The Un told narrative – The hat rack man returns
Everyone told him, don;t expect things to stay the same, again and again they drummed it in to him, things will be different, don’t look for what used to be there, accept change, but now he’s here, now hes walking down the street, all he can see is sameness, nothing has changed, not really.
If he squints a little, blurs the sharp focus, it all looks the same.
yeah, for sure, the shops have different names now, different facades, brighter colors, but look past that, look past the brighter colors, the swirls of other language on the signage and its all just the same.
he takes a deep breath, watches his out breath hang,like dragon smoke on the air and smiles to himself.
It is going to be alright, he can feel it, everything is going to be alright.
before he left, before he went away, this was his world, he knew every inch of pavement, he had swept it often enough, he could walk the length of the parade with his eyes closed and know exactly which shop he was outside.
different sounds, different smells, a change of tone, of purpose, he can still see the shops as they were, then. He counts them off on his fingers, runs through the oh so familiar list.
Greengrocer – open early, the burly woman hefting down sacks of onions and carrots from the delivery van. Her labor and strength unremarked, un-noticed, while her husband, permanently bent into an unfiltered woodbine, wrapped himself around the till, watched her, never offered to help.
Butchers – china cow, carefully placed on plastic grass in the middle of the window and around it, great lumps of its real cousins and behind the counter, the butcher and his boy, aprons blood spattered, but everything else gleaming, a temple of white tiles and precision cutting.
The lines of women,always women, buying cuts of meat that nobody understands anymore.
Shin of beef
Skirt of lamb
and at Christmas, the turkeys, necks yellowed, hanging on huge hooks,paid for week by week and collected on Christmas eve, ready to be jammed into roasting tins always 2 inches too small.
Newsagent, paper boy tamer, eyes in the back of his head all the better to catch the bad children sneaking handfuls of penny sweets into blazer pockets, but not him, never a bad boy.
Newsagent and the progression, Beano, Eagle and first day at work, the Sun rammed into a back pocket and later magazines from the top shelf,hidden under mattress, removed late at night in that back bedroom, in that single bed.
The Betting shop, his mother always took his hand here, dragged him smartly past, holding her breath as if the very air was contaminated.
The horse racing commentators’ voice spilling out from the shop on warm early evening and the men, eyes fixed on the screens, sometimes heads in hands, sometimes little shuffles of joy.
When the neighborhood started to change, the men spilled out, stood, backs against the wall, cigarettes smoked between thumb and forefinger, went to walk away and then turn back, re-enter the shop, hands fumbling into back pockets.
The chemist, a wooden backed chair provided for that wait while medication is made up. Sharp smells and the rattle of pill counting.
The shame of head lice solution, bottle hidden in a brown paper bag, taken home so his mother can tear through his hair with the comb with the sharp teeth, her anger at where they live travelling down her arm,into her hand and then onto his smarting scalp.
The Rimmell lipsticks, his mother would, as she waited for service, carefully untwist the tester, pucker her lips and try an unfamiliar color and then laughing at her own reflection and then wipe it off and re-apply soft rose.
He bought his first after shave here,before there was any real need , but did not buy his first condoms here, even when there was a need.
The grocery shop,open at 9 am,closed at 5 pm and took an hour at lunchtime and nobody minded. When he was very small and very good, the grocer, dressed in a neat brown overall would, when he, proud to be trusted, had handed over the list, dip into the box of broken biscuits on the wooden counter and hand over a slightly chipped chocolate biscuit, flavored with all the other biscuits in the box and somehow all the more delicious because of it.
The grocery shop, always dim, soft lighting to stage the pyramids of tins and packages, Anger delight, Birds custard and the introduction of the freezer and his mothers’ cautious experiments with frozen peas.
The dress shop, with the constant sign “Join our saving club, lay away available”.
In summer a display of sensible, modest summer dresses, no plunging necklines, no hems above the knee, soft pastels, in winter, fur lined ankle boots and a winter coat made to last, to see out many winters, always brown or black or grey.
The barbers, where every fortnight for 40 years, his father had the same haircut, not too much off the top and a length never allowed to creep beyond the very top of his collar.
He went on the day before each term started, with all the boys, hair neatened, tamed, ready for another block of something that passed for learning.
Brush, comb, scissors placed into the auto sterilization between each client, the ceremonial sweep of the cape before the cut and afterwards, mirror to the back of the neck and his fathers’ voice, a little more of the length I think and the barbers’ dutiful nod.
And finally, his fathers’ shop, the hat shop, “The Hat Rack” – people said his dad, will always need hats, people said his dad, meaning men of course, are not properly dressed without a hat and even when, the people, the men, stopped needing hats, stopped feeling improperly dressed without them, the shop remained, unchanged.
3 wooden heads in the very center of the window display, his job to polish them each week and obeying his fathers’ unchanging seasonal rituals.
The cloth cap
And that was then and this is now and the hat shop, the hat rack is his and he walks slowly up the parade, side stepping the boys on bikes that seem oddly too small for them, making way for the veiled women who push their prams between the shops.
The paint has faded on the shop facade, but, the 3 wooden heads are still there, naked, hat less and somehow this is more shocking than the actual death of his father.
He has real no idea of what to do next, but he finds his hands have automatically dug the key from his pocket and opened the door of the shop.
He shoves the pile of pizza menus and taxi cards away from the mat and steps inside.
( to be continued)