Authors: Charlotte Silver
No, I’m afraid we don’t take silver. We already have a surplus of it in stock, and I’m sorry to say, it’s just not moving for us anymore.”
moving, these days?”
“Anything mid-century modern right now. Mid-century’s all the rage.”
Like what Pansy Chapin has, Cassandra thought. That bitch.
“What about jewelry? Do you take jewelry?”
“Well…” The salesgirl in her black sheath dress and period-appropriate red lipstick paused and looked over Cassandra from head to toe, as if trying to assess what the value of the jewelry of somebody like her might be worth. Not much, was her conclusion. She probably just has some piddling sentimental little hand-me-downs of her grandmother’s she’s hoping to cash in. My, but the world was a rough place out there right now, the salesgirl reflected, and not for the first time. Cassandra looked to her like a nice, genteel young woman who in another age could have gotten a decent job no problem, rather than being reduced to the absurd adventure of trying to pawn off her finery up and down the antique stores of East Sixty-First Street. The spectacles you saw, living in New York City! Any number of them could break your heart. That is, if you let them get to you, which the salesgirl, for one, had no intention of doing.
“Oh all right, all right!” Cassandra exclaimed. It was the sixth store she had tried that afternoon and she was finally getting the picture. “You don’t have to go into it all, I already know what you’re going to say. Thank you for your time, anyway.”
“You know. You might try the Diamond District, that part of town,” advised the salesgirl, watching Cassandra and her camel-hair coat. It was a beautiful coat, too, but the hem was unraveling. Cassandra, unlike the adroit Sylvie, was never at her best with a needle and thread and was going to seed on all fronts. She needed cash, and she needed it fast.
The very next day, she found herself waiting in line in a dim, dusty establishment on the fourth floor of an undistinguished office building on the far reaches of West Forty-Seventh Street. The silver was so heavy that she’d had no choice but to take it in a cab. Cassandra was sent into a tiny room with a thick Plexiglas window. The jeweler sat on the other side of the window, his desk littered with greasy black wrenches and tweezers and scales. He weighed and accepted the glorious haul of wedding silver first, then tackled the jewelry.
Picking up a pair of tweezers, he announced to Cassandra: “I have to take them out.”
“The stones.” He gestured to the diamond ring, the amethyst necklace. “To weigh them.”
Oh well, diamonds don’t suit me anyway, thought Cassandra, but nevertheless found herself wincing as he pried it out of the scalloped rose gold setting, dating back to the Edwardian era: that ring had been in her mother’s family for generations.
“Nice,” he said of the amethyst. It was a big one apparently.
Next up to be dismantled were the charm bracelets. The individual charms, as well as the gold link bracelets, had to be weighed separately to determine their value. At the sight of these poor cast-off charms, the tears welled up and began to flicker on Cassandra’s eyelashes.
“Look,” said the jeweler, stopping what he was doing to draw her attention to a charm in the shape of a seahorse. “Look, its eyes.”
Its eyes were studded with two dainty emeralds. With an expert, single twist, he pried them out and then they, too, bounced up and down on the dingy scale.
That did it. She let out a long, wounded wail. Thank God, though, she did leave there with cash; the jeweler, entirely unfazed by the sight of his down-and-out clientele bursting into tears, accepted everything. Outside on West Forty-Seventh Street it was raining and Cassandra’s mascara ran down her face in long, weepy, blackish violet streaks. She decided to walk back uptown. Meanwhile, it rained and rained. Soon she heard thunder. This catastrophic aspect of the weather suited her sense of personal devastation. At the Korean flower stands, dahlias were nodding their battered heads, pink and orange and purple, too, and mixed in with the sound of a man hawking sleazy plastic umbrellas—“Umbrellas! Five dollar! Umbrellas!”—were the rich, yearning chords of a man playing the violin. Life in the arts! Cassandra thought, with a momentary swell of pity for her fellow man. It’s a bitch. That guy’s pretty talented actually.
By the time she had walked all the way over to the East Side—collapsing, to regain her strength, on a bench outside the entrance to Central Park—the weather had cleared. Two middle-aged women strode right past her, one of them puffing on a cigarette. They were just exiting the park.
“If you want my opinion,” said the woman smoking the cigarette to her friend.
“It’s time to get rid of the horses!”
My sentiments exactly, thought Cassandra, and at that very moment she decided to call up Orpheus McCloud, who happened to be in bed, just for old time’s sake, with Gala. When old lovers are together, they will often discuss old times. Just as the phone rang, Gala was imploring him: “I’m sorry! I’m still, like, totally sorry about that STD I picked up from that guy Christophe I was sleeping with in Paris…”
“Hey, why would Cassandra Puffin be calling me?”
“Oh! I bet because I told her you had a room in your apartment that was available. She was living on the Upper East Side with Pansy Chapin, that frigid little bitch, and—”
is not the word,” said Orpheus, who, unbeknownst to Gala, had been unable to resist being swept into bed by the evil, luminescent, streaky-blond Pansy himself. “Well, I guess I might as well pick up. The only other person who’s interested in the room is Chase Raven.”
“Chase Raven? But, wait! I thought he was
I thought he
“No, he just took a term off to go dry out in Bali and never came back.”
“Oh.” So that explained it.
Orpheus picked up his phone. Cassandra got straight to the point.
“Well, I just wanted to know: Is the room in your apartment still available?”
It was; but when Orpheus got off the phone, Gala snuggled up next to him and said, “You know, Orpheus. I don’t know if you really want Cassandra for your roommate. She still doesn’t have a job yet.”
“But Gala,” said Orpheus, whose family had, indeed, once founded the state of Kentucky and to whom practicalities were of less than urgent concern. “Who do we know who does?”
Good point, thought Gala, having recently bailed on her gallery job in the absence of any other employment opportunities because she just couldn’t fucking take it anymore. But she’d done this, in a fit of satisfying pique, only to discover that Sylvie was right. Sometimes what you really need after all is an exit strategy for your exit strategy.
assandra stopped at the taco truck. She didn’t get a taco, though, she got a salted tongue empanada. After much experimentation, she’d decided that that was the best thing the taco truck had going for it. A buck twenty-five a pop; Sylvie would have been impressed by just how cheaply Cassandra was eating these days. If only she could have told her.
By now, it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Not that you could tell that Thanksgiving was upon us, because in Astoria, where Cassandra was now living with Orpheus McCloud, the streets were full of immigrants, blissfully unencumbered by the obligations of this most American of holidays. The taco cart, not to mention the hookah lounges over on Steinway Street, or Little Egypt as people called it, would be open all day tomorrow. Cassandra was relieved, for she was spending the holiday alone this year, the first time she had ever done such a thing in her whole life. Every other year she’d spent it with her mother in Cambridge, the spinsterish bleakness of which was lifted only by the sweet relief of Syvie coming home to see her family for a few days’ time: Sylvie, arriving in a black minidress and white lace tights, shaking snowflakes from her cap of dark hair. But that, all that, was many years ago now.
Cassandra walked home through the trash-clogged streets. Her furnished room at Orpheus’s had been the crash pad of many a rootless Bennington grad over the years. Should she stop to think of the shenanigans that had occurred on that unlovely, lumpy bed before it was hers, she would feel a faint disgust. The boy who’d lived there just before her, a caddish, overrated painter, used to lure girls to his studio at Bennington by promising to fuck them on top of crusty, wrinkled sheets of canvas. The notorious Lanie Tobacco had just recently hurled a lit cigarette in his face outside of a dive bar in Bushwick. That was the latest in alumni news.
Cassandra went into the kitchen and unpacked her empanadas. So greasy and delicious, and with those nice little sprinkles of radish and lime on top: when you are poor, broke to the bone as Cassandra now was, even the smallest of things can give you pleasure. Stuffing one’s face with empanadas was a pastime best indulged in alone, she felt. But just at that very moment her solitude was disturbed by the appearance of Fern Morgenthal coming into the apartment.
“Hey,” said Fern to Cassandra, pausing to slip off her moccasins. Other than her moccasins she had on a black leotard and a pair of dangerously tatty black lace tights. No pants.
“Hey,” said Cassandra right back.
Fern was subletting Orpheus’s room while he was on tour in Europe for the next couple of months. She herself had graduated from Bennington just that June and had spent the summer bumming around with friends, expatriate-style, in the cafés and underground art spaces of Berlin. As of that September, she was newly arrived in New York, where the rest of her classmates were, and looking forward to building some kind of a life for herself.
She was twenty-two years old.
Was Fern pretty? Cassandra, squinting at her over the dirty foil of her empanada wrapper, considered this most crucial of questions carefully. She didn’t think so, really. Or, at least, Fern’s style of prettiness—vague and underdeveloped and elfin, with soft brownish bangs falling into her eyes—was not to Cassandra’s more flamboyant taste. To her mind, the greatest beauty of her era at Bennington was still Angelica Rocky-Divine, whose long, indolent white body Cassandra recalled unclothed in all its plush splendor while doing cartwheels at the End of the World. But what Fern had was youth. Cassandra, who would be turning twenty-nine in February, could see that now. She could practically smell it: the spring white freshness coming off Fern’s skin. It was a blood scent, to Cassandra; it stirred up something predatory in her, and she felt, not unpleasantly, more like an older man than like a former Bennington girl herself.
(Fern, for her part, considered Cassandra so ancient that on determining that she had graduated in the year 2003, had been stirred to ask her: “Oh my God, so were you there the year the dancers died?”
“Yes,” Cassandra said simply, thinking it becoming to assume a melancholy tone.
“Oh my God, those poor girls! That must have been
“Believe me. It
“So…do we want to job-hunt later tonight like we talked about?” Fern asked brightly.
“Not really,” said Cassandra, equally brightly.
“But I said I would help you, remember? I said how I was going to help you write your bio?”
As a member of the younger, ceaselessly self-promoting generation, Fern was up on the ways to network, and was not ashamed.
“Bio? Remind me again why is a bio supposed to be better to have nowadays than a résumé?”
“Oh, because résumés take way too long to read, for one thing,” replied Fern, once again in the spirit of her generation.
“Oh, is that it?”
“Uh-huh. And! I could take your photo if you wanted,” Fern offered, thinking: But not tonight. For one thing, Cassandra would have to wash her hair first. With blond hair, you can always tell when it’s dirty, as Cassandra’s clearly was tonight. Also, she would have to be sure to put on some eyeliner or something; Fern herself never posed for photographs without first doing a flawless cat eye. But Cassandra did not seem to recognize the value of controlling one’s image in a digital world. She was not even on Facebook, Fern had been stunned to learn, and did not do online dating either, even though, right now, she was obviously single. “Photos can be a real selling point to prospective employers.”
“What, am I supposed to put a head shot on my résumé now, too? Or is it my bio? Anyway, what possible difference could it make? I’m not an
“No, no, head shots aren’t just for actresses anymore, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Everybody has one! Like, even if people just look you up on LinkedIn—”
“Linked in to what, is what I’d like to know,” Cassandra muttered. “That is the question.”
“No, no, really, my friend Dorian Frazier, she got a job at Sotheby’s right after Bennington because some guy looked her up on LinkedIn and said he liked her cheekbones.”
“He actually said that?”
“Yeah, well, I mean he said it later on once they started sleeping together. He was her boss. He was married. You can thank your cheekbones, is what he said to her once it was over. He wanted to make clear to her, see, that she didn’t know shit about art. He said that, too: You don’t know shit about art. There was this big to-do afterward and she had a nervous breakdown and had to move back home to Connecticut. But, whatever. The point is, she never would have gotten that job at Sotheby’s in the first place if he hadn’t seen her photograph!”
“But if she had a nervous breakdown and had to go home, what good did the job at Sotheby’s do her? For instance. Did she ever go back to New York?”
“Oh, no, never. Never again, Dorian says!”
What a waste, Cassandra thought. Of youthful promise and youthful cheekbones. After all that, to just end up back home in Connecticut. Connecticut! Which was probably the most boring state in the union, after Vermont.
“By the way. Remind me again what you’re doing for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, that. Staying in, I guess.”
“Oh no, that’s so—” Fern thought of saying
, which was what the situation deserved, but then decided against it because she had noticed that Cassandra could get touchy so easily.
“I hate Thanksgiving. I’ve
hated Thanksgiving.” There rolled over her assorted memories from childhood, the tragic efforts to which her mother, a widow, would go to make things festive for just the two of them, showering Cassandra with pretty trinkets that would have had much more meaning if only they had been bought by a man. “And another thing is, I hate, I have absolutely no use for, turkey. Turkey! Who the hell came up with turkey? The Puritans, that’s who! I’m from Boston and take it from me, those people, the Puritans, the WASPs, they don’t know food.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’m from Portland,” said Fern, contributing nothing worthwhile to the conversation, Cassandra felt.
“Which? Oh, Portland, Oregon.”
But I already knew that, Cassandra was thinking, congratulating herself on her powers of deduction, which so seldom failed her. I could have told you that.
“I’m from, like, right outside of Portland,” Fern went on, unpacking, to Cassandra’s grave displeasure, several enormous cans of pumpkin puree from the cavernous depths of her Trader Joe’s tote bag. “I’m from—”
“Everybody loves Portland.”
“Portland is awesome, it’s—”
“I wouldn’t love Portland. I just know that the entire Pacific Northwest is not for me.”
“But, wait. Have you ever even been there?”
“Then how do you
“I didn’t like San Francisco all that much either, to tell you the truth,” Cassandra went on, ignoring Fern’s more fact-based train of thought. “Everybody says: San Francisco, San Francisco! You know what San Francisco is to me?”
“San Francisco is like one great big cashmere yoga hoodie.”
“Huh?” Fern had studied sculpture at Bennington, not English. She hadn’t even taken the occasional creative writing workshop; she wasn’t as swift as Cassandra to pick up on metaphors.
“Cashmere yoga hoodies.
Cashmere yoga hoodies.
If you don’t see for yourself what’s offensive about that concept, then honestly, I can’t help you.”
“So,” said Fern eventually, “I was going to bake a pumpkin pie.”
“What, for Thanksgiving?”
“Of course for Thanksgiving. It isn’t Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.”
“Who says so? The Puritans again, is it? I’ve told you and told you: those people don’t know food. You know what I’ll be having for Thanksgiving?”
“A liver and black olive sandwich.”
Fern, who had lived off-campus in the vegetarian co-op at Bennington, chose to ignore this by looking preoccupied as she turned on the oven.
“There’s this liver and black olive sandwich I like to get from the Halal Sandwich Shop, down on Steinway. Ever been there? It’s where all of the Egyptian cab drivers go. It’s great!”
“Hmm. Speaking of restaurants. I’m so excited, this guy I’m seeing, this artist, he’s renting out Momofuku next week, for his after-party. It’s going to be awesome.”
“Momofuku. Momofuku. Momofuku is like the cashmere yoga hoodie of restaurants; Momofuku is for fools!”
“I’ve been to Momofuku, too, you know. I was once taken there by this guy I was seeing.” She tried to imitate the dreamy emphasis that Fern’s tongue put on the word
; that all Bennington girls did whenever there was one in the picture, so long were they used to living without them. “He was paying, thank God, so I ordered this duck entrée. Afterward we left and I was still so hungry, I didn’t even have the energy to go back to his place, which of course was what he was expecting after this supposedly grand gesture of taking me to
All I could think was: If only we’d gotten Peking duck in Chinatown!”
“Chinatown! But that’s totally different, Cassandra. I’m seeing this guy who’s a sous chef at this place in Williamsburg and he says that David Chang’s technique is really amaz—”
“A sous chef. So now you’re seeing a sous chef. I thought you were seeing an artist.”
“Well.” Fern sighed, promising loads of dramatic narration to come. “It’s really complicated with me and the artist. He’s older than me and he’s just starting to get really, really big in the art world. I met him my senior year at Bennington, when I was doing this archiving internship at this gallery in Chelsea. Things moved really fast! It was just so incredibly passionate. I think he’d like to marry me but—”
“Well, I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that he isn’t any good with money. He’s so preoccupied with making art, I pay the bills and keep track of all the practical stuff. I know that when people see us together at openings they must think that I’m so much younger than him and he’s the powerful one in the relationship, but what they don’t know is—I’m the powerful one! Sometimes I even lend
money. I call the shots.”
“It’s just, going forward. I couldn’t marry a man who wasn’t any good at managing his money. He’s
I feel like by the time you’re thirty-six, you ought to have figured out how to manage your money.”
“Have you figured it out?”
“How to manage your money.”
“Yeah, I’m really good at it actually. When I was waitressing and saving up to go to Berlin—”
“I used to be good at managing my money,” said Cassandra. “When I was twenty-two. Do you want to hear the story of my life ever since?”