Authors: Charlotte Silver
ylvie was always thinking ahead and, in fact, there was an ulterior motive behind her asking Cassandra to buy them a juicer. The following week, they were having lunch at a fashionable restaurant claiming to be on the local foods bandwagon, which she thought was a most excellent setting in which to announce her latest money-making scheme, in which the juicer, she hoped, was going to play no small part.
Sylvie liked this place but Cassandra didn’t, even though she was the one who was paying. She sometimes thought she didn’t like
of the restaurants in Fort Greene all that much and yet they were all so expensive. There was just this meagerness to them. Here was her rule of thumb, and it had never yet failed her: if a restroom had a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s geranium hand soap sitting on the sink, the food would not have enough salt in it. She looked down at the curried chicken salad sandwich she had ordered. Fourteen dollars it was going to cost her, and yet the kitchen did not know enough to toast the bread, apparently.
Sylvie, meanwhile, was tucking into a nice big peppery green salad with gusto, in high spirits today because her latest plan had given her an adrenaline rush.
“What is it?” asked Cassandra.
“A lemonade stand.”
“A lemonade stand.
“Oh!” Now this was getting intriguing.
“Brilliant? Right? I am fucking brilliant and I am going to make so much money.”
“Sylvie! I love you. You’re brilliant!”
“I’ve even come up with the perfect location. We’ll set up shop on the corner across from the park, where the farmers’ market is. So we’ll get all the foot traffic, see.”
“Do we need a permit or anything?”
“Oh, probably, but this is an illegal operation. We’re up to it. Say somebody says something, say a cop comes. We can just pick up and move to another corner. It’ll be fun.”
A wonderful sense of adventure started to stir in Cassandra, and she felt alive and happy all over. Sylvie was feeling this, too.
“We’ll have to make it all pretty,” Cassandra said.
“Not just pretty, chic.”
“Oh, very chic.”
“Well, right. That’s the whole idea. A sophisticated lemonade stand, crafty yet stylish.”
“Cozy but cosmopolitan…”
“Right! And of course we’ll milk the whole local foods thing for everything it’s worth. That’s so trendy right now. Like I said! It’s brilliant.”
“What I especially like about this idea is the whole recaptured innocence angle.”
“Hmm. How so?”
“Well, like I was thinking,” Cassandra began, “of the time I visited you last year during Halloween weekend. And we were having lunch at that Cuban place in Carroll Gardens, but, like
Cuban, you know the one? They have those delicious, kind of caramelized coffee drinks. Anyway—remember that outside there was this Halloween parade?
And the parents were all wearing costumes, too.
That was the thing that caught my attention. Actually, I thought it was totally lame, all of those shrimpy little Brooklyn dads looking all smug in their perfectly ironical costumes, I couldn’t even catch what the hell most of them were supposed to be.”
“Yeah, but what do Halloween costumes have to do with lemonade stands?”
“Oh, Sylvie, everything! Can’t you see? It’s this whole thing about recaptured childhood, recaptured innocence. It’s like, maybe they didn’t have cool Halloween costumes when they were kids, so they get to make up for it later. And they make sure their kids have cool costumes, too. It’s all a kind of desperate overcompensation for something. And if you think about a lemonade stand—lemonade is, like, the essence of childhood and summertime and happiness. Those same bozos with the Halloween costumes are going to see our lemonade stand and get exactly the same fuzzy, nostalgic feeling.”
“You mean those suckers are going to eat this shit up?”
“Exactly. Why do you think cupcakes took over New York City? It has to be because they make people think of bake sales and birthday parties and all of that sentimental bullshit.”
“Oh, cupcakes! I make really good cupcakes! And I did used to work at Petunia, remember?”
“I remember.” Cassandra laughed, recalling that period of their youth.
“I even totally know how to make those red velvet ones. People
“But are cupcakes
all the rage in New York? I feel like I’ve heard rumors that the new big thing is the macaroon. Like maybe I read that recently in the food section or somewhere.”
But Sylvie, with her customary shrewdness around the value of a dollar, said that macaroons would be far too expensive to make.
“What do you think we should name it?”
Is it really what you would call a business exactly? Cassandra wondered to herself, and said aloud: “Hmm.”
“I was thinking—I’d like to name it after Clementine.”
“Oh, I like that! I’ve always just loved the name Clementine. Let me see. Clementine…”
“Clementine and Friends? No.”
Sylvie snapped her fingers. “I like that. Clementine’s Picnic! It’s really pretty. It sounds kind of French, almost.”
“It makes me think of a scene out of a Renoir painting or something. Young girls in white pinafores eating bread and cheese on the banks of the river…”
The girls she had in mind were Sylvie and herself, their hair in long, thick plaits, Sylvie’s black and Cassandra’s golden, picnicking on the banks of the Charles back when they were teenagers.
hey agreed to test out the lemonade stand the following Saturday and prayed for good weather. And so for the next several days, the girls dashed all around the city buying stuff, Sylvie desperate to turn a profit on their investments as they collected, at Marshalls, more of those white French champagne buckets and blue gingham napkins.
At a cake supply store downtown, they got hopped up sniffing tiny bottled potions of flavorings: lavender, orange, peppermint, rose. Their heads pounding from drinking in all that oozy sweetness, they got hopped up some more on caffeine, their third iced Americanos of the day. They wandered the streets of Manhattan deep in their usual activities: fast walking, fast talking. But today, because they were on a mission, these activities had to them a glitter, an edge.
“So,” Sylvie asked. “How much do you think we can get away with charging for cupcakes?”
Cassandra, to whom no subject in the world was worth less consideration than numbers, said, “One-fifty?”
“Under two dollars, no fucking way! The people who live in Fort Greene now are loaded. I should know, I babysit all of their kids, I’m folding laundry for them in their five-story brownstones day after day! These people will think that the more you charge for your product, the more value it has, see. I say two-fifty, to start.”
They went to Chinatown to buy teas and herbs because “Chinatown’s the cheapest,” explained Sylvie.
“You know, these are kind of yummy looking actually,” said Cassandra, pointing to a package containing four suspiciously smooth orange-colored custards. All four custards could be had for three dollars.
“Hey! You’re right. That kind of soft orange would look great with the blue of the napkins, right? We could buy those and mark them up and say we made them.”
“We could say they were—mango pots de crème!”
“Brilliant. Cassandra, that’s brilliant. I’m going to decorate them with mint leaves on top.”
“If somebody asks you the recipe, do you think you can bullshit?”
“Oh, don’t you worry.
They were walking down Grand Street when there appeared, in all her broken, downtown glory, a mythic figure from their pasts. Cassandra spotted her first.
“Oh my God, it’s Lanie Tobacco!”
But there she was, fabulously, disdainfully nonchalant in a pair of busted black wedges and a leather jacket, dragging with pouty wine-stained lips on a Marlboro Red, to boot.
“Lanie!” called Sylvie.
“Lanie!” called Cassandra.
“Rough night” was all the notorious Lanie Tobacco had to say for herself after all these years; neither of them had seen her since graduation. “I fucked a hippie.”
“Jesus.” Both girls were immediately sympathetic on principle. So sympathetic was the overimaginative Cassandra that she could practically smell the patchouli.
Lanie tried to undo the zipper of her leather jacket, struggling wildly, hurling ashes everywhere. Finally, after giving up altogether, she said, “Ah well, I guess you get what you deserve when you buy Dolce & Gabbana in Beijing.”
Back at the apartment that night, Sylvie tasted one of the orange custards, only to spit it out.
“Oh my God! No way can we sell these. These taste awful. Okay, Cassandra, you owe me three dollars.”
She laughed again, but more weakly this time.
“Well, I wouldn’t have bought these things. They were your idea.”
“Okay,” said Cassandra as, with a twinge of worry, she reached into her wallet and forked over the money.
That Friday, they went to the Marshalls at Atlantic Center to see if they could get more glass pitchers. But Sylvie was annoyed to see that Cassandra went straight for the personal products section. It had long been one of the girls’ secrets to stock up on discounted beauty products there. You often could find some nice things.
“Oh my God, look, white almond talcum powder! Smell, Sylvie, smell! I like that, and look, the bottle looks practically Italian.”
“We can get products some other day. What I was thinking we need, is—”
“Bluebell and hyacinth hand soap! I love bluebells, just the word
is lovely, don’t you think?” Cassandra sighed, no doubt remembering some English children’s book from her childhood in which bluebells had been mentioned.
“Okay, you stay here. I’m going to go to home goods to look for more pitchers.”
“But Sylvie! Look at this stuff. This is a really, really good day at Marshalls, I can tell. You’ve got to stock up on stuff when they have it. Oh my God! Look at all those Italian soaps.” Cassandra’s eyes lit on a shelf full of prettily papered soaps. Sylvie, hands on her hips, stormed off. Ten minutes later, she came back to find Cassandra dreamily wheeling a shopping cart of products around the aisles of the personal products section.
“Come on, let’s get out of here. There aren’t any pitchers.”
“Okay, but let me do one more sweep through these Italian soaps. I don’t want to miss any really good ones.”
“Cassandra! Do you see that line?”
“Yeah, but. It’s Marshalls. It moves fast.”
“No, it’s Marshalls and they have complete and total idiots running the registers. It moves
“But look at all this stuff I found!”
“We’ll come back. We’ll come back on Monday.”
“You want me to leave this stuff here all weekend? Sylvie! These Italian soaps are two dollars each! You want me to just walk away and leave them? Other people will get them!”
“Marshalls gets Italian soaps all the time, Cassandra.”
“Not like this, they don’t!”
“And anyway. We have to get home and start squeezing the lemons.”
Cassandra dreaded the prospect of manual labor, and she felt a queer intensity of loss at the thought of leaving all of those beautiful soaps with their exotic scents (lavender sage, rose peppercorn, lemon mint) behind for other people with lesser taste to collect. But, in spite of her misgivings, she let them go.
Back at the apartment she began to cut and squeeze lemons while Sylvie steeped elaborate floral teas. While she was doing this, she started humming some vague tune to herself. Something French, Cassandra thought. Then it dawned on her that Sylvie was singing:
“Alouette, gentille Alouette / Alouette, je te plumerai / Je te plumerai la tête / Je te plumerai…”
“That song. Cut it out, Sylvie. It gives me the creeps for some reason.”
“This song? Why? I sing it all the time to Clementine. She’s crazy about it!”
“I shall pluck your feathers, I shall pluck your head…Some song to sing to a little girl. I don’t know why but there’s something about that song. It disturbs me.”
Jesus, thought Sylvie, and stopped singing. Then, noticing that Cassandra, who had never been good with her hands, was doing her task rather too slowly for Sylvie’s taste, she said, “Oh, here, let me cut you a bunch of them so you can just put them in the juicer and go.”
Before Cassandra could say anything, Sylvie took the knife from her hands and started slicing lemon after lemon open in single bold, deep cuts.
And then, “Ow!” she cried. She had cut a thin flap of skin off her thumb. Blood started to gush from it.
“Oh, no!” said Cassandra, and looked for something to give Sylvie to mop up the blood. But there were no paper towels in the kitchen, because Sylvie never spent money on things like paper towels on principle and Cassandra hadn’t thought to buy them. And in the bathroom, too, Cassandra couldn’t find any toilet paper to spare because they kept on forgetting to steal some. Finally, with a woeful absence of comfort or conviction, she handed her a dirty tea towel. Sylvie stood at the counter weeping, not so much because her thumb hurt, though of course, it did, but because this was getting ridiculous. She was sick of taking care of Cassandra and Cassandra never taking care of her.
Actually, she thought, nobody ever takes care of me. It’s not just Cassandra. She had been taking care of herself for years. And then she started bawling even more wildly than before.
“Oh my God, Sylvie,” said Cassandra, who winced at the sight of blood and did not fancy herself to be an able nurse, “is it really bad? Should I call an ambulance or something?”
“Don’t call an ambulance, goddamn it! Whatever you do,
don’t call an ambulance
! Jesus Christ, Cassandra. How the hell could you forget? I don’t have any health insurance!”
This sounded, to Cassandra, a dim bell of doom, since for the first time in her life, she didn’t have any health insurance either. And then, one year later, just as she was stepping out of Grand Central Terminal and not looking where she was going, she collapsed flat on her hands and knees on the frantic intersection of East Forty-Second and Lexington. The first thought, though her tights were torn and her knees richly bloodied, was not
I don’t have any health insurance.
She wanted to tell Sylvie all about it, but by then it was too late for Cassandra to tell Sylvie anything at all.