The following is an excerpt from Erin, Girl. Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Cunha. All rights reserved.
I like to play this game.
I made it up myself, but I play it only once a year.
There are specific instructions to my game. First, I get dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Then, I pull my hair back into a low ponytail. And finally—this is the crucial element—I put on a pair of dark sunglasses. (Wearing a hat is optional, depending on my mood and level of play.)
My playground is Yorkville: Toronto’s hamlet of luxury and splendor. It’s where the rich come to show-off that they’re indeed rich, and where those of lesser financial means come to gawk.
This population of gawkers increases a thousandfold in September during the Toronto International Film Festival as Hollywood movie stars descend upon the city and get added to the mix.
And I’m one of them: a gawker, not a movie star. But I pretend I’m famous.
Or hope to get mistaken for someone famous. I’d even settle for up-and-comer, on the verge of major stardom, currently featuring in independent films.
That’s the game.
Once I’m in character, the key is to never make lasting eye contact with anyone. If someone catches my eye, I have to look away quickly—as if I’ve just been spotted.
It’s also important to have a coffee cup in my hand at all times, preferably from Starbucks. Caffeine is one of the few acceptable reasons a celebrity would brave the possible onslaught of crazed fans.
I tried having my sister act as my fake publicist one year. She wasn’t good at following the rules or staying in character. It’s better to play alone.
And so, here I am on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. But I’ve been walking around for hours, and no one seems to recognize who I am. I mean, who my celebrity lookalike is. My Starbucks is long gone, and I’m feeling slightly foolish drinking from an empty cup. I’m questioning whether to invest another five bucks in my game and get a fresh one, but I’ve completed so many laps around the main loop, most of the gawkers must be on to me.
I’m about to call it quits when I hear, “Anne! Anne! Ms. Hathaway!”
I glance over and see a crowd forming . . . and it’s making its way towards me.
Oh, my God. They think I’m Anne Hathaway.
I can’t believe this is happening. After all these years of playing my little game, people actually think I’m somebody!
I guess I sort of look like her: my hair is lighter, she’s definitely skinnier, and my eyes aren’t quite so big. But, maybe, from a distance . . .
As I’m psyching myself up to play the role of Anne Hathaway, I see the crowd has found the real Anne, standing a few feet away from me.
I contemplate joining them, but if I do, I’ll return to gawker status. So, I sneak a candid photo of Anne with my phone and leave her to her fans.
Sigh. There’s always next year.
A sudden flash in the distance interrupts my self-consoling. I can’t make out what it was because the afternoon sun is too strong, but I’m curious now and want to find out. So, I head in the direction of where the flash came from.
It’s only when I’m standing directly in front of it that I see what drew me forward: the glint of a gold lock.
There before me in a store window display is what I’ve been searching for, without realizing it, until this very moment.
A vintage Chanel 2.55 bag. Medium. Navy.
* * * * *
I’m not into designer labels. (That could be because I’ve never owned a designer label.) But this bag is different. This bag belonged to my mom.
Okay, maybe not this specific bag. My mom had one exactly like it. I remember her wearing it when I was a kid. All the ladies would paw at it, asking if it was real.
It was real. My grandmother passed the bag down to my mom when she got her first job, and it would’ve been mine, except my mom had to sell it. I was probably thirteen-years-old at the time, but I can still see the expression on her face as she handed it over to the hairy, gold-chained man who responded to her newspaper ad. She had such a hard time letting it go.
I’d forgotten all about the bag until today. Now that I’ve seen it again, I want it back. I need it back.
The odd thing is that I’ve never noticed this store before, not that I shop in this area. It’s somewhat (totally) out of my budget. Normally, I stay on the street. I’m intimidated even stepping foot into expensive stores, but it looks as though it’s a vintage shop, so it can’t be that bad.
I muster up some courage and go inside, where I find a sales assistant wearing an excessive amount of hot-pink lipstick for daytime hours.
“Excuse me?” I ask her. “How much for the Chanel bag in the window? The navy one?”
“You mean, the vintage Chanel 2.55, it’s . . .” She pauses to look me up and down, then says with a smirk, “Two.”
That’s more than I’ve ever paid for a bag, but with some cutting back I could—
“No, two thousand.”
That can’t be right. How can one bag cost that much? That’s almost two months’ rent.
“But—but it’s used!” I say.
“It’s a classic. It’s Chanel.”
“Okay, um, thank you,” I say, walking away deflated.
* * * * *
I’m back where I started, standing outside the vintage shop, gazing through the window at my mom’s bag.
It’s gorgeous. It should already be mine. But two grand for a purse? That’s insane.
Or is it?
Maybe I could charge it to my credit card and promise myself I’ll pay it off as quickly as possible. It’s not as if it’s a frivolous purchase. It’s an heirloom. My missing family heirloom.
Hope restored, I turn to reenter the shop.
But then, I remember something. Something very, very bad: I had a “plasectomy” last month. That’s where you cut up all your credit cards into teeny, tiny, little bits. And to top it off, I had the brilliant idea of cancelling them to avoid the temptation of calling the credit card companies to get them back. It felt so good at the time. Why couldn’t I have waited one more month to find divine financial intervention?
So now, thanks to debt guru Dave Ramsey, I’m on a cash-only system. (I’m not a big fan of Mr. Ramsey at the moment.)
But the image of the bag won’t leave my mind.
I find myself back inside the shop.
“Um, excuse me?” I ask, tapping the same salesgirl on the shoulder.
She turns and frowns when she sees it’s me.
“Hi, again,” I say. “I was wondering . . . do you have a layaway plan?”
“We don’t do lay-a-way,” she says, then walks away from me.
Whatever. They can keep their overpriced bag.
I leave the shop and manage not to look back.
More than once.
* * * * *
I make it back to my apartment with zero purchases, one (real) celebrity sighting, and two blisters on my feet. I linger in the hallway before entering. Someone is having something delicious for dinner tonight. It smells so good.
I drop my crummy, old purse in the one luxury of my studio apartment: a walk-in closet. Sometimes I lie down in there and daydream. It’s my form of meditation.
If only I could call my sister, Betty, and tell her about the bag. But she’s in Boston with her boyfriend, Matt, and I have strict instructions to limit calls to emergency situations. This seems urgent to me, although Betty may not see it that way. She’s been travelling back and forth to Boston every weekend for the last few months because Matt’s on a consulting project there. They’ve been dating since high school and are a bit codependent.
As for Betty, she’s an accountant at one of the Big Four firms. I can never remember which one; probably because I zone out at the very mention of the word accounting. But she likes it. Her actual name is Beatrice, which she doesn’t like, so she goes by Betty. Our last name is Bettencourt, making her Betty Bettencourt. It’s a crowd-pleaser.
We’re twins. Well, what is called “Irish twins,” as we were born within twelve months of one another. (Being Irish isn’t a necessary requirement.) I was born in February, and she came along later that same year in December. Even though we couldn’t be more different, we’re really close. We’ve been through a lot together. She’s my best friend.
And I can’t even call to tell her my news.
So, I settle for the next best thing: a frozen dinner and a night with my other friends—the ones that live in the TV.
* * * * *
I dozed off sometime between the opening monologue of a Saturday Night Live rerun and an infomercial for a gadget that can chop an onion 101 different ways. Before I’m tempted to buy this spellbinding gadget, I turn off the TV.
Lacking the energy to convert my futon sofa once again into a bed, I leave it as is and vow to permanently keep it in the bed position come the morning. It’s not as if I get many visitors anyway.
I’m also too lazy to get up to wash the makeup off my face and brush my teeth.
I accept the future consequences and go back to sleep.
* * * * *
Betty’s flight comes in at six. I debate surprising her at the airport, but that would mean giving up one of my precious Sunday evenings.
Instead, I catch up on some reading. I subscribe to a few fashion and gossip magazines; I’m still on the summer issues, and it’s practically fall.
I'm so deeply immersed in a “How to Get Bikini Ready in 6 Weeks” article that I almost don’t hear my phone ringing.
“Hey, Betty Boop,” I say, answering the call.
“Ugh. Stop it with that already.”
“You love it.”
“Not so much. How was film fest?”
“Good. I saw Anne Hathaway.”
“Cool, but did you see any actual films this time?”
“Um, no. I was kind of busy. Betty, you won’t believe it. I saw—”
“Hugh Jackman? Was he with Anne? Is he cuter in real life? Was he taller or shorter than you expected?”
“I didn’t see Hugh. I saw—”
“Did you finally see Ryan Gosling? Can you stop stalking movie stars now?”
“What? I don’t stalk movie stars. Just listen! This is important.” I take a deep breath and continue. “While I was in Yorkville yesterday, I saw the most beautiful bag. Not any old bag, the bag: a vintage Chanel 2.55. And . . . it was navy!”
“Chanel? Why do you need a Chanel bag? You already have a bunch of purses.”
“I don’t think you heard me properly. It’s not any Chanel bag; it’s the 2.55. As in, mom’s bag.”
“That’s what it was called? I didn’t know it had a name.”
“I need this bag, Betty. It’s our birthright.”
“How much was it?”
I tell her.
“Two thousand? Are you kidding me?” she says, laughing.
“You can’t put a price on a birthright!”
“Are you nuts, Erin? You don’t have twenty bucks, much less a couple of grand. Forget about it. Go to H&M and buy a purse there. No one will know the difference.”
I should have known she wouldn’t get it. Betty’s pretty frugal. She’s the one that told me about this Dave Ramsey guy and his cash-only system that inspired my credit card cutting last month. Ever since she bought a one-bedroom-plus-den condo last year, she’s been on a mission to get me on the property ladder. But I don’t want a stupid condo, I want the Chanel bag.
“Betty, please! I really, really want it! I need it! It’s mom’s bag!”
“Okay, okay. Relax. It’s not actually mom’s bag; I hope you know that. How much do you really want it?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, I say, “Enough to bring my lunch to work every single day for a year to get it.”
“Wow, okay. Maybe I can think of a way for you to get the bag without wrecking all the progress you’ve made. Give me a couple of days to come up with a plan, but I have to go now, I’m starving.” Betty is always hungry.
I feel better as soon as I get off the phone. My sister is a financial wizard; she’ll think of something for sure.
She has to: this is meant to be. What are the chances of my finding the bag after all these years? It’s a sign from my mom. She wants me to have it, too.
I know it.