THE FASCINATOR

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It was the season for weddings. Sarah had at least five invitations, and she lined them up on her mantelpiece. Every time she looked at them, her heart was in her boots. They were a motley array: two of them were second marriages (the triumph of hope over experience, she thought to herself), one was a deathbed repentance, one was pure lavender. Only one of them was a fresh love match. She would have to attend all the weddings, of course, although funerals were sometimes more fun and often had better buffets.

She could not decide what to wear: bouts of savage snacking meant that she couldn’t fit into any of her party clothes, and she looked like a ship in full sail in every outfit. Surely she had read somewhere that what really mattered were expensive accessories? Accordingly she ransacked the shops and the Internet: plum-coloured shoes with kitten heels and jewelled toecaps, scarves with pictures of books on them (always a good talking point), gloves that looked like tattooed skin. Perfect. But Sarah would have to have a hat, and one that was suitable for each event. What to do?

It was easier in the old days, when everybody wore one. A hat was a sure marker of status and class then, and its texture, material and embellishments spoke unerringly of who you were and of how you were feeling. But how was that possible now? She certainly didn’t know who she was, and as to her state of feeling, well! Her moods could vary from hilarity to gloom in the twinkling of an eye. It would be a tough hat that could fulfill all these requirements. A big brim would make her look like Concorde preparing for takeoff. A cloche would make her head look like a pimple on a haystack. A stetson would make her look like a drag queen. A beret would make her look like a bag lady. A snood would only be understood by those who had seen lots of 1940s films.

But a fascinator, now. That might do the trick. Sarah had seen them stuck onto the side of ladies’ heads at public celebrations. Some of them looked like tea-plates, some like small bowls of fruit a la Carmen Miranda. She might be able to make small alterations to complement each different wedding. So she found one, although it seemed an unconscionable amount of money to spend on something that was basically a few feathers mounted onto a comb. She bore it home in triumph.

The trouble was that her fascinator seemed to have a mind of its own and was capable of the most frightful ill-will and tactlessness. Sarah would put it on and sally forth to the wedding: but by the time she got there, the fascinator had changed its shape and decoration, profoundly altering the message it bore. Wedding hats ought to be jolly, or neutral at the very worst. But Sarah’s seemed to have intuited what would be the most offensive utterance, and then made it. At the first wedding, there was a marked disparity between the couple’s ages, and somehow between her house and the chapel, the fascinator had produced two little dolls that sat swaying on long erect wires. One was a baby in a pram, and the other was an old person in a wheelchair. The second wedding was between two people of uncertain temper, whose quarrels were of mythic proportions. In the taxi, the fascinator had somehow formed quite a large axe, which perched on the crown and had mock blood running onto the tiny brim. And for the lavender marriage, it had manufactured a little pyramid of butt-plugs.

It was hard for Sarah to take part in the hymns and the buffets, because everyone was looking at her fascinator with a mixture of admiration and blame. After all, many things are best left unsaid. In desperation, by the fourth wedding, she crammed her headgear into her handbag, where it set off a scream like a rape alarm. Well, next time she would go bareheaded to the feast.

And so she did. But when she walked through the wych-gate to the church, she felt a sort of tingling in her scalp. Her head began to feel as though it was stretching, and as she put her hand up to her hair, she felt something growing apace. She sat down in a pew, hoping to escape notice, but realised people were nudging and pointing. She took out her powder compact and saw in the mirror that a Cupid heart was growing out of the top of her head. It was about six inches high, and wobbled a bit. There was a little arrow piercing it, and it was beginning to sing, making a passable attempt at Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

Actually the bridal couple were thrilled and thanked her for having gone to so much trouble for them. Sarah borrowed a high-crowned hat to conceal the fleshly fascinator, and managed several courses of the dinner. Tomorrow she’d see about having the heart and arrow surgically removed. But she suspected that she wouldn’t feel able to go to another wedding for quite some time. If ever, indeed.