The Spring Hat by H.E. Bates, 1961
The magic trick:
A two-track plot – one in the story’s present tense and one running through memories
I was not familiar with this author until this story showed up in an anthology I happened to pick up. I still don’t know much about him, but that should probably change because this is a very good story.
It’s not the kind of story that grabs you with stunningly unique voice or setting or ideas. There’s very little here that would single it out as the work of one H.E. Bates.
But that’s OK. The story, not the writer, takes the fore here.
What we have is a very well executed two-track plot. One is the story’s present tense of Miss Manktelow fitting Mrs. Daley for a new hat. The second is a series of recent memories the fitting triggers in Miss Manktelow’s head, as she thinks about Joe, Mrs. Daley’s husband.
Her thoughts reveal to the reader more about her character than she probably knows about herself.
And that’s quite a trick on Bates’s part.
But after Joe had called her Miss Mangletoe several times she could not help herself and began laughing. At first she tittered and then Joe gave a shriek of laughter, the beginning of which she saw plainly, a series of stirring tremulous flutters, in the great strong belly above the tops of his trousers.
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