Authors: Charlotte Silver
ansy!” Cassandra called, later on that night.
There was no answer.
“Pansy!” Cassandra moaned again, from her bedroom. But still, Pansy refused to answer, because she was in the midst of her elaborate beauty preparations, rubbing her entire body with a concoction of brown sugar and baby oil, in the exact same ritual she had done ever since her days at Bennington and that Cassandra did now, too. Because for Pansy, at least, there was a new guy in the picture—a new hedge-fund manager, in fact; it hadn’t taken her long to nab another one since the breakup of her most recent engagement. What Cassandra didn’t know yet, poor thing, was that Pansy was planning on moving into this new guy’s loft in TriBeCa, just as soon as he gave her a ring. He was thirty-five and, to Pansy’s mind, on the fast track to marriage. Like Cassandra, she would be turning twenty-nine next year and was starting to get nervous. Even in this day and age, a girl could afford only so many broken engagements.
Jesus, what could possibly be the matter? Pansy wondered. It wasn’t a fire, at least, because she would have smelled it. So obviously, short of a fire, there was no reason to get out of the bathroom before she was ready; Cassandra could wait. Pansy surveyed her sleek, freshly oiled brown body with a cool appraiser’s eye; what good fortune it was, to be so beautiful.
Eventually she swaddled herself in an oversize white terry-cloth robe—stolen from the Westin Excelsior in Rome; Pansy, much like Gala Gubelman, had a touch of the kleptomaniac about her when the occasion called for it—and went into the living room, where she fixed two martinis,
, before carrying them to Cassandra’s bedroom. The door was ajar, and Cassandra was sprawled facedown on her bed, shuddering with tears.
“Here,” said Pansy, handing her a martini. “It looks like you could use this! What’s the matter?”
So he dumped her at last, Pansy thought. She, like Sylvie, had suspected that Cassandra and Edward’s relationship would not be long for this world.
“Oh, no! What happened?”
“He—he dumped me.”
“Oh, you poor thing…” began Pansy, wondering if she was on the right track here, for she was not, by nature, the heart-to-heart type.
“And he did it over e-mail, too! Look!”
Pansy read the e-mail, which was not all that interesting or revealing unto itself, though she knew that Cassandra would be hell-bent on discussing its finer points. It was gentlemanly and brief—with a coldness at the heart of it that the illusionless Pansy identified as being absolutely final.
“But our relationship wasn’t like that!”
“Well. We didn’t really do things over e-mail.”
“Our relationship was—classy.”
“Well, count your blessings, in this day and age. At least he didn’t do it over text message. Or on Facebook.”
“Pansy! I’m not
“Oh right. Of course not.” Pansy was on it herself only because if you were as photogenic as she was, why not?
The loneliness of her life—without Sylvie, without Edward—suddenly struck Cassandra in that moment. Oh my God, she thought, undone. I’m
“Pansy, may I ask you a question?”
“What is it, Cassandra?”
Valiantly Cassandra tried to frame her thoughts.
“Do you believe all that stuff about how single women can still love themselves and have self-respect and inner strength, blah blah blah?”
“No,” said Pansy Chapin. “I do not.”
“Being single is like shopping at Trader Joe’s.”
Cassandra understood at once where Pansy was coming from.
“It’s a sign of a compromised existence,” Pansy continued. “Have you ever gone to a party where they actually served frozen hors d’oeuvres from Trader Joe’s? Those dreadful slimy potstickers and so on? I
. I wanted to
“I hate Trader Joe’s!”
“Of course you do.”
“I don’t want to end up as one of those sad-sack girls you see around who shop at Trader Joe’s and have Tuesday night book clubs and are proud of their banana bread recipes…”
“Oh right, those girls all own cutesy oven mitts from Anthropologie, don’t they? They own oven mitts with
“Yes! Ugh. You know something else? I’ve never liked Anthropologie either.”
Cassandra sat on her bed, pondering her future. But all thoughts led back to the past and to Edward.
“I know. I’ll write him a letter.”
Please don’t, Pansy was thinking, with the ruthlessness of one who has loved and lost many a time. If only women knew how unattractive the spectacle of having a bad breakup made them. The cozy “nights in” with the dreaded ice cream and lumpy socks, the recurrent tears and all of the wasted months of emotional “processing” and ever-spiraling conversations about a situation that could never ever change—Pansy hoped that Cassandra didn’t think that any of that was going to be going on around here!
But already, Cassandra was blathering on about her choice of notepaper. She reached for her letter box, from which spilled sheets and sheets of French stationery.
“And I’ll stain it with my scent…Or, I know! Can I borrow that vanilla Santa Maria Novella perfume of yours? I keep meaning to go to the store downtown and buy a bottle for myself…”
Then why don’t you already? thought Pansy, who, ever since grade school, had blanched at the thought of sharing things.
Cassandra, meanwhile, was getting so caught up in the specifics of this imaginary letter to Edward that she almost forgot that he had broken up with her.
“You know, I just remembered something,” said Pansy, trying to steer Cassandra away from the notion of the letter. “I just remembered how much I liked your first boyfriend. The one you had who used to come and visit at Bennington.”
“Oh, really? I liked
first boyfriend, too.” Cassandra was thinking of the one Pansy used to go visit at his duplex on Central Park South.
“Oh, but he was hardly my
—” Pansy, with her epic list of lovers, was temporarily flummoxed.
“No, of course not. But I mean, the guy you were with while we were at Bennington.”
“Well,” Pansy admitted. “He was the first of my fiancés.” And the only one of them I ever loved, she thought, and was surprised by the swell of true emotion she felt in that moment. She heard herself suddenly saying: “You know, Cassandra, don’t take it so hard with Edward. I think there can only ever be one true love anyway.”
“What true love?” Cassandra asked.
Pansy Chapin sighed.
“The first one.”
Edward, sitting at his broad oak desk in his apartment in Rittenhouse Square, poured himself a good stiff drink before opening Cassandra’s letter. He found himself irritated at first, and then—was it on account of the lingering scent of Santa Maria Novella vanilla perfume on the envelope?—subtly, mysteriously aroused by the prospect of hearing from her again. Since he’d sent her that e-mail nearly a week ago now, there’d been no response. Finally, he’d texted her a couple of times just to check up on her, and still no word. Not that he was worried. After all, she was living with Pansy Chapin now—a girl of whom, unlike Sylvie, he had every reason to approve—and surely Pansy would be there in the apartment to comfort her; that’s what girlfriends were for.
Once he finally read the letter, though, he smiled. The main thing he took away from its contents was that she would let him fuck her again. But that could wait, he told himself, because in the meantime, to recover from Cassandra and her emotional excesses, he had taken up with a nice girl from his rowing club who wore Lily Pulitzer and had graduated from Wellesley.
ala Gubelman rolled over in bed. Cassandra was calling.
“Oh my God, so! What happened?” Gala asked.
It was the morning after Cassandra’s much-trumpeted dinner at Le Bernardin with Professor Sobel. Blissfully she ran through descriptions of warm poached lobster, oysters, and pink champagne, but none of this was what Gala had picked up the phone for.
what happened? I mean at the end of the night.”
“Oh, well. He said he just
to get back to his place to listen to the complete string quartets of Elliott Carter on his new speaker system.”
“So music, he mentioned listening to music together. They always say that!”
together, is the thing. When I said, Oh how wonderful, or whatever, he said that for him, listening to music in the privacy of his own apartment was a serious business, and he preferred to do it alone and uninterrupted by the babble of precocious coeds.”
he was an asshole.”
“Gala! You promised you wouldn’t mention
She’s Sicilian dead to me.”
“Oh yeah? That’s exactly what she says about you, too!” Gala, ever since the girls’ breakup, had been “in the middle” of Sylvie and Cassandra, and, as is only natural where triangles of three women are concerned, had relished every minute.
“But seriously,” said Gala now. “What is it about him anyway?”
“Professor Sobel, silly. He looks just like a giant pirate!”
“But Gala, pirates are sexy. Pirates are an iconic masculine archetype.”
“Hmm.” Gala had to concede that Cassandra might be onto something there, but nevertheless shared with the fastidious Pansy Chapin a distaste for the aged male body on principle.
“You know what else I think it has to do with—” Cassandra said.
“He’s a smoker, you know. He smells like cigarettes.”
“Ugh. As bad as Lanie Tobacco?” The notorious Lanie had acquired her campus nickname on account of the clotted stench that accompanied her tiny dark person at all times.
the smell of nicotine on a man.”
“My father was a smoker.”
“Your father’s dead.”
“Is it just that you don’t want to be alone?” Gala persisted.
“Uh-huh,” said Cassandra cheerfully, thinking of how she had admitted just the same thing to Pansy. Self-respect, inner strength, blah blah blah, be damned.
“Oh, what, and you do want to be alone?”
The very suggestion was outrageous. The one dismal week at Bennington in which Gala Gubelman had been between admirers, she had arranged a trip to the town bowling alley with her girlfriends that Saturday night, not knowing what else to do with herself. Never again, she had decided, and by the following week she was screwing a freshman. Just to get her mojo back, she said. That had made Orpheus jealous and for the rest of the term they were boyfriend and girlfriend again.
“Well then, don’t tell me that I have to be.”
“But New York City is full of guys, Cassandra.”
“I don’t want
, I want
, thank you very much.”
“Oh, I get it, somebody older.”
“Well”—Cassandra thought about this—“somebody who can take me out to dinner, to start…”
“Yeah, nobody takes anybody out to dinner anymore. That’s true.”
“That’s what Sylvie said. Sylvie said that guys today go Dutch.”
“It’s go Dutch or die, pretty much,” Gala Gubelman conceded, wondering if, what with the crummy state that modern dating was in, she shouldn’t be on the lookout for a Professor Sobel type herself.
Meanwhile, Professor Sobel had found himself with an extra ticket to
Tristan und Isolde
at the Met and had decided to extend another invitation to Cassandra. He got this idea because his ex-wife was a great opera lover as well, and he had a long history of running into her at performances there. When faced with the possibility of confronting one’s ex-wife, it always did a man’s ego good to have a comely former student on his arm. Cassandra would do, he felt.
“You think the crowd’s old
,” he remarked to Cassandra, once they were seated. “You ought to go check out the people who still go to chamber music concerts.”
“I love chamber music!” swooned Cassandra, jumping ahead and imagining Professor Sobel paying to take her to other concerts in the future; she could get used to this.
It was predictable, Professor Sobel thought, Cassandra liking chamber music. Everything about her—just like every other Bennington girl he’d had a crush on before her—was getting predictable. He asked himself: Would it be worth it to go through with the whole silly charade of seducing her? After all, a poor fatherless girl like Cassandra might get clingy afterward. Originally—back when she was not so predictable
her rather orphanlike air had been a major part of what had attracted him to her It could be great fun destroying a girl like that if you were in the mood for drama; but Professor Sobel realized that he wasn’t, anymore.
“About love…” He groaned, and sighed. Taking a girl to go see
Tristan und Isolde
was a natural segue to talking about love, and why not toy with her expectations a little? “How much do you know about it, anyway? Hmm? A girl like you?”
“Enough,” said Cassandra smiling, though in fact she was thinking of Edward. It had been over a month now, and there’d been no response to her letter, in spite of her noble efforts with the Santa Maria Novella vanilla perfume on the underside of the envelope. Evidently the breakup had been for real. The only thing that would help her to get over one man was to go to bed with another. She was looking forward to testing this theory with Professor Sobel at the end of the night.
?” said Cassandra, incredulous.
“Overrated, I said. Love is overrated. Also it’s repetitive. It’s so goddamned repetitive! So you don’t know that much about it, do you, or you would know that for yourself.”
“But love makes the world anew! At least, the great thing about it is that it has the
to do that, don’t you think?”
“All I can tell you, kiddo, is: passions weaken in your sixties. That’s the one thing that Proust never lived long enough to understand.”
“Proust! What’s Proust got to do with anything?” I thought we were on
tonight, she said to herself, momentarily thrown by these ever-shifting cultural references.
“Oh. I used to teach him. He’s my other great love. Didn’t you know that? Maybe it was before your time.”
“But you’re on the
faculty,” Cassandra protested.
“Doesn’t matter. Bennington is—interdisciplinary! They pride themselves on mixing things up.”
“Actually, I kind of hated that it was so interdisciplinary. I don’t think I got a good, solid education at that place
Actually, I thought a lot of the curriculum at Bennington was stupid.”
“A lot of things are stupid,” said Professor Sobel pleasantly; on this, at least, they could agree. “And not just at Bennington, either, more’s the pity.”
They sat there brooding—not even pretending that they were connecting—until the curtain came up. By intermission, Professor Sobel was thrashing to take a smoke break. Cassandra followed him outdoors. See, this is what I mean about her being clingy, he thought to himself as they stood next to the fountain getting dirty looks from all of the smoke-free spectators. There was nothing like the self-righteousness of nonsmokers, the idiots, to put him in a wrathful mood and suddenly he announced:
“Let’s blow this joint.”
“This joint, you’re calling it now?
It’s the Met!”
“So what? It isn’t a very good production.”
Actually, it was. And Professor Sobel knew it, too. But he was bored with
Tristan und Isolde,
tonight. He was bored with everything.
“But…” Cassandra, unable to accept the crummy turn of events that was taking place before her eyes, tried to appeal to his paternalistic side, a technique that never failed, or so she imagined, with men. “But what about my education?”
“Your education? Jesus, I thought we already covered that. I thought we agreed it was a total fucking waste.”
“But I mean my
education. Just because I might have graduated a while ago doesn’t mean that my education stopped! I feel like the whole point of living in New York City is to do things like go to the opera…” The thought occurred to Professor Sobel that there must have been thousands upon thousands of young women in New York City believing this drivel and at the starkness of this revelation he didn’t know whether to laugh or to weep. So he did what he did all of those years ago on learning that the modern dancers had died, and lit another cigarette and never thought about it ever again.
“I mean,” Cassandra was now saying, “what if I go to a cocktail party next week and this production of
Tristan und Isolde
comes up and I want to have something intelligent to say about it?”
“Intelligent! You don’t need to be able to say something intelligent about anything, ever.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What I’m talking about is: all right, so say you’re at a cocktail party.
shouldn’t be the one to say something intelligent about this production of
Tristan und Isolde
, you should ask somebody else, preferably a man, what
thought about it, and preferably with an alluringly air-headed question mark in your voice.”
“You mean it comes to
comes to this?”
“Why”—Cassandra threw up her hands—“you might as well say—a woman’s whole life!”
“And to think, I thought you were so interested in continuing your education. You ought to thank me. This has been an extremely educational evening for you.”
“But it’s—horrible, horrible! What you’re telling me.”
“Well, what did I tell you? Don’t you ever remember anything?” Professor Sobel was thinking back to the first meal he’d had with Cassandra, that lunch at La Grenouille, that April afternoon, the deepening, thrilling roses in Cassandra’s cheeks, the superb, velvety taste of his frogs’ legs Provençale. “Childhood is ending all the time.”