Coming across 24th Street a few days ago, I thought of an envelope that I saw lying on the dirty floor of the C train a while back. Every now and then it rises up in my mind without any provocation and I’m sure it will haunt me for the rest of my life. As I left the crowded train at 23rd Street I happened to see the envelope, well out of reach, on which was written in a shaky hand the words: “DO NOT LOSE.” The doors of the train banged shut and that was that. Now I wondered, the way I always do when I think of it, if I could have somehow gotten hold of the envelope, and then if I could have somehow found the person who lost it. As I walked along thinking about it, a man I know from the neighborhood stopped me on the sidewalk. He said he had something sad to tell me, and I knew right away what he would say because there was only one thing we had in common that could be sad, and that would be something happening to Roberta Peters. And indeed, she had died the day before, but very peacefully, and after the long and charmed life he knew she had lived. He told me that the previous Sunday was the last time he took her for a walk, which she had enjoyed the way she enjoyed every walk in this neighborhood where she lived and was such marvelous presence. The man was for a long time the hired walker for this very fine old lady dog, whom everyone called Bobbie, and he would always say how lucky he felt to have that privilege. I always wondered about the person who actually lived with her, the person who had named her after the famous opera singer, and imagined that whoever it was must be a very big Roberta Peters fan. When I was a child we had a few of her records in the house that my mother had inherited from a lady who gave her a whole collection of operas, which was why I knew right away who Bobbie’s namesake was when the man first introduced us.

Wonderful Roberta Peters "Bobbie"on 7th Avenue 2017
Whenever we happened to meet outside on the street somewhere I always stopped to pet Bobbie and tell her how much I loved her, and the last time that happened I took her picture. I felt sad to learn that she had passed, but in the way that we feel sad for any person who dies at the age of 100 after a wonderful earthly existence. We know it’s not a tragedy when that happens, so why does it chafe and stab at the heart so?  

There was for a long time a fierce little longhaired Chihuahua who lived on 20th Street with a very old lady. They liked to spend most of the day out on their stoop together when it wasn’t raining or freezing, and the old lady had a voice that sounded (and still sounds) like she’d breathed in helium. That dog barked his head off at every other dog who passed, no matter how big and scary, and he terrorized the block. He was nice to me on the few occasions when I reached out to pet him. The lady would say in her helium voice, “You gotta watch out, he tough,” while the dog accepted his pets. I was reminded of the two of them not long ago when I read an article about the artist Leonor Fini in a magazine somewhere. I have in my house a framed portrait of Leonor Fini’s white cat, taken by my friend Indra Tamang a long time ago in Paris. He told me about visiting her one day with Charles Henri Ford, and how her apartment was full of cats. Apparently this particular big white cat always lounged among the people whenever she entertained. When he showed me the photograph I liked it so much that he gave it to me. Around that same time he also showed me a postcard that Leonor Fini once sent to Charles. The picture was of a cliff that looked to be formed in lava, and Fini had added to the top of it a pair of cat’s ears and two sprays of whiskers with a pen. She was an extreme lover of kitties, Leonor Fini was.

I bought a frame at the Utrecht art supply store on West 23rd Street and put the photograph in it right there in the shop. Then I started towards home via 22nd Street, and when I reached their stoop, there sat the old lady and her fierce little dog.  I stopped to show the lady the photograph and she made a little squealing sound. “Oh, nice!” she exclaimed in her helium voice, and as she did, the dog came down for a closer look. He stared at Leonor Fini’s big white cat with his lips trembling. He began to growl somewhere deep inside his chest. “Oh, my, he like that cat,” the lady said, and then he exploded in barking at the photograph. It seemed to last a very long time, my standing there holding the picture before the two of them, looking and barking from their stoop, and it’s a memory in color that I hope will never fade. It’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen the dog, but I still see the lady sitting out on the stoop, sometimes with another old lady in a housedress who has a medium-sized poodle. I love the photo of Leonor Fini’s white cat. Something about him always makes me think of the British actor Peter Ustinov, and I imagine that they might have shared certain characteristics, each of them looking the way they did. The day after Bobbie’s walker told me she’d passed away, the weather turned hot and humid, with an air quality alert. Her timing could not have been better.

Indra Tamang's portrait of Leonor Fini's white kitty

Copyright Romy Ashby 2017


  1. What a fine portrait of Bobbie. Funny, we were just looking at a book on Leonor Fini. It belonged to my mother-in-law, who lived in Paris for many years.