If the hat fits

An un­usual hat, a sud­den vi­sion... Things had cer­tainly taken a turn for the un­ex­pected!

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Short Story -

‘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

prove dif­fi­cult.

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..?’

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