The Handbags of Hyacinth McQueen Ben-Zev
by Maris Finn
The week before my sister and I drowned our cat Twinkles in our Prada handbag, we’d been buffed, plucked, and plopped on a hard wooden church bench. We thought it was because we’d been bad, but we quickly found out that it was because our Aunt Hyacinth McQueen Ben-Zev choked to death in her uptown apartment and we were requested to attend her funeral. She died I mean, and apparently when people in our family die, their things get distributed among the living rest, which was great for my sister and me, because we didn’t have many things before then.
My sister and I had never even met Aunt Hyacinth, but we weren’t about to turn down her legendary handbags. She was a handbag celebrity, not famous for anything else but handbags. She always got invited to award shows like the Grammys and Emmys and we’d watch her on TV with some new handbag on her arm. Until then, we never knew she even knew our names, just some distant relative on her half-brother’s side. It didn’t seem real that she was our aunt either – we’d only seen her on TV, and then in the open casket. She only took one handbag to her grave – the Hermes Birkin, which, my sister and I found out, was the queen of all handbags. She was dressed in her finest clothes and jewelry, hair and makeup done up like the model she always wanted to be, and her gnarled dead fingers wrapped like tree roots around the leather Birkin strap.
Designers wept over her open casket, but I couldn’t tell if it was because they’d miss her, or because such a beautiful bag was going to spend the rest of eternity underground, getting munched on by maggots.
The only bags my sister and I were used to using were plastic grocery bags or canvas school bags. The idea of having bags only for ladies items thrilled us, though we had no ladies items of which to speak. We thought about selling some of the bags so we could get our hands on some ladies items, like lipsticks and breath mints and pantyhose, but we had strict instructions to not sell them. We never officially knew how much money we’d be able to get for the handbags, but the papers said it was probably around a million or so. It was a shame; we could have really used a million or so.
Instead, we went around dressed in rags, carrying Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton on our arms. The crazy thing was that even though we were still dirty little things, wearing shoes passed down from our too-big cousins, people looked at us, and not in a bad way. Big, shiny people with bags like ours nodded their heads and waggled their eyebrows at us. They thought our raggedy clothes were on purpose. They had no idea that my sister’s Prada had our cat Twinkles’ carcass inside it. But they wouldn’t know, because after we’d drowned her, accidentally of course, we drained all the water from the bag, dried it out in the sun in Sheep’s Meadow, and wrapped the little kitty body in plastic bags so it wouldn’t smell. That’s how our mom used to bring her tuna fish sandwiches to work – all wrapped up in tin foil and plastic. We were going to throw her out, but then my sister would have nothing to put in her bag. My Chanel didn’t have any dead things in it, just some street cart hot pretzels that my sister and I shared while walking down Fifth Avenue, on our mission to acquire ladies items for our handbags.