Cat glasses and Pekinese
13 May 2014
Today there was a woman on a bus carrying a Pekinese dog inside her handbag. He had a red bow on his head that matched her sweater.
At first glance, I thought she was in her mid-fifties, but on closer inspection, underneath the pancake makeup and sequined cat glasses, I found her to be much younger.
She seemed like a spy in reverse – instead of drawing attention away from herself so she could slip into places unseen, she attracted the attention of everyone around. For one thing, she kept waving her arms about, which caused the rhinestones on her fingers to sparkle.
No one on the bus was acknowledging her presence, but as soon as she turned away, the passengers would steal a more direct look, and they couldn’t keep their eyes off the little dog.
She kept fiddling with the bow on his head, straightening and adjusting it. Her rings flashed and white powder puffed up from the dog in a perfumey cloud. Other than occasionally licking his lips with a tiny pink tongue, the dog didn’t move at all. He could almost have been a toy.
On her lap she had an old brownie box camera. Was she going to some event to take pictures, maybe a dog show?
I wondered who she was. Judging from the shine on her pumps, she wasn’t on the dole. Or maybe those heels had been resoled recently? And there was a bit of awkward stitching around the toe of one shoe. I wasn’t quite sure.
While I was looking at her feet, I heard a soft click. I raised my head, and she turned quickly to the side, so I couldn’t catch her eye. Both hands were on the camera and the little dog sat serenely in the bag next to her. I took that moment to break the ice, “Oh, what a cute doggie! Where are you taking him?”
“No place, really. I’m just riding the bus. And you? Where are you going, dearie?”
Dearie? I leaned forward, and could see that her skin was perfectly smooth under the makeup. She must be about the same age as my daughter. “Nowhere special, I have a day off work and I thought I’d head to the seafront and see what I could see.”
“That sounds nice. I might have a little walk on the prom, myself. Fancy a cup of tea?”
Later, at the seaside cafe, I asked about the dog. “Oh, he’s my helper, people just adore him, don’t they?”
“Mmm. He’s a cutie, alright.” I reached out to rub behind his ears.
“I’ve got a lot of good snaps already today. You should come along to my exhibit next month. Claudine Mayer Sherman.” She extended her hand.
I gasped. “You’re opening at the Southbank Centre!”
The Observer had a feature on her street photography just last week. But in the article, she’d appeared without cat glasses and without the Pekinese.
I guess she was a kind of spy.
[Inspired by the story of Vivien Maier with echoes of Cindy Sherman]