Authors: Charlotte Silver
nd so it is, thought Cassandra, walking down Central Park South alone after the opera. She had gone and watched the rest of it by herself, not that she had been able to concentrate. It had seemed too much of a confession of failure to leave when Professor Sobel did—that is, if they were not leaving to go home together. She couldn’t have borne to humiliate herself in front of him that way—just what would he have thought, that she was going to go home and watch Netflix or something degrading like that?
Being single is like shopping at Trader Joe’s
, as Pansy Chapin in all her wisdom had said. Cassandra flinched, recognizing that Pansy Chapin was right. Still, she told herself, certain standards of behavior must be upheld: another humiliation that could not be borne, obviously, was taking the crosstown bus on a night like this. And there was the inconvenience of it being too late to walk across the park. This accounted for her decision to amble down toward Central Park South, where she was hoping to be able to pick up a cab. Sylvie hated this part of town, Cassandra knew, but she loved it. Especially at nighttime, she loved it. Also, it helped being in a part of town where there were so many hotels. It meant that you could count on two important things: being able to use a decent bathroom and getting a cab. After all, if you were an attractive young woman and you were well dressed, Cassandra had found, one of the bell captains was sure to assume you were a guest and hail one for you. She didn’t have the strength, right now, to hail one herself.
Once she was inside the cab she took out her phone and cradled it in her hand, wondering who she could call to complain about Professor Sobel right now. But it was late and anyway, all of her friends that she could think of had boyfriends and would probably be with them right now: it was a beastly hour to be alone. As the cab turned down Madison, she observed a cool, impassive blonde in a brief black dress on the arm of a businessman. Maybe she’s a high-class Russian prostitute, Cassandra thought to herself, excited. The Carlyle, for instance, was full of them: Edward had taken her there for martinis once. At the thought of Edward, Cassandra felt discouraged again, and thinking about Edward led naturally enough to thinking about Sylvie, from whom she was also now totally estranged. Never before, it occurred to her, had she been without a boyfriend
, even worse, without a best friend.
Still, one of the well-known advantages of living in New York City is that if it’s late at night and you don’t want to be alone, you don’t have to be. You can go to a bar or a diner. Cassandra, upon realizing that Professor Sobel, that bastard, hadn’t even taken her out to dinner this time, decided to go eat. There was a twenty-four-hour diner just around the corner from her apartment, over on Second Avenue. She flinched and almost decided not to proceed when the first person she saw in there was a middle-aged man with hairy arms wearing pea green hospital scrubs and wolfing down a burger. His hunger seemed immense, his lonesomeness palpable. Are these my people? Cassandra wondered. By this she meant the people who hang out in diners, the people who have nowhere else to go. But she stayed and slid into a booth anyway. She made up her mind to order black coffee and a fried egg sandwich. The coffee arrived, bracing, medicinal. Cassandra took a few life-giving sips and heard somebody asking her:
“Excuse me. Did you go to Sarah Lawrence by any chance?”
“No,” Cassandra said, startled that a stranger should have spoken to her here. She looked up to see a faded blonde in a black leotard sitting at the counter eating French fries.
“They have feta on them,” the stranger said, pointing. “Want to try? Feta and oregano, I think. They’re Greek French fries. They’re good!”
“No, thank you.”
“Were you ever in the theater, then? Costume design? I feel like maybe I know you from back when I did costume design…”
“Window dressing? Did you ever work in window dressing? I used to do the windows at Bergdorf Goodman. I did the holiday windows and everything!”
“Oh, really? They’re beautiful. But no, I never did anything having to do with window dressing or costume design or anything like that. So, sorry. I don’t think we’ve met before.”
“Wait, Bennington. You went to Bennington.”
“Lucky guess. You’re right, I went to Bennington.”
“Orpheus. Do you have a friend named Orpheus?”
And then she remembered. She remembered where she had met the blonde in the leotard before. Of course. It was on that night, that snowy night, when she and Gala and Sylvie had gone out to his apartment in Astoria together.
“Wait, you used to date Orpheus, right?”
“If that’s what you want to call it, sure.”
Cassandra blushed, feeling that further intimacies were coming. They were. Lee, it came back to her. The stranger’s name was Lee.
“I used to go all the way out to Queens to fuck Orpheus,” Lee said now. “That was back when I still thought having casual sex was actually exciting. Now I’m used to it. It’s boring. It’s as boring as everything else. Anyhow, I remember I would stop at that taco truck they had, the one right under the train tracks. I wonder if it’s still there. He never fed me, Orpheus. What was I expecting, I wonder? Younger guys don’t. I cooked for him sometimes, but that got kind of pathetic, so I stopped. That must have been years ago, come to think of it.
“Oh yes, I remember now. You were making a lamb roast.”
Now it was Lee’s turn to laugh. Caustically, Cassandra noticed.
“Can you honestly tell me you don’t want any French fries?”
“All right,” Cassandra admitted, and took one. “Hey! You’re right. These are good.”
She helped herself to another, as her sandwich arrived.
“I told you so. But all that oregano makes your breath stink. So it’s the kind of food you really have to eat after you get laid, not before.”
“Hmm. Is that so?”
“Wait, so did you or didn’t you get laid tonight? When I saw you walk in here, I thought you did.”
“No,” Cassandra confessed, thinking with shame of her date with Professor Sobel.
“Oh.” Lee seemed disappointed. “I just figured you had. And you must have left right afterward because the guy was an asshole: that happens to me all the time. It’s just the way you’re dressed and everything. You didn’t get all dressed up to come to a diner on Second Avenue, did you? That’s a very pretty dress you have on. I noticed it right away. I know fabric,” she added, rather ominously, Cassandra thought.
“Oh right, costume design. Are you still doing that?”
“Oh, no. I’m not doing anything with my life right now, actually. I have a problem with the morning,” Lee said, as if this explained everything, which, to Cassandra, it did. She translated it to mean:
I have a problem with life itself
“Are you an insomniac?” she asked her.
“That’s why I hang out at diners, see. Diners are good for that. Also, the Apple store. The Apple store is the best thing that ever happened to insomniacs in this town, if you ask me.”
“The Apple store?”
“Yeah, the main one right across from the Plaza. It’s open twenty-four hours! It always has really good music playing, too.”
“I see,” said Cassandra slowly. She did see—she saw the crazed and sleepless and lovesick and abandoned denizens of New York City all converging upon the Apple store, say around three a.m., and pacing back and forth, till morning came, in its glacial white depths. Maybe I should get a job, she thought, sobered. Or I might end up like one of them.
What she failed to observe, however, was that she bore something of a resemblance to Lee already. Somebody else could have seen it—Sylvie, for instance, or even Gala. But we can seldom see such things for ourselves. Lee, also, saw it and asked her now:
“How old are you?”
This, too, felt like a confession.
“But you’re not married.”
Lee hailed the waiter and ordered an egg cream. “Want one? Please don’t say, Oh no, I’ll just have some of yours. I hate it when women do that.”
“Me, too. But no thanks, I don’t want an egg cream. I do want more coffee though.”
She made eye contact with the waiter to get him to come over.
“You’re pretty,” Lee said, assessing Cassandra. “But you’d be even prettier, you could be absolutely stunning as a matter of fact, if only you had darker eyebrows. I know! You should have
“But I don’t have raven black
,” Cassandra protested, reasonably enough. “Why should I have raven black
“It’s the contrast, silly! The contrast on you would be fabulous.”
“I used to be a makeup artist once; that’s the problem with being a blonde, and I should know! Blondes are pretty and some men may prefer them, but. Brunettes have better eyebrows.”
“Always,” said Lee remorselessly. “And any blonde you can think of who does have good eyebrows pencils them in. Your eyebrows are a good shape but you really, really need to start penciling them in.”
“My roommate…” began Cassandra, trying to picture Pansy’s eyebrows, which she was certain were just devastating, if only she could remember them. “My roommate is a natural blonde, and I assure you that there is nothing second-rate about her eyebrows. Her name is Pansy Chapin and she was one of the top two or three most beautiful girls at Bennington. The other two were my friend Gala Gubelman—oh! You met her that night at Orpheus’s—and this modern dancer with very red hair called Angelica Rocky-Divine.”
“She sounds like a bitch,” said Lee, of Pansy.
“She is,” Cassandra replied, not without affection.
ne night about a week later, Pansy and Cassandra were making spaghetti carbonara together when Cassandra noticed, all of a sudden, that Pansy was wearing a diamond ring. It sparkled on her delicate brown finger, for Pansy Chapin was tanned all over. Even at Bennington she had been legendary for her audacity to frequent the tanning booths in town, rather than go flabby and blanched, like lesser mortals, over the course of the New England winter.
“Oh, that’s so pretty!” Cassandra exclaimed. “Is it your grandmother’s?”
Cassandra had one quite similar to it, from
grandmother. It had been passed down, along with the wedding silver and some other pieces of jewelry: an amethyst drop necklace on a fine gold chain, long jade earrings, several gold charm bracelets, and a handsome gold signet ring that Cassandra thought was very chic and just the sort of thing that Pansy herself might wear. The diamond ring of her grandmother’s was something that she used to wear to black-tie events with Edward, she reflected, and all of a sudden regretted that the spaghetti carbonara she was making was not for him.
“No, actually,” Pansy admitted. Since it was already the middle of August by now and she intended to move out of the apartment by September 1, she might as well go ahead and break the news to Cassandra. “It’s—from Jock! We’re
,” she clarified, seeing that Cassandra appeared to be a little slow on the uptake.
But this was madness, Cassandra thought. Just how many broken engagements did Pansy think a girl could afford to have? Nevertheless, in the spirit of hypocritical female friendships that make the world go round, she turned off the kitchen faucet so that she could come over to Pansy and better admire the ring.
“Congratulations! It’s beautiful!”
“Well, yes.” Pansy shrugged. As a matter of fact, her last ring had been even better, she thought, but perhaps there was no one in the whole world to voice such an ungrateful observation to right now, and suddenly Pansy Chapin, standing in their kitchen, glass of vino in hand, felt a lush, plaintive pull toward the wilds of memory and fiancés past. “It’s lucky that I happen to actually look good in diamonds. Anyway, it’s going to be a Jewish ceremony. Jock insisted on that. Thank God, though, I won’t have to convert. And his last name is only Kaplan, which isn’t too, too bad. I won’t even have to change my monogram!”
“Well, isn’t that convenient?”
“So, this means that I’ll be moving out, of course.”
“Oh, right, of course—” But we just moved in, Cassandra was thinking.
they had signed a yearlong lease.
“In September. Jock’s loft
fabulous, but we’ll want to start looking to buy in the suburbs. Not Greenwich!” Pansy clarified. “I think Greenwich is tacky! I’d like to be more in horse country…”
“Do you ride?” Cassandra couldn’t remember.
“Oh, no. Horses
I just like the clothing.”
Equestrienne wear would look good on her, Cassandra agreed, and in no time got so mesmerized by the image of Pansy sporting dark jodhpurs and a Hermès scarf that she forgot their immediate predicament about the apartment.
“Anyway, I’m sure you can find a roommate for September first. Some person, some Bennington girl…” Pansy yawned.
“I guess,” said Cassandra wistfully, not feeling convinced.
assandra’s solution to looking for a roommate was to call up Gala Gubelman and offer to buy her dinner.
“With booze or without booze?” Gala wanted to know.
My, but everyone is anxious about being taken advantage of in this city, Cassandra thought, but said:
“With booze. My treat.”
“All right then,” Gala decided.
They picked a night when Gala was free and agreed to meet at J.G. Melon.
“Ugh, there are guys in pink shirts all over the place here,” Gala muttered before flashing her dimpled smile at the bartender and saying sweetly: “I’ll have a Corona.”
It was a steamy night at the very end of August. Cassandra had on an angelic white cotton dress and was sipping a gin and tonic.
“Yeah, well, I used to come here with Pansy,” she said.
“Thanks for coming all the way up here, anyway.”
“Speaking of which!” Gala sighed, accepting her Corona from the bartender and asking him for extra limes. Gala Gubelman loved “extra” anything: limes, mayonnaise, hot sauce. “Do you know how long it took me to get here? First, the G train was down. Go figure! So I had to walk all the way to Atlantic Center. And then! Even when I finally got on the express…”
Cassandra thought sometimes that the only thing she missed about living in Boston was that people talked a lot less about the subway there. One’s commute was not a continual conversational pitfall, as it was in New York. She cut Gala off to ask her:
“Do you know anyone who’s looking for an apartment? I don’t want to live with a stranger. Pansy said to look for other Bennington girls, to start…”
“Bennington girls! They wouldn’t be caught
With some defensiveness Cassandra began to enumerate the many subtle charms of the available apartment and its location. Gala dismissed every one of them as unlikely to be of sufficient interest. Also, she said, all of the girls from their year who she could think of already had their own places. No one was looking.
“What are you getting to eat, anyway? I’m
. The burger is good here, right?”
“Yes. I always get the burger. But Pansy was fond of the Cornish hen, I remember.”
“Cornish hen? Who besides little old ladies would order the Cornish hen? Are you fucking kidding me, Cassandra?”
“Not at all.”
pretentious. I don’t know why you were ever friends with her. Sylvie and I weren’t. Fuck it, I’ll have the burger.”
“Well, what about younger Bennington grads? Do you know any younger Bennington grads?”
“Yeah, but. There’s a whole community of younger Bennington grads living in group houses in Red Hook. Red Hook is really big with them right now. Or! They can’t even afford to live anywhere in New York City at all and so they’re all decamping to Philly or Baltimore. Detroit could be next, at this rate.”
Gala shrugged, indifferent. The bartender informed them that two guys in pink shirts had just sent them a round of drinks.
“You know something? That never happens to me in Brooklyn,” she admitted to Cassandra.
But Gala was so beautiful! That’s outrageous! she was thinking. She told her so.
“Yeah, but, you must be forgetting, Cassandra. It doesn’t matter if you’re beautiful or not. Chivalry is dead.”
“Are you going to go home with one of them, then?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Are you?”
Her relationship with Edward over, her dreams of having an affair with Professor Sobel dashed, Cassandra thought: Why not? Why the hell not?
“They look like they went to Williams,” Gala said. “Remember at Bennington when we used to go and crash frat parties at Williams?”
As a matter of fact the answer turned out to be Amherst—the two guys who had sent them drinks had gone to Amherst. As Gala and Cassandra soon learned in the course of going home with them that evening, and forgetting to look for a roommate.
The following morning Cassandra, hungover and doing the walk of shame in punishing late summer sunlight down Lexington Avenue, texted Pansy:
JUST A REMINDER THAT TOMORROW IS SEPTEMBER 1. RENT IS DUE.
Pansy to Cassandra:
IT WAS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO FIND A ROOMMATE, CASSANDRA. I’M LIVING IN TRIBECA NOW.
Cassandra to Pansy:
IT’S JUST FOR SEPTEMBER. I’LL HAVE SOMEONE BY OCTOBER 1. PROMISE!
Pansy to Cassandra:
JOCK WOULD DIE IF HE KNEW, BUT I DON’T EVEN HAVE THE MONEY THIS MONTH. I’M BROKE.
Cassandra to Pansy:
SPEAKING OF JOCK: GET HIM TO PAY IT, WHY DON’T YOU?
Pansy to Cassandra:
I CAN’T GET HIM INVOLVED. IT WOULD MAKE IT LOOK LIKE I’M MARRYING HIM FOR HIS MONEY.
Cassandra to Pansy:
And when there was no response, Cassandra to Pansy again:
WHAT’S IT TO HIM, ANYWAY? HE’S A GODDAMN HEDGE FUND MANAGER.
Pansy to Cassandra:
PLEASE STOP BOTHERING US, CASSANDRA. WE’RE IN THE HAMPTONS AND ABOUT TO LOSE RECEPTION.
Bullshit! thought Cassandra. Would all of those hordes of bloodless yuppies in the Hamptons with their precious iPhones really stand for them losing reception? Could Pansy possibly be telling the truth? But Cassandra didn’t know, because among the numerous failures of her life in New York so far was the fact that she had not been able to nab any invitations to the Hamptons or anywhere else this summer. The only time she’d ever been to that corner of the world at all was once, in her Bennington days, as the guest of Angelica Rocky-Divine at the family estate in Sag Harbor: it had been off-season then and Angelica had run about playing the flute and wearing a long red silk kimono in the majestic, wind-swept apple orchards.
After getting Pansy’s text messages, Cassandra endured a lackluster afternoon, spent killing time at various coffee shops up and down Lexington Avenue. How many iced coffees could a grown woman drink in a single afternoon? she had good reason to ask herself. Also, it was a Saturday, and Saturdays that are spent in the city in the summertime are always depressing. So is the day after you’ve had casual sex, usually. Almost inevitably by about three o’clock in the afternoon, any residual animal glow has worn off and you start to feel desperate. The consolations of the flesh are merely temporary. This is why some people are driven to become promiscuous: they need to recharge that early, excited feeling again and again. Around dinnertime, sitting disconsolately on a bench in front of one of the boutiques on Madison Avenue and watching the European tourists go by, one of whom was a louche young man in lavender suede loafers walking a poodle, Cassandra texted:
GALA, WHERE ARE YOU?? CALL ME!
“Oh God, she’s texting me again,” moaned Gala. “She wants me to actually
her. Should I?”
“I don’t care,” said Sylvie, who went back to squeezing lemons. Tomorrow it would be Sunday, and she was expecting a brisk crowd at the lemonade stand.
The air was stifling in Sylvie’s non-air-conditioned apartment, and Gala undid the halter-neck of her ratty plum-colored vintage 1940s sundress—a garment she’d had as long ago as Bennington, and associated many exciting, libidinal memories with—and let her bare boobs spread out luxuriously as she flopped down on the floor. The floor struck her in that moment as the coolest place to be in the whole apartment.
“Do you mind?” she asked Sylvie.
“That you’re still friends with Cassandra?” She
mind, in fact.
“No.” Gala motioned to her chest. “That I took my top off. I’m
Gala wiggled around on the floor to make herself more comfortable, propping one of Sylvie’s miniature flowered silk cushions underneath her belly. Then she called Cassandra, who without further ado started to blather on about the indignity of what Pansy had done and how she still hadn’t found another roommate.
liked that Pansy Chapin!” Gala announced.
“But, wait. Then why did you have a threesome with her?”
“That wasn’t Pansy Chapin, that was Bitsy Citron, and anyway, Cassandra, liking the other girl in a threesome has nothing to do with it.”
“Oh.” Cassandra stood corrected.
“This one time I was in the dining hall at Bennington and I happened to see Pansy having this, like, really intense-looking conversation with Orpheus—”
“Wait, were you two dating then?”
“Well, we were hooking up, anyway. We were involved, is the point. So! I went and eavesdropped on them. And then I heard Orpheus saying”—here, Gala, who was a very good mimic, did a Kentucky drawl—“
Listen, Pansy, I am not saying that you are an evil person…
And do you know what Pansy Chapin just sat there and said, without missing a beat?
But, Orpheus, I am an evil person.
“Yup, so don’t say I never told you so.”
“But you told me so
speaking of Orpheus. He’s looking for a new roommate, he said.”
“In Queens.” Cassandra pouted.
“Cassandra will never move to Queens,” said Sylvie knowledgeably, as soon as Gala got off the phone.
“Yeah, but.” Gala went into the details of Cassandra having to cover Pansy’s portion of the rent this month, and the two of them deciding to break the lease come October. “I think she’s looking for an exit strategy.”
“An exit strategy! But I thought that Pansy Chapin was supposed to be her exit strategy.”
“Well—tough luck for her, then. I ask you! Depending on Pansy Chapin!”
“That’s the thing about life,” mused Sylvie.
“Well, you come up with an exit strategy, see. But then sometimes that’s not good enough. Sometimes you find out that what you really need is
an exit strategy for your exit strategy