It is my Writers' Group meeting tomorrow. Sometimes we have an open manuscript meeting, where we can read any piece of 500 words or less - poetry, prose, travel - whatever we like. But sometimes we have a set theme - and this is so tomorrow. I like these less as I find it difficult to write "to order" about something I am not necessarily interested in. But I suppose it is a good exercise.
We were given two pictures to choose from. One was Salvador Dali's Crucifixion and the other was of a straw hat, decorated with flowers, hanging on a door. I chose the latter. This is the piece I am going to read tomorrow:-
The hat hung on the back of the door. The sunlight, which over the years had weathered the straw to a deep golden, cast a beam across the brim and across the flowers, which had faded with the years.
When she had first bought it it had been a simple straw hat, plain, unadorned, meant for the utilitarian purpose of keeping the sun off the back of her neck. But, of course, Estelle being Estelle, she had been unable to leave it like that. She had made it into "Estelle's Hat" all those years ago, when the summers were long and hot and still, and the air was full of the sounds of droning bees.
The ribbon was one from her ribbon box. How she had loved that box in those days when a ribbon was a thing to treasure. Where was the ribbon box now, he wondered? On a Winter's evening she would take it out of the cupboard, put it on the table and lovingly remove the ribbons, one by one, identifying them and smoothing them out.
"That one was the belt from my second-best muslin dress. Oh how I loved that dress with its full skirt and its sprigs of lavender. And this one, the red one, (she would hold it up) was bought for me by that Bobby Jones at the fair one year." Then she would smile to herself, roll them all up tenderly and put them back in the box for another day.
That Summer, the one when she had bought the hat, she had stopped an old gypsy woman in the lane when they were out for a walk and had persuaded him to buy for her a bag full of artificial flowers. When they had got home she had taken out her ribbon box and chosen a ribbon. Together they had gone into the hay field. He had sat in the hay while she sewed the ribbon and the the flowers, holding each one up before deciding where to fasten it. He could still hear her laughter if he concentrated hard.
When the hat was finished she had put it on her golden curls and together they had danced round in the hay, her dress flaring out as she swung in his arms, the poppies in the field had moved in the breeze as though they were joining in the dance.
When they had come home she had hung the hat on the door and there it had stayed for years.
Children, work, holidays, gardening - all these things had come and filled their time so that there never seemed to be an opportunity to dance in the fields again. Maybe not even a desire.
He looked at her now, as she slept in the evening sunlight on the verandah, her grey head resting on the old blue cushion that she loved so much. He looked at her lined face now beginning to be etched with pain. Her wrinkled and veined hands lay still in her lap. Her thin, frail body took up so little room in the chair. She slept. He watched. And as he watched, he thought,
"Everyone needs a straw hat on the shed door for days like this."