a mid-life metaphor
She had never been
able to wear hats. All that hair! Just like her grandmothers, it sprang
in wild drifts that would not be still. Control required serious steel
or heavy duty elastic, or some plastic contraption with springs so strong
it could sever a finger. Thus she found that she could escape the whole
business of hat wearing.
As a child there had been a brief scuffle, when several hats had been
bought in a vain attempt to make her more presentably ladylike. One,
a bright red affair with white polka dots and trim, had a hole constructed
at the crown to accommodate a pony tail. She managed to lose it at the
bottom of the toy box. Another was a pale blue bowler with a pattern
of daisies. That had had an elastic chin strap that choked her. Somehow
the elastic broke, and it was accidentally trodden on when it fell off.
And the oversize beige cashmere beret with the tassel had been used
as a decoy rabbit with which to worry the dog.
Now, at fifty, hats were once again on the agenda. This time though
they were less substantive and had more to do with role, persona, identity.
These were metaphorical hats.
She had at last and finally discarded the mortar board after twenty
years as mentor to countless numbers of other peoples children. She
had ducked. So violently that the hated item had, metaphorically you
understand, hit the dirt so hard that it had shattered into a thousand
tiny pieces that lay glittering in dangerous shards underfoot. She had
left it there.
At first it was a strange and almost uncomfortable sensation not to
have the burden of such a role.
She developed neck trouble and visited the physio at the local hospital
every week. Now that she had time to notice what she was feeling it
registered as pain. But the ultra-sound treatment left her calm, comfortable,
and, temporarily at least, pain-free. Silent and unobtrusive, the hand-held
head of the machine would glide across her skin, slowly, for the allotted
time span until a small sweet bleeper signalled the end of the treatment.
Afterwards she would walk out straighter, more erect, feeling more as
she had in her younger years.
In this state of mind she found it easier to think about the new life
she would build. She had worked at preparing for this for some time.
She had found a range of practices to build into her daily life to help
her focus, and she thought of these as tools that must be used diligently
in the service of her future. There were the drawing classes, the painting
courses, the reading lists she compiled to extend her theoretical understanding
of her subject matter. She laboured, preparing her offerings with no
small anxiety whenever she thought of the old adage that those
that can, do, and those that cant teach. (She forgot the rider
that those that can't teach teach teachers) She felt that
she needed to become better qualified, more equipped to survive in this
bigger wider world she now found herself in. She needed a new hat.
Into her minds eye floated an image of her old school hat. Made of soft
glossy black felt it had a glamourous golden braid at the crown, emblazoned
with the school crest. Initially she was very proud of it and of having
earned the right to wear it. Slowly though it had become so disreputable
that, a classic of its kind, it had been trampled to extinction in the
bus queue. Since it was impossible to actually retain the hat on her
head, on most days it became the object of a throwing game of some sort.
Eventually, the often missing hat became the source of a personal daily
crisis as the entire school body, in perfect dress order, had to disgorge
through the pedimented main entrance at the end of the day.
The gilt framed portraits of past and present principals, each bearing
the sceptre of their office, the school cane, the ultimate deterrent
of physical assault, glared icly down from the dark panelled walls.
Below were posted their deputies, living embodiments of their authority,
searching out the inappropriately attired. Retribution the following
morning was swift if not quite so corporally severe.
She knew she was a nuisance and this made her uncomfortable, but she
was so bored most of the time that mischief helped to alleviate the
At about thirteen the shock she had felt when she was she hauled out
of a French lesson one sleepy afternoon by the headmaster himself was
traumatic. Especially because by this time even her interest in mischief
had become moribund. The shock was further compounded when this incensed
and irate little man berated her for the disappointment she had caused
the school in not living up to her early promise. She was outraged.
So much so that this experience still rocked her whenever she thought
of it as an adult.
She was aware that she was gifted in some areas, mostly right brain
activities, but now, extremely cross as well as bored she became more
quietly antisocial. Smoking interfered with her legendary ability as
a runner. Silent insolence over the ambivalent gender of the art teacher
ruined her chances of support in this arena. The dense and irrelevant
set texts of the literature syllabus eroded her enthusiasm. The pedantic
and analytical emphasis of the creative writing syllabus inhibited her
powers of expression. She took up graffiti as a creative outlet instead.
On the hour the last exam finished, at lunchtime, she took her leave.
She could not bear to wait for the school bus at the end of the day.
The current shool hat, stolen from some poor little first year and far
too small, was left for its owner to find. She never had earned the
right to wear the elegant black beret with the swinging golden tassel
that the sixth form girls wore.
She faced a long walk home, eight miles or more. But it was a beautiful
day, and the future beckoned urgently. She had no time to waste now,
and set off into the summer countryside making no gesture of farewell,
slipping quietly into obscurity. It was a very long walk and took all
afternoon, but the flavour of freedom was as sweet and strong as the
After some years concentrating on the complexities and compulsions of
the school of life, she felt the need to channel her energies more constructively.
She yearned to retrieve the treasures of which she had been robbed.
She had a score to settle, and she also had a mission.
So she enrolled onto an innovative and forward-looking art course at
a prestigious rural college in the West country. Here, surely she would
find the support, the guidance, the inspiration, the nurture she hungered
for. She had been promised all this and more, and she embarked on her
new life with serious delight. She was one of a handful of mature students,
and knew she had certain insights, not to say cynicisms, that most of
her younger fellow students lacked. This seemed to offer some protection
against the deconstructivist strategies the tutors employed to challenge
their prodigies. One by one, many of the students did indeed deconstruct,
and they left the course. Most of those that fell by the wayside represented
the flowering of young womanhood, vulnerable, uncertain, unconfident.
Most of the tutors were of course men, secure in their sinecures and
revelling in their own success. Not surprisingly the course folded after
two years when validation was refused. By this time the maverick hat
she had felt forced to adopt had become something of a fixture. Angrily
she transferred onto a teacher training course. Now several steps further
on, in lifes upward spiral towards eternity, history was repeating itself.
She looked around the Dean's den, agleam with its designer consumables,
the status symbols of the elite, the targets for the aspirational. Her
head rang with echoes of the past and she could hardly hear through
the roar of disappointed fury that consumed her.
Later, at the interview, now thoroughly trenchant, she found herself
unable to be compliant. Now it was her turn to throw out some challenges.
Apparently there were to be new hats aplenty; modest unassuming ones
that served to signify a filtered distilled puritanism. Or flamboyant
creations designed to dazzle, of a unique and very special kind. The
choices were infinite, but there was a proviso that every hat constructed
must carry the logo of the place of its genesis. It seemed to our heroine
that most of the hats she had seen around the place bore kinship to
the raiment of a certain Emperor. She felt that she would be unable
to wear any of the hats offered to her; well- all that hair!
So bareheaded now in the full glare of the sun, no protection apart
from the hair that still sprang in serpentine antennae from her skull,
she gazed contemplatively at a future free from the need to conform
to anyone elses idea of how she should present herself.
She could feel the warmth of the sun penetrate her cold and weary mind,
a relaxing and healing sensation. She lifted her face, closed her eyes,
watched the inside of her eyelids come alight with iridescent rainbows
that sparkled and danced. Suddenly she knew in a flash of light brighter
than the sun above what she should do. Opening her eyes she reached
for her pen!
to be continued...?
More Dreamscapes Fiction