Fucking gorgeous homburg hat

Wednesday

I have to dust them all twice a day with the feather duster.  And turn the ones on the south-facing shelves so that they don’t fade, or, at least if they do, they fade evenly.  Pete doesn’t really care if I do it or not but if Jo comes in she always checks the hats.  She doesn’t like it that they’re paying my wages at all so I don’t ever give her an excuse to say I’m doing a bad job.  And the hats are the most expensive stock in here.  They’re Jo’s thing – trilbies, fedoras, bowlers, homburgs, cloches and pill-boxes.  They don’t sell because they’re out of place and they cost way too much for a casual purchase.

It’s true that they don’t need me in here.  We open at ten and we often don’t see a customer until twelve.  Then we might make half a dozen sales on a quiet afternoon – and half of them will just be a birthday card or a badge.  Pete spends a lot of time ‘popping out for a coffee’ and ‘having a word with Dave/Kate/Rhiannon about the rents’ and ‘going to the bank’…  I don’t care.   He’s an annoying man – only ever talks about himself and preens.  He does preen.  One day I thought he’d gone out and I walked in on him in the toilet.  He was standing sideways in front of the mirror, stroking his beard and smoothing his collar.  I think he’s probably shagging half the North Laine traders in their stockrooms and I don’t think Jo cares any more than I do.  As long as it’s not this stockroom, though.  I don’t want to walk in on that.

But, the result of absent Pete and the lack of customers is a lot of hours on my own in here.  Once I’ve done the hats and flicked the duster about a bit more, I have very little to do.  They let me browse on the internet for potential stock but I’m only ever making suggestions and they ignore those.  I could just skive and chat with friends online but most of them are in call centres or offices where they’ll get sacked if they get caught.  And, anyway, I’m getting low – feeling like the only life is what’s happening behind a screen.  So, for the last week, I’ve been just sitting in this silent space looking at the useless gifts – notebooks with space for you to write book reviews, soap for £9.95 a bar, uninspiring pictures on bits of Perspex, garden twine and labels in little baskets, obscure American recipe books.  I have to work out how to escape.  How to get out of this place to somewhere where something real is happening.  I look at the coffee table books of street-scenes – photographs of people in 1950s New York, or Paris students in ’68.  And I look out the window, of course, at this city in 2013.

It’s started raining again.  The street is narrow, shining red paving and pedestrians hopping the growing puddles.  I’m twenty nine.  Is that already too old to find something real?  Or is this as real as it gets? Offering expensive tat that I can’t afford to buy, to people I don’t even like?  That’s harsh.  The people are nice.  They are.  I just…

There she is again.

That woman has been up and down the street four times in the last twenty minutes.  I’d think she was early for an appointment but the same thing happened yesterday and Monday.  Why would she have all this time to kill every single day?

Sunday

He actually said it – like he was a teacher at school, or my dad.

‘How dare you, Sara?’

Fuck him.  Jo will have made him get up and go to the shop.  He never bothered on a Sunday.   Well he’ll have to now.

It was the homburg that did it.  She’d tried on every other hat and so had I.  And we were laughing so much that it was actually painful.  But the homburg on my head made something change in the air and…

It only happened because Friday was so foul.  I’d got in at half nine and made coffee and put the little heater on under the desk.  The rain had turned sleety.  The front window was running like someone had lobbed a bucket of crushed ice at it.  And there she was again – up and down the street.  I couldn’t see her clearly but I recognised the bright blue of her coat.  And she came in.

She shook her jacket a bit and I worried about the reels of ribbon by the door getting wet.  But I didn’t really care.  When she got her hood down I saw she had red hair.  And her whole face was wet, little bits of her hair stuck to her forehead, and she was licking the wet from her lips.

She did the circuit in about five minutes because the shop’s tiny and she obviously wasn’t really shopping.  And it was still fierce outside and I offered her a coffee.  She sat on the little stool I use to get to the top shelves and we talked about the weather.  Then we talked about the shop.  Then we talked about why she was walking this street every day and why I was behind the counter in a shop selling over-priced, pretentious shit.  And after that there didn’t seem much else worth doing than trying on every hat and acting half-remembered lines from films.  And laughing.  And then the homburg happened and I flipped the sign on the door and we went in the stockroom.

I never imagined Pete would come in on such a lousy day.  When the stockroom door opened I didn’t even notice.  She did and she made a startled noise and I stopped and looked round.  I had the hat on – the little card tag, marked £89.99, had been swinging in my eyes and it slowed as the shock settled into anger on his face.  He waited in the shop while we dressed and I packed my bag.  She told me to slip it in.  She said,

‘Look at it this way, you won’t get a reference and you shouldn’t walk away with nothing.’

It is a bit of a disaster, of course.  I haven’t got any savings and I haven’t got a plan yet.  What I have got, though, is a fucking gorgeous homburg hat.

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