“Venezuelan. It’s a big oil family, people say.” “Oh, I thought it was sugar. I’m pretty sure I heard it was sugar.” “Yeah? Well. Raping-and-pillaging kind of fortune, anyway.” “Now, Emily . . .” “Sorry, girls, but you’re both wrong,” Betsy said. “What I heard — what I know, because I heard it from a very good source,” she added mischievously, tipping her cup up and wishing the coffee had lasted longer because she was trying to cut back, “was that she was John Curtis’s secretary!” Now she had their attention. “His temp! They were all living in London and she was married to some other guy, some English guy, and she started temping at Invictus, to make a little money of her own, and the next thing you know, she’s running off with the boss.” “Wow,” said Ann, who never said a mean word about anyone, though whether out of kindness or an utter lack of discernment, Emily “Oh, Invictus. ” Emily addressed Betsy. “Of course — Martin Kerr Invictus. It just clicked.” She smirked at the other two. “They must be rich!” Emily, whose husband, Stephen Simon, came from one of the leading New York real estate families and was worth hundreds of millions, punctuated her observation with a wheezing laugh. “Really rich!” Emily had grown up in the city with her divorced mother on the Upper West Side. She had been a smart girl, had gone to Cleary School and Harvard on financial aid, clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, prosecuted perps in the DA’s office, and eventually segued into white-collar defense at Cravath. But at a certain point (the birth of her fourth child), the Simon money had made it ludicrous that she would go into an office in the morning. Jobless, she eschewed all accoutrements of wealth. She wore no makeup or engagement ring; her outfit today — a typical ensemble — consisted of a stretched-out, maroon-colored turtleneck over baggy threadbare corduroys with no belt. She picked her nails down to the quick (nice nails meant you weren’t serious) and her laugh evoked a large sea mammal with respiratory trouble. “The firm’s done well,” Betsy concededwith the sort of appreciative wistfulness she’d often felt since she quit. “Who’s your source on all this?” Emily asked. Betsy grinned. “ She is! She was telling that woman —Gwen? You know, Gwen . . . what’s-her-name, the one who looks like Lally’s au pair? — the whole story at pickup the other day. I was just standing there trying to smile in a friendly way. Couldn’t help overhearing . . .” “So you practically know her!” Emily squealed. “You’re the one who should invite her over!” “No, no, come on — I don’t know her.” “Well, I don’t know her at all!” Ann said defensively. and Betsy couldn’t have said. “That’s . . . I mean — interesting!” She giggled. “Cool!”
“I do feel bad not inviting her over.” Ann sighed. “I really don’t think she cares, Ann. She doesn’t look like she cares.” “We’ll invite her over next time,” Betsy said soothingly. It wasn’t that they had any plan to snub the woman. In fact, they’d spoken freely, rather giddily, just now, the mothers, because they liked her. They’d liked Minnie Curtis from the get-go. They liked the alert, arched-eyebrow, ready look of her. The money didn’t hurt. Martin Kerr’s Invictus was one of the funds people had heard of. Aggressive. Shady, perhaps?That too. No one cared, in the same way that no one cared whether the New Mother came from a South American sugar fortune or a temp agency. Either way, she provided interest. And who were they to judge? This wasn’t a society in which “Okay.” “Fine.”
one needed to know whether one’s neighbor could be trusted — or had the same values one had. This was a society that ran on Lycra and imported Labradoodles, on making a virtue of a pervasive lack of any kind of necessity: deciding to pick up the kids yourself when you could have sent the nanny. They glanced again at Mrs. Curtis. (Surnames were still in use north of Forty-
THE HANDBAG MIGHT BE A LITTLE MUCH FOR TEN A.M.: A QUILTED BLACK RECTANGLE SITTING BESIDE HER ON THE BANQUETTE, WRAPPED UP IN ITS CLICHÉD GOLD CHAIN OF A STRAP.
Second Street.) She was looking around the café with a cheerful, expectant air. There was nothing subtle about her appeal — one could venture, about any attribute of hers at all. She had shining hair of the darkest near black brown and wonderfully white, perfect teeth, and her mouth was a pink bow. Her cheeks might have admitted some adolescent struggle with acne, which careful though plentiful makeup concealed. It was a little cheesy, the way Mrs. Curtis was made up, pink blush and glossy lips, but it worked. It was sweet, how polished she was, like a little girl before a birthday party. The handbag might be a little much for ten a.m.: a quilted black rectangle sitting beside her on the banquette, wrapped up in its clichéd gold chain of a strap. But this was a society of strivers who had achieved and gotten used to wealth. Real snobbery was rare. Maybe everyone allowed herself one accoutrement straight out of the aspirational era, one item she knew better than to covet now but that, then, had symbolized everything. A black quilted Chanel purse; how many years had Minnie Curtis née Colón desired such a thing before she felt she could afford it? In the end, for this morning, anyway, the women — yawning presently and stretching, saying, “I gotta get to the gym,” ordering second half-caff lattes, and looking, without remark, at the time on their phones — granted themselves the luxury of not inviting her over. -- Caitlin Macy is the author of The Fundamentals of Play and Spoiled. A graduate of Yale, she received her MFA from Columbia. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine and Slate, among other publications. *
“I haven’t been introduced!” echoed Betsy. “Anyway, she’s waiting for someone, I’m sure.”
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