Authors: Charlotte Silver
ext, while warming themselves up over cups of Valrhona hot chocolate indoors, Gala asked her friends: “So. Feel like going over to Orpheus’s place with me? He invited me for this, like, little karaoke evening he’s having later on.”
“Orpheus! Are you still hooking up with that hipster doofus?”
“Hey! That’s not fair, Sylvie.”
“Ah! So you are hooking up with him or you’d be perfectly fine admitting that he’s a hipster doofus.”
But you’re going to come with me, aren’t you?”
“Where is his apartment again?” asked Sylvie, who considered all invitations from the vantage point of geographical convenience, or lack thereof.
But to Cassandra the question of greater importance was: “Why karaoke? Why must people in our generation persist in liking karaoke so much? It’s one of the trends I just can’t get behind.”
“One of the trends? One of the trends? Cassandra, you can’t get behind
of the trends of our generation.”
“Oh, and you like karaoke, I suppose?”
“Karaoke? I fucking hate karaoke. But that’s not the point. The point is—
Please. You have to come. I beg of you. I need your protection. Strength in numbers! Orpheus is sleeping with this new girl and I’m going to have to meet her for the first time tonight.”
“Is it another Bennington girl?” Cassandra wanted to know. Orpheus McCloud was one of their few male classmates, and it only followed that even after graduation, there would be untold numbers of willing and ready Bennington girls whose sweet, wild privates were left for him to plunder. He was a not entirely failed folk musician and not even bad-looking, either. Not even bad-looking was the best a girl could hope for in summing up the opposite sex at Bennington.
“No, she’s somebody he met in the real world, can you believe it? I don’t know what her story is. But I’m dying to find out.”
“But Gala,” Sylvie said, “I just don’t get why you are always so incredibly possessive about your exes. It’s not like you don’t move on quickly enough yourself—you’re always sleeping with somebody new.”
Gala considered the magnitude of Sylvie’s question with the respect it deserved. While winding a chestnut curl around one of her fingers, painted with sluttishly chipped purple polish, she said finally: “Yeah, well. There are plenty of people you can find to
go to sleep with
in this city. Finding someone you want to
wake up with
is another story. I like Orpheus, I’m still kind of hung up on him. You know what he used to do? He used to actually
make my bed
sometimes. In the morning, before he left for class. Don’t you think that was really sweet of him?”
“No,” said Sylvie.
“No,” agreed Cassandra. “I’d think it was only gentlemanly courtesy.”
“Please! You two must not know what’s out there. You haven’t
After much deliberation and more begging from Gala, it was agreed that the girls would accompany her to Orpheus’s place in Astoria.
“Astoria? Where the hell’s that?” demanded Cassandra. It sounded so foreign. Another country, almost.
“Queens, you idiot. Gala’s right. You haven’t lived! Try getting off Brattle Street much?”
“Only when I come see you,” Cassandra confessed.
“Yeah, I keep wondering why the hell you haven’t just moved to New York yet,” Gala pointed out, reasonably enough. “It feels like you’re always visiting.”
Cassandra shrugged and reminded Gala that she had a boyfriend in Boston and wanted to be with him, an explanation that she thought Gala, being by her own admission a complete and total slut, would accept.
And Gala did accept it, saying: “He’s, like, incredibly tall, right?”
“Six foot five,” said Cassandra, happy to enumerate.
“That’s hot, Cassandra. That must be really hot.”
“Manhattan,” groaned Sylvie, not for the first time. “I’ve told you and told you! It’s an island of short men.”
“What do you think brings them here?” Gala asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that very question and I have a theory. Money! They’re at an evolutionary disadvantage being short, see, so they have to do
to help them get the ladies. So, they all decide to come to Manhattan to try to make money.”
“Hmm,” murmured Gala and Cassandra, convinced.
They left the café and picked up the train at Union Square. It took too long to get to Astoria, and it was in the wrong goddamn direction, Sylvie realized: you had to get on an uptown train and cross the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge. It was going to be a schlep getting back to Fort Greene at the end of the night. It occurred to her that she was already getting a little jaded, compared to when she’d first moved to the city. Back then, she was up for going absolutely everywhere. Now she liked keeping her entire life below Fourteenth Street, if she could help it. Even invitations to openings in Chelsea were getting all too easy to say no to. Plus, nobody ever actually has any fun at openings, and anybody who persisted in saying that they did must be, in Sylvie’s estimation, either a liar or a pretentious moron.
Cassandra, on the other hand, had never seen anything like Astoria before: another country indeed and not one she would have traveled to by choice. No, it was more like the kind of country where you’d have to get your shots taken care of before they’d let you in. The streets were thronged with sticky brown children running untamed. No trees, no history, no apparent charm; even the fresh fallen snowflakes, which were always so enchanting in Cambridge, did precious little to coat the sordid ambience of a place like this. There were skinned lambs slung in the windows of the butcher shops and, at the foot of the subway, something that went by the ominous words of
. Who could possibly eat food from a truck? thought Cassandra, daintily stepping over the wet strands of garbage. Who dares to risk it?
“A lot of Greeks out here,” said Gala. “Some of the guys are pretty hot to begin with, but I’ve noticed that they have a way of aging fast and getting all jowly. You have to stick with the really young ones. See”—she gestured to a sculpted young man unpacking a crate of clementines at an overflowing fruit stand; it was nearly Christmas and citrus in all its quenching splendor was appearing everywhere—“that place is open twenty-four hours, which is cool. I love combining fruit and sex. Have you ever had a guy feed you chunks of mango right after doing it?”
The girls shook their heads.
You really ought to keep it in mind, for future reference. Okay, I think it’s this way to Orpheus’s place, if I remember correctly…”
They stopped en route and bought him a bottle of prosecco, which Sylvie, for one, resented, because she remembered afterward that his family was loaded. Also: since when did Bennington boys ever remember to bring anybody a hostess gift? They just brought themselves and that was supposed to be the ultimate prize. Well, but who could blame them? It
“Gala, do you have any insight into why Orpheus lives out here? I thought that his family, like, once owned the state of Kentucky or something like that. Like, really old Southern money. Right?”
“Orpheus McCloud,” said Cassandra dreamily. “With a name like that…”
“He just likes living out here, I guess. You know how guys are. They don’t care if things are clean.”
“But still. You’d think it would be inconvenient, living all the way out here. Like, even getting somebody to come home with you. They’d have to go all the way to Queens.”
“But even if Orpheus’s family does have a ton of money, so what? I’ve always thought it was cool that he lives pretty modestly, all things considered.”
“Oh, right, why, because living in Queens when you could actually afford to live somewhere else is so ‘authentic’?”
“Well, okay. I did always wonder what the hell he was doing in Queens.”
When they got to Orpheus’s apartment, they walked in on him and the new girl he was sleeping with, as if the two of them were in the middle of a date. The girl, whoever she was, turned out to be some blonde in a black leotard popping a lamb roast into the oven. The apartment was fragrant with spices—tarragon, thyme. Meanwhile, Orpheus lounged at the table, a lock of long strawberry-blond hair in his eyes, drinking whiskey. He radiated the sleepy comfort of a man for whom a woman was presently cooking a good meal. The girl, Cassandra noted, wasn’t sleepy—anything but. There had been a certain striking pertness to the pose her body struck when she’d popped the roast into the oven. Confidence, Cassandra was thinking. This girl struck her as being overconfident. She moved around Orpheus’s kitchen with an air altogether lacking in the mincing apology and accommodation Cassandra was long used to observing in women around men, and nearly always favored herself.
“Are you two wearing the same exact coat?” asked Orpheus, squinting at Gala and Cassandra. He thought so, but couldn’t be sure and didn’t want to risk getting it wrong. If there was one thing he’d learned at Bennington, it was that girls’ egos were fragile. They could take offense at the tiniest things
and then before you knew it there would be hell to pay all over campus. The Bennington female, Orpheus thought: Desire and drama incarnate.
coats!” Not to be outdone by this strange woman and her lamb roast, Gala did a twirl, nudging Cassandra to join her. Cassandra, with rather less natural flair than Gala for this sort of thing, complied. Jesus, thought Sylvie, relieved to be staying out of this one in her plain black peacoat.
“Madeline?” Orpheus still couldn’t get with the program.
At this point the mystery chick spoke up. “
,” she said to Orpheus, assuming a suave, patient tone. “The children’s books. You know. The little French schoolgirl. The redhead.”
“Oh, the redhead! Right. The redhead with the yellow hat. Huh.” He would have continued this line of thought but was getting distracted by the sight of Gala, peeling off the
coat and propping her boobs up at a bursting angle. Goddamn it, thought Orpheus, pouring himself another glass of whiskey. As luck would have it, Gala just happened to have on a leotard, too. Red, though, not black. With it she was wearing a thrifted tartan kilt, sloppily missing its pin. There was always something a little slapdash about Gala’s appearance, but being so beautiful, and still young, she could get away with it. In her case men would take in the sight of missing pins and torn stockings not as lapses in personal grooming but as come-hither cries for their help, a prelude to disrobing, even.
“Orpheus…” she started to coo. Where was she going with this? she asked herself. What did she have left to say to him? She didn’t know, she realized; she just fancied the sound of herself lisping his name.
“You two are so cute in your coats,” said the other girl, finally putting out her hand to introduce herself because somebody had to do it. Lee, she said her name was.
Lee, thought Cassandra, sizing her up. A breezy, cool girl’s name and a breezy, cool kind of girl: her platinum hair was worn in a boyish crop. Black eyeliner, pale lips. Petite—about Sylvie’s size: no match for Gala’s goods.
“You know what else your coats remind me of,” Lee went on. “You know that old movie—that old movie with Peter Sellers and the young girls who follow him all around?”
?” asked Cassandra, failing to see what Lee was getting at. Gala didn’t care because Gala at this moment was too busy making saucer eyes at Orpheus.
“No, no, not
, no way! It’s from the sixties, it’s about these two young girls in New York City who get obsessed with Peter Sellers and follow him around. He’s, like, a famous concert pianist or something—”
“Oh! I know.
The World of Henry Orient.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s it.”
Cassandra recalled seeing that movie once as part of a Peter Sellers weekend at the Brattle Theatre, in Harvard Square. The girls in that movie were incredibly young and, if memory served, really fucking annoying: just what was Lee getting at, anyway?
What a crummy evening this was shaping up to be, Sylvie was thinking, going ahead and opening the bottle of prosecco and helping herself to a glass that was rather notably generous in its proportions. Coming all the way out to Queens, and it didn’t look like that lamb roast was going to be ready in
, or that once it was there would be enough of it to feed all five of them.
Cassandra sized up Lee again. Gala meanwhile was pulling Orpheus down onto the sofa, right on top of the sumptuous contours of her lap. Giggles. What was it about this chick, this Lee creature, standing there with a mysterious, not clearly earned sense of authority in Orpheus’s kitchen? And this sense of authority didn’t dovetail with her face, which, Cassandra decided, was actually rather faded for someone who still dared to flaunt a black leotard without a bra on underneath. There was something about her that was a wee bit tragic and it wasn’t just that she was going to all of that silly effort with the lamb roast.
y the time karaoke was over, the girls were thoroughly drunk and decided to go to one of the many Greek restaurants in the neighborhood for taramosalata and warm pita bread, and deep blue bowls of avgolemono soup.
So, I got the scoop,” said Gala. “Also, is Orpheus totally going to get back together with me, or what? Mission accomplished! Anyway, get
“Lee?” repeated Sylvie. “The chick Orpheus is sleeping with?”
“Wait, hold on a second.” This from Cassandra. “Orpheus is sleeping with a thirty-three-year-old?”
“Uh-huh. See. There’s no way he’s not going to get back together with me. And I made myself perfectly—available.”
“Did you ever,” muttered Sylvie, helping herself to more taramosalata. “You know, I’m just crazy about Mediterranean food. You could almost consider living out here, just for that. This stuff is
“Yeah, but,” said Cassandra. “I mean, I know Orpheus’s apartment is, like, enormous by New York standards, but this neighborhood—it’s ugly and it
You might want to eat ethnic food sometimes, but you wouldn’t want to have to smell it, day in, day out.”
“Nobody lives in Queens,” said Sylvie definitively, for nobody they knew, aside from the perverse Orpheus, did. Also, Sylvie couldn’t help but be proud of herself for getting in on the Fort Greene wave before everybody else did. This way, she had that uniquely New York satisfaction of being proud to say she had lived in a neighborhood before it got gentrified and reaping the benefits of still living there after it did.
“Sylvie! Cassandra! Let’s dish. What the hell do you think that Orpheus is doing with a thirty-three-year-old?”
“I think the better question is, what is a thirty-three-year-old doing with Orpheus?” Sylvie offered.
“Oh, come on. Orpheus is
He’s a musician.”
“Bennington boy hot. Not real world hot. That’s different.”
“What makes me sad,” mused Cassandra, “is the idea of a grown woman being reduced to sleeping with a Bennington boy. In the real world. Aren’t there any other men she could meet in all of New York City?”
“Maybe older women are good in the sack,” said Sylvie. “You hear about that sometimes. Sexual peak and all that.”
The girls had heard about it, but that does not mean that they believed it. They shook their heads and agreed to order some pistachio baklava for dessert, the conundrum of Lee and her thirty-three-year-old charms, or lack thereof, forgotten altogether. And as soon as possible they returned to the subject of their own sex lives, so much more fascinating and fulfilling than any older woman’s could possibly be.
“What ever happened with that guy you mentioned the last time I saw you, Sylvie? It sounded like maybe there was a new guy.”
“Oh, I think you said he was, like, this really up-and-coming fashion photographer or something…”
Sylvie now had a lackluster day job touching up photos of celebrities at a fashion agency in the meatpacking district and was felt by her friends to be “in” with fashion people as a result. (This was how she had come to let drop to Cassandra once, over the phone, “The other day, Scarlett Johansson stopped by the office to see this guy Federico, he’s her personal makeup artist. And guess what? On a good day, your figure is really pretty much exactly like Scarlett Johansson’s!” “Oh my God, really?” Cassandra had squealed, not stopping to ask just whose figure Sylvie thought her’s resembled on a
“Oh, that guy,” Sylvie said now. “Him. The one I met at one of those pretentious loft parties in SoHo, right. He keeps texting me and begging me to come over, but.”
“But what? Wasn’t he any good?”
But wait! Didn’t I tell you? I know I told Cassandra.”
“What?” Gala pounced, praying for something dirty.
“Ugh, well, this is embarrassing, but. I drank a ton of sangria, back at the loft, back when we were dancing. That stuff was delicious! And
Anyway the point is—we didn’t use protection. We ended up having sex in the backseat of a cab. The funny thing was, that was way better than the sex we had once we got back to his place. I think it was exciting just because, you know, I never take cabs since it’s not like I can afford them. So it seemed all
at the time. But when I got to his place, to tell you the truth I just wasn’t that excited anymore. And then, the next morning, I had to hightail it to Duane Reade with a hangover and get the morning-after pill, ASAP. He paid for it, though. Thank God! Or I would have been screwed.”
“Ah! That was really thoughtful of him, Sylvie! Guys don’t always do that, you know.”
“They don’t?” asked Cassandra, thinking, as she did so, how very grateful she was to have a steady boyfriend back in Boston and to not have to have casual sex, as Sylvie and Gala evidently did. So degrading, she thought. Which, for the record, is what people who have not yet had casual sex always think until they try it out for themselves.
“So,” she heard Gala asking Sylvie now, “was he as good as Ludo was? Or can nobody else compare?”
“Ludo! That bastard. The last time I ever saw that guy, it was when I quit, remember? We were all having lunch at his studio and I had just figured out he was sleeping with that new girl I couldn’t stand, Katarina, the one who always used to wear those stupid python pants, and I decided right then and there to give my notice and throw a roast chicken in his lap!”
“Oh, that’s right, he always used to give you guys roast chicken from FreshDirect!”
“Uh-huh, that was his idea of payment. Bastard,” said Sylvie again, really stewing this time. “When you stop to think that his family owns diamond mines!”
“Wait, did you sleep with Ludo?” Cassandra said, furrowing her brow. “Because if you did, you never told me.”
“Oh, what, do I have to tell you everything?”
“She told me!” piped up Gala, not very helpfully, Sylvie thought. Gala loved getting in the middle—of best friends or of couples: it didn’t matter which.
Sylvie sighed, annoyed with the both of them right now.
“It was just a fling, Cassandra.”
“Oh, Sylvie! Come on! It was just the best sex of your life.”
Both girls glared at her.
“What?” demanded Gala Gubelman. Selfish, she polished off the last piece of baklava. Pistachio was her favorite. “After all! Flings always are.”
Later on that night, while the girls were on the long train ride all the way back to Brooklyn and chattering among themselves, Lee bedded Orpheus briskly and left his apartment, not in the least in love but fully delighted with the experience nonetheless, only to stop at the taco truck for a salted tongue empanada. Such bliss, treating oneself to a greasy, solitary meal after a good bout of meaningless sex. As she bit into the empanada, savoring the little touches of the radish and lime sprinkled on top, she recalled the spectacle of those poor, desperate younger women prancing around Orpheus’s apartment earlier that evening. Bennington girls! thought Lee to herself, digging into her empanada. She herself had graduated many years ago now from Sarah Lawrence, so she knew what she was talking about. They were so incredibly young and really fucking annoying.