Could Great-Grandmother Agatha’s headgear really have the power to transform Dora’s life?
Dora was heading home when something caught her eye – a cloche hat with a small brim in soft shades of olive green, decorated with a natty bow. It reminded her of one she’d seen on Downton Abbey.
The hat had such style, she couldn’t resist going inside. She could do with cheering up after a dismal job interview.
The moment she picked the hat up, an image of an old lady wearing a million-megawatt smile popped into her head. Dora was so startled, she almost dropped it.
The man behind the counter positively beamed.
“You saw her, didn’t you?”
Dora nodded. “An old lady, wearing a hat exactly like this one.”
“That’s Agatha Marshall, my great-grandmother,” the man explained, with enormous pride in his voice.
“Amazing woman. Spent twelve years in Africa where she discovered, among other things, a new species of frog. She put it down to the hat – reckoned it found things. She was wearing it when she found a man who’d been lost in the jungle for days. They were married before the year was out.”
As she listened, Dora reached for the hat. Carefully, almost reverently she put it on her head.
It was a perfect fit, but she didn’t see the old lady. For some reason, she felt disappointed.
She checked the price tag. It was £110.
“Good heavens. I can’t afford that – sorry,” she said, flustered.
The man beckoned her to come closer.
“Because you saw my great-grandmother, you can have it for ten pounds – but there’s one condition. When you find what you’re looking for, you must return it to the shop.”
Dora didn’t know what he was talking about. The only thing she was looking for was a job – and a hat couldn’t possibly 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 a message inviting her to a niece’s wedding.
The last line 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 wouldn’t matter too much. Finding another at such a good price could prove difficult.
She turned back to the old man.
“On second thoughts, I’ll take it. Thank you.”
“Good. Now remember, once you’ve found everything you need, bring the hat back to the shop.”
“I will.” She’d return it after the wedding. She wouldn’t need it after that. “Thanks again.”
The man was putting the hat into its box, when the old lady’s face popped back into her mind.
“Actually don’t bother wrapping it,” she said impulsively. “I’ll wear it.”
He smiled warmly.
“Agatha will like that,” he said.
Before Dora even reached the end of the road, she spotted a ten-pound note, lying by the kerb. No one was in sight.
That’s lucky, she thought as she picked it up. That’s the hat paid for.
On the bus, a copy of the local paper had been left on the seat. Since being made redundant, the only work she’d been able to find was occasional temping.
She’d even gone after waitressing and cleaning positions, but thanks to her age – fifty-four – and lack of relevant experience, she rarely made it as far as an interview.
Her neighbour usually gave her his paper when he’d finished with it, but he was away visiting his daughter so she hadn’t seen the latest edition yet.
A small ad jumped out at her. Assistant required. 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 and curt.
“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. Do forgive me if I was brisk. I find it puts cold callers off.”
The woman explained what the job involved. “My name’s Stephanie. I’m a writer – biographies mostly. I need someone to take messages, sort out my diary, carry out research and anything else I don’t fancy doing.”
Dora’s heart beat faster. The job was right up her street.
“That sounds fine. What are the hours?”
“That’s the problem. It’s thirty hours a week but it might be afternoons one week, mornings the next, or an entire weekend if I’m away, giving talks. My previous assistant retired at seventy.
It’s hard to find anybody who’s flexible.”
“The hours don’t really matter to me,” replied Dora. “Can you send me an application form?”
Stephanie laughed; a rich, deep, throaty laugh that Dora immediately warmed to.
“I don’t do forms. If you’re interested, come round tomorrow morning.” She gave Dora the address. “If we get on, you can start on Monday. How does that sound to you?”
“I’ll be there,” said Dora.
When she got home, she put the hat on an armchair. It didn’t seem right to shut it away in a cupboard.
She’d meant to spend the evening catching up on her ironing but couldn’t resist going for a walk.
As she passed the chair, the hat caught her eye 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 and soon 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 and coots and moorhens, when a little black dog ran straight towards her, its curly tail spinning. When she reached down to say hello, it jumped on to her lap.
“Pleased to meet you,” she chuckled as the dog tried to kiss her. There was no collar, but it didn’t look like a stray.
She was wondering what to do, when a middle-aged man came running towards her.
He was so out of breath that he couldn’t speak.
“I’m guessing this is your dog?” asked Dora, trying not to smile.
He managed a nod. She made room for him to sit down while he caught his breath.
Once he could speak, he explained what had happened.
“I bought him a new collar. Obviously I didn’t do it up properly and Scamp escaped.” He fondled the dog’s ears. “I’d forgotten how fast he can run.”
She held Scamp while the man put his collar on, this time making sure it was adjusted properly.
“There. That should do it,” he said, as he put Scamp back on the ground. “Thanks for holding on to him.”
She expected him to go, but he was in no hurry to leave.
“I love your hat. It suits you.”
Dora had forgotten she was wearing it, it was so comfortable.
“You’re welcome. My name’s David.”
“Dora. I only bought it this afternoon. For my niece’s wedding. In Wales.”
“How will you be getting there? I mean, will your husband drive or will you take the train?”
She was about to answer when he stopped her.
“Forgive me. That was my extremely clumsy way of asking if you’re attached.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Are you? Attached, I mean.”
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. Since her marriage ended, she’d found she quite liked being on her own.
Her reticence didn’t put David off because he asked if she wanted to go for a coffee.
“There’s a dog friendly café on the other side of the park. Or we could meet up again later. For a meal?”
Her phone rang before she could turn him down.
“I’d better take this,’ she said.
It was one of her cousins, Liz, asking about the wedding.
“Did you get the invite?”
“It’s a bit sudden, isn’t it? My guess is she’s expecting.”
Dora smiled. Two things Liz positively adored – gossip and weddings.
“So you’ll need a plus one,” Liz continued excitedly.
“Oh,” replied Dora guardedly. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“That’s why I’m calling. I can fix you up, no problem.” As Liz described the man, a retired accountant in his early seventies, Dora’s heart sank. He sounded as dull as ditch water.
“You’ll get on like a house on fire,” said Liz with conviction.
Dora doubted that very much and decided to hedge. The wedding wasn’t for a couple of months.
“Let me get back to you. OK?”
As she put her phone away, she saw Agatha again.
The old lady was tutting and shaking her head. 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 simply flew by so when David asked to see her again, she said yes.
She said yes the next morning too when Stephanie, the writer with the wonderful laugh, offered her a job.
Over the last couple of days, Dora had found all kinds of things, things she didn’t even know she was looking for – just like the man in the shop had promised.
Obviously it was all just coincidence… but what if it wasn’t?
She caught sight of her reflection in a shop window and barely recognised herself. She looked so much more relaxed – happy, even.
In the morning she’d take the hat back to the shop ready for the next woman who needed it.
“Wow. 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. Since I bought it, I’ve found ten pounds, a bus ticket and a wonderful new job.”
“There’s more,” 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 be needing the hat for the wedding?”
Dora stared at him. She was sure she hadn’t mentioned the wedding.
“Yes, but I can’t afford your prices. I’ll find something in a charity shop –”
“Hang on a moment.” He hurried out the back and reappeared with a hat box. “Will this do?”
When he lifted the lid, Dora gasped. The hat was identical to the one she’d returned except that it was blue; the exact shade of the dress she planned to wear to the wedding.
“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 old lady, beaming at her.
“Thank you both,” she said as she tried it on.
It was a perfect fit.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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