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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 monotony.

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 sunshine itself.

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 else’s 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

© Maggy P.

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