once was a haberdasher who made hats from the pelts of dead animals
he found floating in the old canal. He lived in a crude condominium
on the edge of a strip mall where fur was hard to come by. Every
Saturday he loaded a tar-scarred skiff into the bed of his pick-up
truck and drove down to the banks. He spent the day paddling up
and down the fetid waterways, fishing dogs and cats from the mire.
If he chanced upon a drowned dog, gassy with bloat, he'd haul it
into the flat-bottomed boat with a rusty bicycle basket lashed to
a creaky pole, stuff the poor beast in an oilskin sack and cinch
it shut with a shoelace.
At the end of the day the old man
took the animals home, wrapped them in a moldy sleeping bag and
deposited them in the dryer at the condo association's community
washroom. Seventy-five cents got the job done. When the machine
concluded its interminable tumbling, he spirited them up the stairs
to a dreary studio he kept in the back of his apartment. He cured
the pelts in his Drying Closet and secreted the remains away in
a massive steamer trunk.
One wet morning by the Gasworks the
haberdasher found the body of a young girl lying face up in the
weeds, her pale pink body so naked and new. He held the child close
and wept, for business had been bad lately and he'd had a terrible
time selling hats. He put the girl in his bag and paddled home.
The old man oiled his sewing equipment
and laid out his finest needles. When he could no longer hear the
bag thump thump thumping in the dryer, he went downstairs. The young
girl sat on the edge of the appliance, playing with a waterlogged
rat that was missing both hind legs and most of its tail. Her damp
dark hair hung down on her pale shoulders like a net. The girl spoke
in a clogged whisper, but he couldn't make out the words. Her failed
attempt had sounded like "Uh-oh."
She put the rat aside and fished a
black twig from her mouth. Her eyes bespoke a measure of calm that
was incomprehensible to the haberdasher. Brackish water dribbled
from her chin, splashing her thighs. Alive, she was shockingly nude.
He picked up a section of cinder block
the tenants used to prop open the door to the condo association
community washroom and bludgeoned the Uh-oh Girl. In a haze of efficiency,
he put her back in the sack and dragged her up the stairs. Her skin,
which was softer and fairer than any he had seen before, would augment
the beauty of many hats. A glass of brandy fortified his resolve
and he sewed long into the night.
He had no difficulty selling his new
line of hats. There were so many orders he no longer had to prowl
the canal for pelts. He had worked hard, the only way he knew how,
and he allowed himself a brief moment of smug satisfaction as he
reaped the considerable rewards of his artistry. But now sleep came
fitfully and he often woke from desperate dreams soaked in sweat.
He sold the last Uh-oh hat with a curious mixture of anxiety and
The seasons changed. The weather turned
bitter cold. Inventory grew pitifully low. His money all but gone,
the old man returned to the canals once more. The bloated corpses
of pets and farm animals no longer interested him. His determination
to find another drowned girl drove him to the foulest limits of
the canal. He prowled the shallows where the sewer fed the awful
bay. He lurked the stagnant extremes of the estuary beyond the Spoon
Factory where not even the disease-carrying gulls would go. At night,
he took to mooring the skiff under bridges in the hopes one of the
township's many drunks might fall in. All in vain.
By mid-winter the old haberdasher
was desperate. Customers stopped coming to his shop. Some grew disdainful
of hats altogether. He sensed it was the beginning of the end.
Driven by hunger and despair, the
once dapper haberdasher put on his shabbiest clothes. Under cover
of darkness he crept to the old canal. He tied up his skiff to the
quay and waited. Once all the taverns had shut down and the drunks
had sailor-staggered back to their beds, he found a last lingering
prostitute leaning on a lamp pole and brained her with an oar. The
woman lost her balance and tumbled into the boat.
In the condo association community
washroom, the old man wheezed with the burden of depositing the
new girl in the dryer. He retreated to his studio and poured a brandy,
upon which he had become increasingly reliant. As he poured the
brandy into a dirty cup, the dryer fell out of balance. The haberdasher
raced down the stairs. Tenants poked their head out of doorways
to see what strange doings were afoot in the condo association community
washroom, but the old man shooed them back inside. He found the
new girl crumpled up under the folding table. Where the Uh-oh girl
had been light, airy, full of beauty, the prostitute was corpulent
and rank. Still, he consigned her flesh to the same fate as the
The hats he made with the new girl's
skin were of inferior quality and he felt apprehensive about putting
them on display, but he needn't have worried. Once word got out
that the haberdasher was once again selling his wondrously fleshy
hats, the people of the township went into a kind of frenzy. Men
and women swamped the haberdashery. Soon just one hat was not enough.
They had to have two. Disputes spread throughout the community.
Fistfights were not uncommon. Down by the docks, it became increasingly
dangerous for women to walk about with their head covered. Not since
the casino boats were torpedoed by the light of a hunter's moon
had the township known such madness.
Through it all, the haberdasher worked
without complaint. He opened the haberdashery at dawn and closed
at dusk, pausing only for an apple and a short nap in the park.
When night fell, he resumed work in his studio. If he ran out of
materials, he waited for the moon to go dancing elsewhere and set
out across the canal in his skiff.
One dark night, the haberdasher dreamt
he came upon the floating corpse of a woman. He turned her over
and recognized the face of a customer who had purchased a hat from
him earlier in the day. Panicked, he beached his little boat and
raced home, but more bodies were waiting for him in the parking
lot, and still more were assembled in the condo association community
washroom, thump thump thumping away in the dryer.
He woke to a pounding at the door.
It was the president of the condo association, complaining about
the awful stench. When he refused to let her in, the constable was
alerted. Word spread throughout the township like an electric current.
The haberdasher fled. The authorities broke into his apartment and
discovered the trunk in his Drying Closet. "Monster!" they shouted.
"Ghoul!" The old man's heart beat like the wings of a tiny bird;
he felt anything but monstrous.
A mob gathered on the crumbling shore
as the wicked old haberdasher escaped in his skiff. Their torches
lit up the twisted waterways, making them more beautiful than he'd
ever deemed imaginable. Paddling the nidulent furrows of the wetlands,
he chanced upon a dank grotto he'd never seen before. He drifted
inside, curiously at home in the gloom. Perched between two stalagmites
of greenish hue sat a rather untidy apparition the haberdasher instantly
recognized as the Uh-oh Girl. She had no skin, a situation she was
working to rectify as she skillfully reconstituted herself with
needle and lustrous folds of gleaming flesh. The haberdasher watched
her come together: a strip here, a square there, needles flashing
in the dark. Admiring her work, the old man explored the urge to
say something, but the words got stuck in his throat and stayed
there. Slowly, as the Uh-oh Girl's new skin took shape, he understood
that he was not, as he'd thought all along, an artist, but part
of a dimly perceived pattern, a drab dissipating swirl that lent
shape, but no meaning, to a larger, unfathomable design.