could. It was right after the Fourth of July. Pansy had just gotten back to the city from the Hamptons, and Cassandra from a weekend spent at a horse show in the Pennsylvania countryside with Edward. The orange of the bottle of Campari matched exactly the orange of the silk scarf that Pansy was flaunting, jet set–style, in her hair.
That Pansy dressed like this even in the privacy of her own home was only confirmation of her supreme glamour to Cassandra.
“Do you remember…” she began, accepting Pansy’s cocktail. “Cheers.”
“Cheers! Do I remember what?”
“When you used to make martinis for us?”
“At Bennington. Sylvie and I were living in the Pine Room then. Remember! I think it was our sophomore year. We had a fireplace, remember, and Alphie the security guard used to come and bring the logs and build the fire and everything. You would come over, and you’d make us dinner in the kitchen. You’d make us steak and Caesar salad and double-stuffed potatoes and real martinis.”
“As opposed to fake martinis?” Pansy yawned.
“Well. I guess what I mean is—real, adult martinis. It all seemed terribly adult to me anyway. When you used to come over and cook for us.”
Imagine cooking a group of girls dinner, Pansy thought, when everybody knew that the reason one learned to cook in the first place was to please a man.
“Are you ever going to learn how to cook, Cassandra?”
“Oh! That. Well, yes. I’m hoping to—now that we’re settled into the apartment.”
“Oh good. Feel free to use any of my cookbooks if you want.”
“Thanks! And, oh! That reminds me. If I learn to cook one of these days, then I can start using my great-grandmother’s wedding silver.”
On the very night they’d moved into the apartment, Cassandra had been positively giddy to show Pansy the silver, unfurling from the blue velvet depths of the box the long-stemmed scalloped oyster forks and ice cream spoons, to Pansy’s squeals of delight and approval.
recommend is: learning a signature dish.”
“Yeah. Like what?”
“Steak, to start,” mused Pansy.
“Yeah. I think I can get the hang of steak. I
signature dishes are veal scallopini and Chicken Marbella.”
But I want those to be my signature dishes! Cassandra thought, with a wholly illogical sense of betrayal and indignation. Those are the perfect signature dishes for a girl to have.
“Fish, too. You ought to know how to do something with fish if you’re with a guy who prefers it. Some guys do. Sole Véronique, maybe…” Pansy was lost in thought. “That’s the one with the grapes.”
“Pansy.” Cassandra got up the courage to ask, for she had a certain grave matter on her mind. “What are your thoughts on monogamy?”
Pansy merely laughed.
“Oh, I thought so,” said Cassandra, relieved.
“Thought what?” asked Pansy suspiciously.
That you were a complete and total slut, Cassandra knew better than to say out loud.
“Oh, just that you would be—understanding.”
“What’s going on? Is there a guy? A new guy?”
“Well”—Cassandra hesitated—“kind of. Did you ever take a class with Professor Sobel?”
“Professor Sobel! The opera guy? Yeah, come to think of it I
. For one day! But he made us sit outside in the meadow just so he could smoke his precious cigarettes and I just couldn’t bear it anymore. It was
“Yeah, he was famous for making his classes do that. Well, anyway. I was kind of a favorite of his back at Bennington, and then I ran into him earlier this year in New York, at this concert I went to with Edward. When I first moved to the city, he invited me to lunch at La Grenouille, to celebrate…”
“La Grenouille!” shrieked Pansy. La Grenouille was
She was jealous, suddenly, of a man taking Cassandra to La Grenouille, because Cassandra wasn’t as hot as she was, and girls who weren’t as hot as she was were, generally speaking, undeserving of the finer things in life.
“Oh, it was so much fun. I got the cheese soufflé. Have you had their cheese soufflé?” But of course Pansy Chapin had had the cheese soufflé; Pansy Chapin knew how to make cheese soufflé. “Well, and then after that he invited me to Le Bernardin.” Cassandra paused importantly. “For dinner.”
“But in a way, lunch is more chic than dinner, I think.” Pansy was recalling with a pang the reckless afternoon assignations, the gorgeous champagne breakfasts, of her youth. “Dinner is more obvious.”
“I think so, too! That’s exactly what I thought. But still, dinner is more…”
“Of a clear-cut invitation,” filled in Pansy. “From the man’s point of view.”
“Yeah, so…I’m attracted to Professor Sobel,
. The thing is, I’m not that into monogamy, actually, but Edward is.”
“Oh no, he isn’t,” Pansy assured her.
“No man is. Not really!”
“That’s a little cynical of you, don’t you think?”
“When you’ve been with as many guys as I have…” Pansy trailed off, reminding herself that Cassandra was something of a late bloomer, compared to herself. At age fourteen Pansy had lost her virginity on a private beach in Bar Harbor to a brutish Dartmouth senior who was summering there and had never looked back: thus began her storied romantic career. So how did you lose your virginity? was a bottomless subject at Bennington. An unusually large number of the girls there had scintillating stories to tell; Lanie Tobacco, for one, had been dismantled of her maidenhood on a pool table by the drummer of a band called “Leftover Crack.”
“I like older men myself,” Pansy said, changing the subject. “I mean, I like the
of older men. I think I’d go quite nicely with one.” She paused, picturing herself, quite without qualms, as the ultimate accessory; a gold pocket watch, a vintage Jaguar in a snazzy color. “But the thing is, I’ve tried before, and I just can’t get into their bodies!”
“I’ve never been all that hung up on bodies, though. I just feel like physical attraction can be based on so many different things. You know?”
But Pansy didn’t know. She said: “As a matter of fact. What I really go for are black guys. Did I ever tell you about the time I dated this incredibly hot Cuban guy who turned out to be a crystal meth dealer? Oops! Did I say Cuban? I meant Haitian!”
“Well—” Pansy began, but Cassandra interrupted.
“Is it true what they say about black guys?”
“What they say about their cocks?”
But Cassandra didn’t even have the patience to listen for Pansy’s answer, jumping in just to make clear: “Sex is a really intellectual thing with me.”
“Oh,” said Pansy Chapin, getting up to make herself another cocktail. The bottle of Campari was now half-empty. She would have to replace it; Pansy hated half-empty or tarnished things; they upset her love of physical perfection. “Oh, Cassandra, Cassandra! You’ll get over that.”