When he died she took up millinery. She bought one smart black dress and started blocking hats. At the funeral, she had worn a badly cut skirt suit and her sister’s heels. In the months afterwards, she accepted every invitation – afternoon teas, soirees, cocktail evenings, coffee dates – each time turning up in the same black shift with one of her own creations nested in her hair.
At first the designs were simple (tasteful, they concluded); but as time passed the felt shapes framing her face became more haphazard (preposterous). For an engagement party, a crest of hand-sewn autumnal leaves sprayed from her forehead. At a Christening, a pillbox frosted with lace as though it were a cake. The top hat she wore for her nephew’s birthday seemed a quirky shade, grass green, but was judged fairly tame. That is, until a hatch in the back let out a small train to trail around the brim.
People asked why she did it – each other at first, then they asked her. From beneath the taxidermied wing of a fairy wren or the coiled, synthetic tail of a pygmy bearded dragon, her answer was always the same – why, because difficult times give you character. It would seem, before he’d died she’d simply had none.