If the hat fits
An unusual hat, a sudden vision... Things had certainly taken a turn for the unexpected!
‘When you find what you’re looking for, you must return it’
She was just heading home when something unusual caught Dora’s eye in the shop’s window display – a cloche-style hat in a soft shade of mauve with an unusual, twisted bow detail. It reminded her of one she’d seen on Downton Abbey.
She couldn’t resist taking a closer look. After all, she could do with cheering up after such a dismal job interview!
Inside, she walked towards the display and picked up the hat, only for the vivid image of an old lady with a million-megawatt smile to pop into her head. Startled, she almost dropped the hat. What was happening here? ‘You saw her, didn’t you?’ The old man behind the counter was beaming.
Dora nodded. ‘A woman wearing a hat exactly like this.’
The man nodded. ‘She’s Agatha Marshall, my greatgrandmother,’ he explained, with pride in his voice. ‘She was an amazing woman – spent 12 years in Africa, where she discovered, among other things, a new species of frog. She put it all down to the hat – she said it found things! In fact, she was wearing it when she found a man who’d been lost in the jungle for days. They were married 12 weeks later!’ As she listened, Dora reached for the hat. Carefully, almost reverently, she tried it
on. It was a perfect fit.
She checked the price tag – £110. ‘Good heavens! I can’t afford that. I’m sorry.’
The man beckoned her to come closer. ‘Because you saw my great-grandmother, you can have the hat for £10 – but there’s a condition: when
you find what you’re looking for, you must return it.’
Dora was bemused. All she wanted was a job, and a hat couldn’t help her with that.
‘Thanks,’ she said, ‘but I’d probably never wear it. I’m not really a hat person.’
She was about to leave the shop when her phone buzzed with an email inviting her to her niece’s wedding. The last line in particular made her smile: You’ll need a hat.
She had an outfit that would do. It was blue, so the hat wouldn’t match, but that didn’t matter too much. And
finding another at such a good price could
She turned back to the old man. ‘On second thoughts, I’ll take it, thanks. But are you sure £10 is enough?’ she asked, handing over the money.
‘Quite sure,’ he replied. ‘Now remember, once you’ve found everything you need, you must bring the hat back to the shop.’
‘I will.’ She’d return it after the wedding. ‘Thanks again.’
The man was putting the hat into its box when the old lady’s face popped back into Dora’s mind. ‘Don’t bother wrapping it,’ she said. ‘I’ll wear it.’
He smiled. ‘Agatha will like that,’ he said.
Before Dora even reached the end of the road, she saw a £10 note lying in the kerb. She checked, but there was nobody in sight.
‘That’s lucky,’ she thought as she picked it up. ‘That’s the hat paid for!’
At the bus stop, her luck was in again, because a day ticket had been left on the bench. ‘Still valid! I might as well use it,’ she thought.
On the bus, there was a copy of the local paper on the seat. Since being made redundant, the only work
Dora had been able to find was the occasional temping job via an agency. She’d even gone after waitressing and cleaning positions but, thanks to her age – 54 – and lack of relevant experience, she rarely made it to an interview.
Her neighbour usually gave her his paper after he’d read it, but he was visiting his daughter, so she hadn’t seen the latest edition yet.
An ad jumped out at her:
Assistant wanted. Must be flexible. Mature person
preferred. It didn’t say what kind of assistant, but Dora rang the number anyway.
A woman answered immediately, her voice crisp. ‘Yes? Can I help you?’
‘It’s about the job in the paper. Sorry to ring so late, I’ve only just seen the ad.’
‘That’s fine. I don’t keep office hours. Sorry if I was a bit brisk answering, I find it puts off cold callers.’
The woman explained what the job would involve. ‘My name’s Stephanie. I’m a writer – biographies mostly. I need somebody to take messages, sort out my diary, carry out research, and anything else I don’t fancy doing myself.’
Dora’s heart began to beat faster. The job was right up her
street. ‘That sounds fine. What
are the hours? And how soon do you want someone?’
Stephanie chuckled. ‘Right away. But the hours wouldn’t suit everyone – 30 a week, but it might be all afternoons one week, all mornings the next, or an entire weekend if I’m away giving talks. My previous assistant retired when she was 70. It’s hard to find anybody who’s flexible enough.’
‘The hours don’t really matter to me,’ replied Dora. ‘Can you send me an application form?’
Stephanie laughed – a rich, deep, throaty laugh to which Dora warmed immediately.
‘I don’t do forms. If you’re
interested, come round first thing tomorrow morning.’ She gave Dora the address. ‘If we get on, you can start Monday. How does that sound?’
‘I’ll be there,’ said Dora. When she got home, she put the hat on an armchair. It didn’t feel right to shut it away in a cupboard.
It was a bright, if cold, evening. She’d meant to spend it catching up on ironing, but found she couldn’t resist going out for a walk.
As she passed the armchair, the hat jumped out at her as if begging to be worn.
She smiled. ‘OK, you win!’ she said as she put it on.
With no idea where to go, she let her feet lead the way. After a while, she found herself by the lake. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been there.
She was sitting on a bench, watching the ducks, coots and moorhens, when a little black dog ran straight towards her, its curly tail spinning.
As she crouched down to greet it, the dog jumped into her lap. ‘Pleased to meet you!’ she chuckled as the pup tried to give her a slobbery kiss.
There was no collar, but it didn’t look like a stray – it was clearly too well fed and happy for that.
She was wondering what to do, when she spotted a middle-aged man racing in her direction. He was so out of breath, he couldn’t speak.
‘I’m guessing this is your dog,’ said Dora, smiling. He managed a nod.
She moved up to make room for him to sit while he caught his breath.
Once he could speak, he explained what had happened. ‘I bought him a new collar. Obviously, I didn’t
fix it properly and Scamp escaped.’ He fondled the little dog’s ears. ‘I’d forgotten how fast he can run!’
Dora held Scamp while the man put the collar and lead back on him, this time making sure it was tight enough.
‘There, that should do it,’ he said, as he lifted Scamp down to the ground. ‘Thanks for holding him.’
She expected the man to go, but he was in no hurry. ‘I love your hat,’ he said. ‘It suits you.’
Dora had forgotten she was even wearing it, it was so comfortable. ‘Thank you.’
‘You’re very welcome. My name’s David.’
‘I’m Dora. I only bought the hat this afternoon – for my niece’s wedding. In Wales.’
‘How will you be get there? I mean, will your husband drive or will you go by train?’
She was about to answer when he stopped her. ‘Forgive me. That was my extremely clumsy way of asking whether you’re attached.’
‘Oh, I see,’ replied Dora. ‘Are you? Attached, I mean.’ ‘Actually, no. But…’
David seemed nice enough, about her age and with lovely, blue eyes that reminded her of Daniel Craig. But she wasn’t looking for a relationship right now. Since her marriage had ended, she’d found she quite liked being on her own.
Her reticence obviously didn’t put David off, though, because he offered to buy her a coffee. ‘There’s a café on the other side of the park that’s still open. Or we could meet up later on? For a meal..?’
Her phone rang before she could turn him down.
‘I’d better take this. Sorry.’ It was one of her cousins, Liz, asking about the wedding. ‘Did you get the invite?’ ‘I did.’
‘It’s a bit sudden, isn’t it? My guess is she’s expecting.’ Dora smiled.
Liz adored weddings – and gossip.
‘You’ll need a plus-one,’ she went on.
‘Oh,’ replied Dora. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’ ‘It’s OK. That’s why I’m calling. I know the ideal guy.
I can fix you up, no problem.’
As she described the man – a retired accountant in his early 70s – Dora’s heart sank. He sounded deadly dull.
‘You’ll get on like a house
on fire,’ said Liz.
Dora doubted that very much, so she hedged. ‘Let me get back to you. OK?’
As she put her phone away, she saw Agatha again. The old lady was shaking her head and tutting. The message could not have been clearer…
Dora turned back to David. ‘Sorry about that. As it happens, I’d love a coffee.’
The next hour and a half
flew by, so when David asked if he could see her again, she didn’t hesitate. She said yes the next morning, too, when Stephanie offered her the job! On her way home, Dora thought back over the last couple of days. She’d found all kinds of things – things she didn’t even know she was looking for. It had to be a coincidence, didn’t it? But what if it wasn’t..?
She caught sight of her
reflection in a shop window and barely recognised herself. All the worry lines had gone. She looked so much more relaxed – happy, even.
In the morning she’d take the hat back to the shop ready for the next fortunate woman who needed it.
‘Goodness, that was quick!’ the man said when she put the hat box on the counter.
‘You were right,’ Dora told him. ‘It really does help
you find things. I found £10, a free bus ticket and a wonderful new job!’
‘But there’s more, isn’t there?’ he prompted. ‘I can tell by the twinkle in your eye.’
She smiled. ‘I also have a date with a very nice man.’
‘Won’t you need the hat for the wedding, though?’
Dora stared at him. She was sure she hadn’t mentioned the wedding while she was in the shop. ‘I will, but I can’t afford
your prices. I’ll find something in one of the charity shops.’
‘Hang on a moment.’ He hurried out the back and reappeared with a hat box. ‘Will this do?’
As he lifted the lid, Dora gasped. The hat was identical to the one she’d returned, but it was blue – the exact
cornflower blue of her dress!
‘My grandmother loved that hat so much she had copies made for her friends.’ He pushed the box closer to Dora. ‘It’s yours. As a gift.’
Dora didn’t argue, because she could see the image of the old lady beaming at her.
‘Thank you both,’ she said as she tried it on.
To no-one’s surprise, it
was a perfect fit!
THE END Linda Lewis, 2018
‘It had to be a coincidence, didn’t it? But what if it wasnt..?’