The Hat of the Doctor

Gerald Roberts

It fell off, you see. It was one of those big black top hats that you only see at formal events these days, funerals, Ascot, state occasions, but of course in Edwardian times much more common. Mind, you might see them today from pranksters and street artists. Why I know one man who’s made his fortune from roaming central London in full rig and finally set up a market stall in the East End and regularly sells out his stock. He probably paid nothing for the hats he bought – after all most people would be glad to clear their wardrobes of clothes they never use, and get a few pounds for them. I know I would, but then I just don’t like selling my old possessions, you’d have to sort them out, and then, take them where? I don’t know any old clothes shops to which I could drag a bagful of my clothes. And I’d probably never have the ability to bargain with the man behind the counter as he sorted through the contents, embarrassing too – supposing someone else was there, probably pretending not to look, but sniggering really? No, I wouldn’t like that.

And I would have been embarrassed if I’d been the man who tried to throw his top hat on the opera bed only for it to roll off among the actors on the other side. Of course they couldn’t try and put it back again ; nobody had told them what to do in the eventuality, and you can’t use common sense in the formalised scene of an opera. Luckily he’d kept firm hold of his doctor’s bag – there’d have been a catastrophe if that had gone instead, it would have probably opened up to reveal NOTHING inside, and how does a doctor coming in to save the heroine seem credible with an empty bag! But there the hat lay, midway between the bed and the supposed oil stove, the only heating in this vast Paris apartment in winter time. The maid didn’t even look round, and the major characters were too busy singing to bother about a stranded top hat.

When the doctor’s time to exit came, he couldn’t possibly walk round to the other side of the bed to pick it up, as everyone would have noticed. And he couldn’t sing a request for it – that would throw everybody out - so he would just have to walk off with his bag but without his hat in the cold Parisian night. So he did, hatless, and probably got a right rollocking from the director about what he was to do about it when he returned – as the opera demanded - in the final moments. I know my attention was fixed on the recalcitrant hat as it lay on its side between the stove and the bed. Who would save the day? (To be honest, I don’t think many other people in the audience might have noticed, or even bothered about it. When I mentioned it to my wife afterwards, she said “What hat?”, but then she’s not very good at noticing little details like I am. Many’s the time I’ve pointed out little curiosities to her while we’ve been travelling, and she says “Where?” by which time of course the whole scene has changed, and I just give up.)

Anyhow, somehow or other a message got through to the maid attending the dying heroine – she was taking long enough to die so there was plenty of time to sort things out. The maid gallantly, but not unobtrusively, picked up the hat in one of her movements and flung it back on the bed, so hard that it almost came off the other side. Was I the only one who noticed? Anyway, it was a sort of happy ending – for the hat at least – which still kept its pride of place when the curtain went down.
“It’s still there,” I whispered to my wife, but she was too busy applauding to hear me, as usual. I remember another time when a piece of cake fell off an operatic waiter’s tray and smeared the stage for the whole of a (long) first act. Now that time there were a lot of people on stage, but they all skirted it as gracefully as they would a cow-pat. It had gone by the second act: I was looking out for it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Of Welsh extraction and education, Gerald is a retired teacher of English (and OU tutor), now into critical esssays and the occasional book (HOPKINS Macmillan 1994) as well as trying his hand at creative writing.

previous reviews & comments:

'You brought the picture of the errant top hat clearly to my mind and how it can be a distraction to some and unnoticed by others. I would have been one of the former and so could relate easily to this story. I loved it.'
Julia Waight 2017

'It's the small things that have the greatest impact. And this is no exception. Really enjoyed it' LC 2017

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