Authors: Charlotte Silver
ot really, Fern thought, but Cassandra persisted: “I was living with this girl Pansy Chapin on East Seventy-Ninth. It was a beautiful apartment, totally
; Pansy has all of these really great antiques. Then, just after I’d moved in, and I had to pay this absolutely enormous security deposit, she upped and got engaged to another hedge-fund manager.”
“What do you mean, another?”
“Oh, Pansy’s always had these fabulously rich boyfriends. She’s gorgeous, even if she did just have to get a boob job. Like, even when we were at Bennington, the rest of us would be sitting around all weekend eating apple cider doughnuts, whatever, and
have some guy flying her to Paris for a rendezvous at the Plaza Athénée. She brought me back this umbrella once. A pink umbrella. From Paris—”
“Well, that was nice of her, anyway,” Fern interrupted.
“No, it wasn’t. It broke! It broke, Fern, it broke!”
“Well, I mean, um,
. Umbrellas will do that. I guess.”
“Be that as it may, I am prepared to take the loss of the umbrella that Pansy Chapin gave me entirely personally. So! Where was I? Oh, right. So it’s years later and there I am living with her and she meets this guy and she gets engaged and she moves into his place in TriBeCa. And then, get this, she decides she doesn’t want to pay rent at our place anymore. I was like ‘Pansy, just get your boyfriend to pay it for you, what’s it to him? He’s a goddamn hedge-fund manager’ but
. Anyhow. We ended up having to break the lease in the end. It was this big fucking ordeal. I lost a ton of money.
I had to pawn my great-grandmother’s wedding silver
,” she added threateningly, as if to let Fern know to what depths she, a fellow Bennington girl, might one day have to stoop on the godless streets of New York City.
Wedding silver? thought Fern. Who cared about wedding silver anymore? What she and everybody else she knew thought was cute was arranging things in mason jars.
“I pawned my signet ring,” Cassandra went on, in a torrent of high emotion. “An amethyst necklace, all of these gold charm bracelets I had. One of them even had real emeralds…”
But mentions of signet rings and charm bracelets were falling, like so much else, on Fern’s deaf ears.
“And now, now I’m through with stuff like silver. I don’t pretend anymore. I’ve just given up on all fronts, I moved out to Queens with Orpheus and I eat from the taco truck. But, when I first moved in with Pansy Chapin, I thought we’d have dinner parties! I thought I was going to learn how to make—sole Véronique! Chicken Marbella! I only ever got as far as spaghetti carbonara, though.” Cassandra laughed, a crazy, reeling laugh. “I used to imagine myself using my great-grandmother’s silver. I had this rich boyfriend, too, back then, I thought I’d have him over and he’d see the table set with my great-grandmother’s silver and he’d ask me to marry him…I thought I’d have this whole other life.”
There rolled over her another memory, this one of the lemon chiffon cocktail dress hanging on her bedroom door, crystallized in the lavender-honey light of Sylvie’s apartment.
“Jesus. What happened?” It was to Fern the disappearance of the man and not the silver that was the more foreboding detail, and for the first time the woeful saga of Cassandra was starting to make her worry about her own prospects as a woman.
“Oh, him. He dumped me. I had this friend Sylvie, Sylvie Furst. Sylvie was right about—everything. As a matter of fact, Fern, since you like to date artists, this story might come in handy sometime. About a million years ago now Sylvie used to date this guy, Ludo Citron—”
“Oh my God.” Fern stirred delicately with the reverence of one who still believed in art. “I know him.”
“Yeah, he’s supposed to have turned into this really big deal in the art world, I guess.”
“I mean. I don’t just know who he
. I actually
his work. I actually
a pair of his Pumas.”
You would, thought Cassandra, and resumed:
“Well, once it was all over between them, what Sylvie did was, she threw a roast chicken at him! It landed on his lap.”
“But Cassandra, that’s terrible! I would never do something like that. Never, never, never,” vowed Fern.
“Not now, maybe. But you might, someday.”
Fern elected to ignore this. Somehow the story of some crazy chick throwing a roast chicken was not in keeping with the dignity of art.
“Wait, what happened to your boyfriend you were telling me about? Did you throw a roast chicken at him, too, or what?”
“No, but— If only I had listened to Sylvie! See, she used to say I wasn’t really the kind of girl he was going to marry. He went to Harvard and I think he was just into me because I was this slutty, bohemian Bennington girl; I don’t think that sexually speaking he was all that into preppy girls and can you blame him? They’re homely! Also, I’m fatherless. Did I ever tell you that? That means I have no self-esteem to speak of around men. Absolutely none! Sylvie was right about that, too. Where was I again?”
“Hey, I’m sorry your boyfriend dumped you and that you have daddy issues and all, but what are you talking about? You’re actually saying that a Harvard guy will be into a Bennington girl for sex but that he won’t marry her? Maybe in, like, 1962 we had that reputation but now—”
“You don’t think that Bennington girls are
complete and total sluts? Because I sure do.”
“You have some kind of dated ideas about female sexuality, if you ask me. If a girl happens to enjoy sex”—the girl Fern was thinking of was herself—“it doesn’t mean that she’s a slut.”
“Okay, but if she’s desperate for it?”
“Desperate? I’m not—”
“Right, because you’re so powerful because this older male artist wants to marry you. You were a sculpture student, you said? Done any of your own work lately?”
“Well, I mean I just graduated, Cassandra. And then I was in Berlin—”
“See, see! You haven’t. You haven’t done any of your own work and neither have I. I wasted my twenties on men and buying stupid French lingerie I couldn’t afford and I don’t know what the hell else. So did most of my friends who went to Bennington. None of us have one goddamn thing to show for it.”
“You really hate that place.”
“Oh God, it’s a total fucking racket. And the worst part! Speaking of money. I’m still paying off my student loans.”
“You are?” But Cassandra had graduated, like, ages ago, Fern was thinking.
“Well, come to think of it I’m not exactly paying them off at the moment, but…”
Fern was silent, and Cassandra, frustrated to no end by her low affect, thought: Sculpture students were not apt to be perceptive. Their average intelligence was only a cut above that of the modern dancers.
“So! Did I tell you I started a new job today?”
Fern thought it wise, at this point, to change the subject.
? Cassandra was thinking—meaning the dangerously tatty black lace tights. No pants.
“Uh-huh. It’s on the Upper East Side. Fifth Avenue, way, way up there, past the Met, even…”
“Carnegie Hill,” shot back Cassandra, not to be outdone.
“Carnegie Hill. That’s what it’s called. That neighborhood.”
“Oh, cool. It’s super fucking fancy, whatever you want to call it. Actually, I got this job through Bennington!”
“Well—do you remember that girl Jude St. James? Oh, I forgot, you’re so much older than me, she wasn’t your year. She was my year to begin with, except she took all this time off to go to Africa. I don’t think she’s graduated yet, or maybe she’s not even planning to anytime soon. She’s a lesbian and she’s passionate about Africa,” added Fern, as if these two facts added up to a third.
“Africa…” muttered Cassandra, wondering why the hell it was that rich people always wanted to go there; she sure didn’t.
“Well, anyway, she totally grew up at this humongous place on the Upper East Side. Only—get this—she’s always going round and telling people she’s from East Harlem instead.
I actually went to East Harlem once! I met this guy, on the subway platform at Union Square. We made eye contact. Before we knew it, I was back at his mother’s place in East Harlem. Now
was weird. His mother made us dinner afterward. Goat stew or something sketchy like that, and I’m a
Where was I again…?”
“You were telling me about how you got your new job through Bennington.”
“Oh, right, thanks. I’m working for Jude’s
That’s whose apartment it is on Fifth Avenue. That’s where I was earlier today. He’s so loaded, he doesn’t have to do anything anymore except look after his money and fuss over his art collection. That’s what he hired me for. He asked Jude: Do you know any Bennington girls who would be interested in helping me to organize my art collection? So Jude, she suggested me!”
“It’s kind of an awkward setup, though, because Jude really hates him, she says.”
Cassandra, of course, did not have a father, but had long observed that girls who did, especially rich ones, often hated theirs and was not surprised.
“And! Turns out, some of the stuff he collects is really, really incredibly filthy, too.”
“Really?” Cassandra was titillated.
“Uh-huh. I was surprised because, you know, nothing really seems filthy
, right? I think maybe it’s because I’m more used to seeing porn online, you know? It seems dirtier somehow in paintings or drawings. It seems dirtier when you see it on
“I disagree, Fern. I disagree with the thrust of your premise completely. Everything online—everything online is not only antierotic, if you ask me, but
, as well.”
“Oh my God, that is so not true, Cassandra! I think that technology and everything has really made the world a better place.”
, though? And don’t say, Oh, it’s made things so much more convenient! I hate that word—
. Convenient, expedient! So go ahead, tell me! How has it actually made the world a better place?”
Fern responded by listing a number of apparently rather pithy celebrities whom she suggested that Cassandra could follow on Twitter. And that was the end of that.
ver since moving out of Sylvie’s nearly a year ago now, Cassandra had shown a positive genius for ending up in the wrong boroughs. The right borough, obviously, was Brooklyn. But to get to, say, Williamsburg from Astoria, it took three train transfers, and Cassandra, not caring for Williamsburg in the first place, couldn’t be bothered. She started turning down invitations, and before too long people knew better than to invite her, because if the event was in Williamsburg, no way would she come. Greenpoint was okay according to Cassandra on something like a once-every-six-weeks basis, but only if you went out for Polish food, and that was just because she happened to be fond of borscht. None of her other friends gave a damn about borscht; they were all raring to go try the latest, distinctly non-Polish places that were cropping up along the avenues. But soon, Cassandra had stopped venturing to Greenpoint either. She had vowed to never walk the scenic streets of Fort Greene ever again, and this included all of its outskirts, which she claimed were also Sylvie-haunted. Cassandra had never even been to Bushwick and she intended to keep it that way, thank you very much. Bed-Stuy had jumbo rats. Park Slope? You did not invite Cassandra there, no, not even if you lived there, not even if you were throwing a housewarming party; everything about it put her in a cantankerous mood and was subject to relentless commentary the minute she got off the subway. People kept telling her that she could find no objection to Brooklyn Heights, at least; Brooklyn Heights was so beautiful. Boston is beautiful! Cassandra shouted at them. And Boston is boring. Brooklyn Heights, it is so beautiful and so boring, you might as well just be in Boston. This was the last straw, people felt:
comparing New York to Boston.
Her friends all found her behavior increasingly exasperating. It might have worried them, if only they had been interested, but the fact of the matter was they weren’t anymore. They were women going on thirty now and they were always busy. Meanwhile, Cassandra had become just like Pansy Chapin before her: the one Bennington girl for whom you had to go into Manhattan if you ever wanted to see her.
“Do you ever actually
Cassandra anymore?” Sylvie asked Gala at brunch in Fort Greene one afternoon. Sylvie had just ordered: Sweet-and-Salty French Toast ($14). Gala: Lettuce-and-Watercress Salad with Marcona Almonds ($12, Hardboiled Egg $2.50 extra).
“No,” Gala had said, thinking that she really should have gone with the French toast instead and counting on Sylvie giving her a bite. “Does anybody?”
The absence left by one’s female friends is best filled with—what else?—a man. Thank God for Cassandra, then, that Edward had resurfaced. Just that fall, the two of them had started sleeping together again, although, as he so frequently reminded her, taking on his old paternalistic tone, “we aren’t actually together.” Actually, the situation worked out well for both of them, for no longer having much to say to each other as human beings, perhaps having not had that much to say even in the beginning, their bodies now said the man-to-woman essentials. Cassandra even showed a savage absence of sentimentality in visiting Philadelphia again, where, instead of enjoying the fruits of Edward’s tony social life as a girlfriend, she waited for him in his apartment like a mistress, creamy, stockinged legs in the air. This was a relief actually. By now she knew that she would have gotten sick of all of those Christmas concerts and horse races, had life with Edward ever shed its glamorous unreality and become real.
“Oh my God! You look so pretty. Where are you going all dressed up, Cassandra?”
It was Fenna Luxe, Orpheus’s latest girlfriend. She was a willowy blonde who played the guitar and did Reiki and presently she was standing in the hallway of their apartment naked. After many failed attempts at being more respectable, Orpheus and Cassandra had decided to run a clothing-optional household. She spent so much time getting in and out of the bathtub that finally she figured why get dressed at all, and Orpheus didn’t mind, because Cassandra had very nice boobs and he enjoyed looking at them and this meant that Fenna, who was utterly lovely, now could also flounce freely out of the confines of his bedroom au naturel. Cassandra didn’t mind Fenna being naked either and, being lonely these days, enjoyed her company very much. Fenna had been a Bennington girl but after Cassandra’s time and only very briefly; she’d dropped out after getting a record deal and because she hated the weather.
“The Upper East Side,” said Orpheus. “She’s going to the Upper East Side. Cassandra is the only person we know who ever goes uptown.”
“Cool,” said Fenna, who was from Malibu and not inclined to be judgmental, except about the weather.
“Midtown. I’m going to midtown. The Harvard Club is in midtown.”
Cassandra stood in front of the mirror studying her features and darkening her eyebrows, as had been recommended to her by Lee, that night at the diner. Lee, it turned out, had been correct: emphasizing her eyebrows gave Cassandra’s peaches-and-cream countenance a sense of distinction it had not had previously. It also, although she did not know this, made her look older. Which she most certainly was, and felt.
“Oh,” said Fenna, “it’s that guy Edward again!”
“Uh-huh,” said Cassandra, spraying perfume. L’air du Temps, her favorite. Sylvie used to wear it, too, though in her case not since high school, probably. The girls used to pick up deeply discounted bottles of it at Marshalls. I bet she wears something organic or artisinal now, Cassandra thought, something made in small batches in Brooklyn. Fenna wore rose oil, plain and undiluted; Cassandra even borrowed it from her sometimes, which was just another plus of living in a clothing-optional household, because under one’s clothing or even a bathrobe rose oil can get sticky.
After leaving the apartment that night, Cassandra splurged on a cab to midtown; it doesn’t take too long to get there from Astoria, and so for once she could afford it. She swayed into the well-appointed lobby of the Harvard Club on a pair of hot pink suede d’Orsay stilettos that were the sexiest shoes she owned. After a series of days of subsisting on salted tongue empanadas, she was very much looking forward to ordering shrimp cocktail and filet mignon. She and Edward kissed. Once they were seated, he looked serious, but then he always looked serious. This, too, was one of his charms. Another one was that he didn’t care for Brooklyn either: or, even more gratifying, he scarcely knew that it existed.
“Cassandra…” said Edward. Why doesn’t she wear color anymore? he found himself wondering, for her dress tonight was striking and black. There was this one yellow dress he had been fond of her in—some soft, nearly see-through material—he’d always wanted to get close to her and touch it whenever she was wearing it. What had become of the girl in that dress? Like most heterosexual men, he was not observant enough, however, to guess that the change in her appearance had anything to do with the darkening of her eyebrows. It was more of a general impression that he gathered, staring at her across the table right now.
“Yes?” Much fluttering of her lashes, while eating a shrimp.
“Cassandra…Cassandra.” Edward cleared his throat and resumed his professorial tone. He was not a professor actually, though Sylvie had once proclaimed that he looked like one. “Cassandra, we are going to have a nice dinner tonight, a nice long dinner, we can have dessert and coffee and everything, and then at the end of the evening I am going to put you in a cab and I will give you money for it and you are going to go home.”
“Oh, so you don’t want me to spend the night?” She was fine with that, not spending the night.
“No. I mean that I am going to make you go home immediately after dinner. I didn’t reserve a room for us tonight.”
“No, I didn’t. This is a platonic dinner, except, except that after it we are not going to be friends. It would be inappropriate, given the circumstances.”
“Are you engaged?”
“Hey!” Edward was disappointed. “How did you guess?”
“You used to say how very, very
I am; how very
; how very, very
“Well, then,” said Edward, grateful that the waiter was now clearing his oyster shells and that soon they’d be onto their entrées.
“Who is she? Did she go to Wellesley? No, Harvard. Are you marrying somebody else who went to Harvard?”
“Duke, actually. She was the captain of the tennis team.” He was too much of a gentleman to add that she had graduated much later than either of them; she was twenty-five, or nearly a decade his junior. But there was such a big smile on his face when he said the part about the tennis team that Cassandra had to accept that he was actually in love with her.
“What’s her name?”
“Keller. Keller Houghton.”
“You are engaged to a woman named Keller?
Repugnant fucking name.”
“It’s her middle name she goes by. Her real name is Cynthia.”
“Of course it is, of course it is! I could have told you that if only you had asked me, I’m intuitive, after all.”
By the time the entrées arrived, Edward was thinking to himself that Keller was rather less intuitive than Cassandra, and wasn’t that a blessing, because marriage to one of these self-confessed
very, very emotional, passionate, intuitive
women was apt to get tiring. As a matter of fact though, he would have preferred that she go by Cynthia. He thought that once they were married he might try calling her that. Cynthia, sweet Cynthia. Her real name, which might become to him alone a nickname—a catcall of husbandly possession. To tell you the truth, Keller wasn’t as beautiful as Cassandra either. Strictly speaking, most people looking at her would have said she and Cassandra were quite similar—Keller was even blond, with some of the same general rosy and pleasing characteristics. But Keller wasn’t romantic. For instance, Keller: Keller wore sensible underwear. She had only one sexy set for when they dressed up to go to black-tie events and that was that.
“How is your filet mignon?”
“Good, good. I mean:
,” said Cassandra, trying to list all of the eligible or even not-so-eligible men she knew in New York City who might be persuaded to take her out for luxurious red meat suppers in place of Edward. She was getting to be more like Sylvie in her calculations, although unlike Sylvie, she would have preferred to get protein
get laid in the course of the same evening.
“I’m glad, sweetie.” Edward was content with digging into his diver scallops.
“Did you just call me sweetie?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ha—” He was thinking of Keller and what she would say if she could see him right now dining at the Harvard Club with a woman like Cassandra. Keller may have been less emotional, but she also had less of a sense of humor, and a sense of humor in a wife might count for something, it occurred to him now.
“Oh, it’s fine, Edward. I like it when you say it, actually. Only I guess that now when you say it, it has to be platonic.”
Bennington girls, Edward thought, while proceeding to make deft small-talk with Cassandra over the entrée portion of the evening: they were romantic. Tragic, even. That ex-friend of Cassandra’s, Sylvie, the crazy wild black-eyed chick with the apartment full of rotten lemons: tragic. Still, there was something kind of romantic about the apartment full of rotten lemons; neither Keller nor any of her friends would have been capable of such majesty of ruin, such an artistic statement that would connote in one image the desolation of their lives. They didn’t have it in them! Cassandra in those hot pink, obviously, heartbreakingly Parisian pumps of hers now looking forward to being sent back to Queens in a cab was also a little bit tragic. He recalled her lingerie, things called teddies and garters and basques, beautiful, silly, soon-to-be-broken things that she begged you to ply apart. He still desired her, but you didn’t want to marry somebody tragic unless you wanted to blow up your life, and no way did Edward want to blow up his. He would be married in a royal fashion in Rittenhouse Square and move to the Main Line, and Keller would bear him two fine and able young children. But he never forgot her.
Or Sylvie either. The stench of rotten lemons. Sometimes when he was sitting alone at the breakfast table or when he scooped up his children, especially his daughter, into his arms the memory of it would drift into his brain, perfuming and permeating his otherwise untroubled life.
“Do you remember Harvard-Yale weekend?” he asked her.
Cassandra replayed the words:
She had still been living in Boston then, that weekend she took the train to meet him in New Haven. She had been wearing her camel-hair coat, the hem of which was not yet coming undone. On the train she had fancied herself playing the Franny part in
Franny and Zooey
—that Zooey went stark raving insane after that weekend was entirely lost on her at the time, though Sylvie had pointed it out. Anyway, that weekend felt like a lifetime ago. And now Cassandra, not Sylvie, was the one thinking:
I was so young then.
“Yes” was all Cassandra said now.
“Well, right before we went to the Harvard-Yale game, that morning we met up in the hotel, do you remember that you begged me
to make us go?”
“Well, and you were squeezing me so tight you wouldn’t let me get out of bed and you said, ‘I like sex so much better than football.’ You just wouldn’t get dressed and go to the game. It was then I knew that I’d never be able to marry you.”
“Because I don’t like football?” This was getting ridiculous! Edward was an intellectual. He didn’t like football either, unless it concerned the Harvard-Yale game, and then it was apparently sacred.
“See, but Keller. Keller has a good attitude about things. Keller likes sex
she likes football.”
“Because her name is Keller! Keller! She sounds like a dyke.”
“Hey now! All I’m saying is that a wife, a wife has to be able to have sex with you and then get out of bed and go to the football game, or whatever the occasion is. I have a big social life in Philadelphia, Cassandra; I have things to go to. I like to be with people. You like to be either in bed alone with a man, or you like to go gab to your girlfriends, and you don’t know how to do anything in between.”