There was only one thing Gerald loved more than a roaring bonfire and that was the thrill of watching an outsider overtake a favourite on the final furlong. Gerald Gerrison, or ‘G.G.’ as Joan nicknamed him due to his obsession, spent his weekdays in one of two locations. She’d find him either burning garden debris whilst mulling over current form or applauding the thunder of hooves on the racecourse’s finish line.
Gerald retired at fifty and with few pressing commitments; he could choose how to spend his time. He’d made his money after he inherited his father’s rag-and-bone warehouse and turned a dwindling trade into a thriving recycling business. His new clients demanded high volumes of cloth and rags to fill their soft furnishings and upholstery. It had been hard at first, but Gerald wasn’t soft; he knew about cruelty from his childhood. Years of prejudice at boarding school had toughened him up and he’d learned to observe life and keep shtum. He never disclosed his modest start in life or his humble lineage.
“People can believe what they want,” he’d said more than once to Joan.
“What they don’t know, they’ll just make up, anyway.”
Gerald was a social chameleon. He discovered looks can be deceptive, and he adapted his manners to suit any occasion.
“People can be so judgemental,” he’d say, straightening his overcoat’s velvet collar and adjusting the “G.G.” monogrammed brass buttons at the cuffs.
Gerald was a regular at the weekly gallops, where his associates referred to him as ‘dignified,’ a name that suited his superior air. He assumed a noble bearing, due in part to his prestigious attire. They didn’t see him without his knee-length charcoal grey Chesterfield with the black velvet collar and a matching bowler hat. Both were cherished heirlooms that belonged to his dearly departed father, Gerald Gerrison Senior. The distinctive garments had afforded him loyal service for over two decades and now was Gerald’s first choice for a further ten years and counting.
Not that Gerald was too mean to purchase new clothes, he was just careful with his cash. He didn’t see the point of parting with his hard earned and filthy lucre. The gossips at the racecourse said he was rich as Croesus and not without good reason. Gerald encouraged Joan to wash old cling-film in the kitchen sink and strung up tea-bags in the airing cupboard to reuse. He was proud to be frugal and Joan joked he was the ‘Regent of Recycling.’
Gerald claimed he wasn’t superstitious, and yet he believed his hat and overcoat imbued him with supernatural luck. Joan was skeptical and made hints about wearing something a little more youthful. Gerald dismissed her veiled threat until he discovered the hat and coat with a pile of Joan’s old dresses on the upstairs bed.
“I’m making space, dear,” Joan said. “It’s time for a clear out.”
“No way.” Gerald frowned, retrieving the bowler. “We can’t be parted.”
“Honestly, Gerald, they’ve had their day.” Joan sighed as he brushed down his hat.
Afterwards, his racing form evaporated. He understood that leaving one’s hat on a bed releases evil spirits and worse still; it might portend death in the household. Gerald tipped the bowler’s brim as he left and nodded a restrained farewell. In retrospect, he’d thwarted Joan’s first attempt at a fashion makeover.
Gerald struggled to get advice concerning his cursed bowler hat and his sudden reversal of fortune. There were few local experts in exorcism. However, his local priest suggested a pragmatic approach and Gerald’s luck returned after steam-cleaning his bowler at the dry cleaners.
The totes all shuddered when the elegant domed hat reappeared amongst the crowds at the racecourse. He was once more the scourge of their fraternity. They choked with fright as they witnessed its dark silhouette soar into the air on the finish line, accompanied by the crowd’s enthusiastic applause. The bookies would be in for heavy losses now that Gerald was back on top form again.
Joan was a parvenu with dreams of rising the social ladder. She aimed to join the local elite in the council chambers, drink fizz at the yacht club, and provide flowers for St Michael’s Church every Sunday. A frequent visitor at the nail bar and beauty salon, you could say she was fully occupied. Certainly, Joan’s hands were no longer suited to doing dishes or much of anything else around the house. Mr Garrison Senior once described his daughter-in-law as “a hansom-looking steed, built less for comfort and more for speed.”
Joan was on a perpetual series of diets and expected Gerald to support her attempts to stay trim. In the light of her dietary regime, Gerald and Joan nibbled salads together at lunch time and then afterwards he’d tuck into a hearty meal at the racecourse; shepherds pie or meat and two veg were their standard fare. He looked forward to their Cumberland sausage and mash on Wednesdays, whilst watching the afternoon race fixtures.
Joan accepted Gerald would never part with his hat and coat, and it irked her to watch his jaunty departures to the racetrack. His total confidence in those lucky charms offended both her logic sensibilities and her sense of style.
“Fashion has never been your strong point, G.G.,” she’d say.
“It’s simple and understated,” he’d say, smirking. “Classic cuts never date.”
“You can’t keep wearing those old things forever.”
“But we can’t be parted, my dear.”
“Not if I have my way…”
Gerald knew she was a woman of her word and took her seriously. He kept his race day uniform brushed and hanging in his wardrobe under lock and key. They both maintained their stance until the day Gerald visited his doctor’s surgery for his annual check up. His feet were playing up, and he suspected gout on his big toes.
Joan seized the moment and, with the aid of a bolt-cutter and two bin-liners, removed his precious heirlooms and two decades’ worth of tweed and wool. Within the hour, she’d revamped the clothes rail and dragged Gerald into the 21st century. His wardrobe now housed a collection of casual jackets, department store slacks, and pastel-coloured polo shirts.
They’d switched the lights off in the charity shop before Joan pulled up outside in her sleek Jaguar. She looked up and down the road as her hand hovered over the hand brake. It wasn’t inconceivable that she would have company. Joan half expected Gerald would be behind her when she alighted the vehicle and dumped two black bin liners on the doorstep.
Gerald was busy solving his daily crossword puzzle when Joan arrived home. She prepared a meal, and the couple sat down to eat before Gerald broached Joan’s idea about his new clothes. She announced she had a surprise for him and she appreciated it might come as a shock. It wasn’t until Joan admitted she’d made some changes that his jaw sagged and his face blanched. Joan had cleared the table and started washing the dishes before Gerald staggered to his feet and up the stairs.
Gerald’s visit to the charity shop the next morning was a waste of time. He made an excuse that he’d left a lottery ticket in a jacket that his wife had donated, but they said they didn’t have it. The shop had been closed and when they arrived that morning, all they discovered was a mauled bin liner containing oddments. No bowler hat and no Chesterfield overcoat. There was just a pile of tatty old tweed suits, three flannel trousers and four twill shirts. The manager wasn’t impressed by the donation and said the offerings weren’t fit for upholstery stuffing.
Gerald’s whole demeanour changed over the following days. His once proud chest and broad back sagged, and he walked with a sorrowful gait. Nothing went well for him and he couldn’t face the prospect of losing race after race at the racecourse.
Joan almost felt sorry for Gerald, but decided it was for the best. He’d have to accept that life had to progress and Gerald would have to move with the times.
It took a fortnight for Gerald to pluck up the nerve to visit a local bookmaker on the high-street. He couldn’t risk losing too much money, so he raided his supply of pound coins he’d been saving for a rainy day. It was outside the bookies that he encountered a man was more down at heel than himself. The fellow was sitting on a pile of charcoal grey wool and he held out a familiar looking receptacle, expecting to get some loose coins. Gerald spotted the monogrammed buttons amongst the dark fabric and the faded Christys label inside the hat. Gerald brightened and offered the man whatever he had on him to retrieve the items. Fifty-six pounds in pound coins and fifty pence pieces. Done!
It didn’t take over ten minutes for Gerald to stack some kindling and dry wood into his incinerator. He lit a match and watched as his father’s elderly fabric crackled and caught alight. A smile drifted across Gerald’s ruddy complexion like a respectful congregation departing a crematorium. He considered for a moment how he’d always despised Joan’s dress sense and hated those calf-length frocks. Surely her precious floral numbers were way past their sell-by-date? It would be a shame to waste the convenience of a roaring fire.