We walked through the arcade; shops with wooden fronts and hand-painted signs. I stopped at an old hat shop. “I’ve had a dream about this place”, I said, recognising the window display somehow, and I stood back to survey the sign properly.
FOXTON & SONS, HATMAKERS
I walked in, curiously, and the smell of old mahogany, cigars and dust filled my nose, a nice feeling, reminding me somewhat of my grandad’s house, specifically my thoughts of it when I would visit, as a child. I smiled, amused at the idea that somebody might appear and say ‘We’ve been expecting you’, like the beginning of a strange story in a penny dreadful. The music in the shop was familiar too; Chopin’s Nocturnes, 19. My feeling of knowing and belonging swelled in me. Had I been here before? I was near certain I had not.
My eyes wandered across the hat boxes, mannequins in bowlers, small drawer units labelled with swatches of material, and countless books, until they stopped at a man I hadn’t noticed had come out from the back of the shop. He smiled at me.
“That’s just it, Mr. Collins. We have been expecting you, but do not be alarmed”. I smiled, nervously expecting some kind of punchline or reveal. The old man smiled again, somehow with sympathy this time. “Do come through.”
He motioned to the back of the shop, his smile unmoving. I turned, instinctively, to look at the door I had just entered through, and my heart held itself when I saw that where the door once was, hats and books stood piled from floor to ceiling, as if they had always been there. Suddenly aware I was in the grip of something supernatural, I became frightened and acutely aware of my own senses; Chopin’s Nocturnes, 19 with tobacco and mahogany. I stayed still and wondered in my mind’s voice if this was some kind of terrible nightmare.
“Unfortunately, it is real, Mr. Collins”.