Last night I confided the truth to Binky.
“Darling!” she exclaimed, as she landed on the sofa beside me, her very being a delicate confection of cashmere, pearls, money, and a Seven Sisters degree. “You can’t be serious. Jocasta Crater-Mashovsky is a pervert!”
Binky had never spoken so plainly, so forcefully, to me. Not even when I wore white two days after Labor Day. (My only excuse for that faux pas was Tad showing up for Glee Club practice with spinach in his teeth. Quelle catastrophe!)
“I know what you’re thinking, Binky—that ever since I broke up with Tad I’ve been a 125-pound weakling, and I won’t be able to resist her lurid advances,” I retorted calmly. “But Jocasta Crater-Mashovsky is the most talented artist in the Bay Area. Only she could do just to my countenance.” I gestured vaguely about my face, as if spritzing myself with an eau de ego that, admittedly, I did not need.
Binky twisted her pearls, a habit that indicated anxiety on her part. “I don’t know, Marlene. I just don’t know. Hester Schlumpfeld thought the very same thing, you know.”
I blinked. The name was not familiar to me.
“She was class of ’51, just before your time.” Binky reclined and reached for her cigarette case. She pulled out a cigarette and tapped it thoughtfully on the engraved silver casing before proceeding with her tale. “She came out here just like you, Marlene, all young and high-spirited, looking for love and adventure. She too fell prey to the insidious idea of Jocasta painting her portrait.” Binky lit her cigarette. A sigh released a lovely cloud of smoke. “It was all swell at first,” she said with bitter sarcasm. “She went to Jocasta’s studio twice a week. The painting was marvelous, she told me, simply divine. Jocasta seemed quite pleased with the progress they were making.” Binky’s countenance clouded over. Or maybe it was the cigarette smoke. “Then it all started to change. Suddenly Jocasta wasn’t so happy with the picture. She asked Hester to come to the studio more often. Soon, Hester was climbing that dark, ominous hill to Jocasta’s mansion every day. Even”—here, Binky choked on the heinousness of it all, or perhaps the smoke went down the wrong way—“on Sundays.”
A chill writhed down my spine, and I swear it was almost pleasurable. I hated myself for feeling that, hated Binky telling me this horrid story, and hated the sick fascination I felt for Jocasta Crater-Mashovsky. But I could not stop myself from asking Binky to continue.
“Are you sure? Are you sure you want to hear it all, Marlene? One day after I returned from a bake sale Hester was waiting here for me. The maid had let her in. Hester paced and paced like a madwoman, she had something to tell me, she said, and she didn’t think I would take it well. Finally, after she drank all of Richard’s scotch, she told me. She said she was in love with Jocasta!” Binky bit her knuckle. I wiggled in my seat. It felt rather good. “Well, I just ran to the foyer and threw up in Mr. Ping’s bonsai plant, that’s what I did. I had to pay him overtime to deal with that, let me tell you.” She shook her head. “Now normally I’m the type to say live and let live, but—not in this case. No sooner than Hester told me she was in love with that—creature, then it was all over. Jocasta destroyed the painting and threw Hester out and told her never to return again.” Marlene now looked at me, smugly triumphant. “Now—do you still want Jocasta Crater-Mashovsky to paint your portrait?”
I bit my lip and did not say anything for a good long while. Did I, did I really want to make that lonely trek up that hill, to that mansion, so that I could unveil my body to Jocasta’s dark, flashing eyes, so that I could bare my soul to this predatory deviant who would record it—for all the world to see—in egg white and tempura?
Decisively, I tossed my hair back. “Darling,” I finally chirped, “could I borrow Giles tomorrow morning? I don’t fancy the idea of walking up that darned hill. I mean, no wonder Hester succumbed to that prevent, she must have been utterly exhausted every time she arrived there.” My reasons were not entirely truthful. Upon my first meeting with the talented Miss Crater-Mashovsky, I wanted to make the finest impression, emerging from a Bentley in my very best Chanel suit. I would battle for my virtue against this artiste with my only weapon—my unerring, unmerciful sense of fashion.