hat

It’s so hot my shoes feel tacky, like I’m puddling footprints of molten plastic as I go. I’m visiting a patient in a bunkerish, red-brick block called The Apples. Quite why they called it The Apples is anyone’s guess. Maybe there was an orchard here once. Maybe they tried a lot of other names, nothing fit, so they asked a five year old. Maybe they misunderstood the architect, who actually said ‘Thermopylae’ over the phone. Whatever the reason, the block is just about as far away from apples as it’s possible to be. Unless you count supermarkets.

There’s an elderly woman dragging a wheeled shopping bag up the path ahead of me, her long white hair reflecting the sunlight so powerfully it’s like she’s wearing a bridal veil of spun silver.
‘Where’s your hat?’ I say to her as I gradually overtake her.
She stops, turns and frowns.
‘Don’t believe in ‘em,’ she says. Then carries on.
When we get to the main door I tell her I’ll buzz my patient to let me in, but her frown deepens so much it meets her chin. She swipes her fob in front of the pad.
‘Let me get that for you,’ I say, holding the door.
She drags her shopping bag into the shady hallway.
‘I’m using the lift,’ she says, and nods for me to take the stairs.

Luckily, Mr Felstrom is on the first floor. I wonder if he’ll be confused, me knocking on his flat door without having buzzed the intercom first. There’s no sound from within the flat, so I’m surprised when the door suddenly opens and he’s standing there, looking as if he’s been waiting for me there ever since I rang to arrange the visit a half hour ago. He looks extraordinary – comprehensively buttoned into a tartan shirt, his bristly hair sticking straight up, like he showered, then dried himself by standing over a vent.

Mr Felstrom’s flat is as small and ruthlessly organised as the cabin on a ship, everything aligned with everything else, even the piles of letters on the table in size order, the letter opener parallel, a list of medications surrounded by a display of equidistant pill packets. Even the fridge magnets are all in a grid. I begin to feel as if I’ve been uploaded into a photograph, just like the one on the calendar – a young woman standing next to him under a tree – blu-tacked to the kitchen door. The calendar is covered with carefully written dates and an array of post-its with important messages.

‘My daughter’s coming round later to take me to the park,’ he says, after I’ve finished the examination and I’m writing up the notes.
‘That’s nice! A lovely day for it. If you wear a hat. Which park are you going to?’
‘You know,’ he says.
‘Which?’
‘The long one.’
‘Like one of those stately home kinda parks?’
‘Lots of trees.’
‘Sounds amazing.’
I try naming a local park.
‘No,’ he says.
I try to think of a couple of big parks out of town.
He shakes his head.
‘How are you getting there?’ I say, hoping that might shed some light.
‘On the bus,’ he says.
‘Fantastic! Maybe you could sit on the top deck and get a great view.’
‘My daughter’s taking me.’
‘Lovely.’

He stares at me, blinking rapidly but otherwise completely still. And it’s something about the way he speaks and looks, combined with the stultifying heat in the room, the hectic geometry of the place, the grid of his shirt, that starts to make me feel a little dizzy.
Bus? Park? Daughter?
‘But don’t forget to wear a hat,’ I say.
Hat?

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