Mr Eckles had a funny shaped head. It was the type of head that did not have a single distinguishable feature. It was not quite round, nor did it take a conical shape. The nurse who received him bloody and screaming described it as a golf ball; the doctor disagreed. The dents aren’t quite as evenly spaced, he said quietly to the nurse. It’s more like a metal bowl, one that has been dropped one too many times.
Either way, Mr Eckles’ unfortunately shaped head was uniformly agreed to be somewhat of a disaster – his mother burst into a torrent of tears when she first laid eyes on her second-born’s skull, while his father sat down with his own well-formed head in his hands. The only one who loved him on that first day was the owner of the little hand that played with the single hair that curled upon Mr Eckle’s oddly-shaped head.
This single hair was Mr Eckles’ pride and joy. He would clean and groom this lone filamentous outgrowth of the epidermis with extreme love and care. In this hair, he vested all his dreams and ambitions; it was what kept him walking through the constant guard of sniggers and soft drink cans pegged at his strangely shaped head. So, when this lonely hair disappeared on his forty-fifth birthday, he decided that he would never again step out of his double-storey brick veneer sanctuary. Here, he told his bathroom mirror, his shiny dented bowl of a head will no longer be exposed for all the world to see. Here, his shame would remain private and would not be opened up to the mockery of the world.
Unfortunately for Mr Eckles, his double-story brick veneer mammoth of a sanctuary was not built for self-imposed seclusion; basic human needs were to be attended to and, for Mr Eckles, these basic human needs came in the form of canned roasted pepper tuna fish. As Eckles had no facility for the canned goods business, it was inevitable that he would have to venture past his heavy oak door.
So every Sunday morning, Mr Eckles would wake early in preparation for his expedition to the Woolworths on Jamison and Court. He would lay out his double tweed suit with the finely stitched lapel out on his bed, in the exact same manner that he himself was laid out the night before. To match this suit, he would take out a dark bowler hat. He liked to wear this bowler hat everywhere, and would actually do so if he were not convinced that the constant coverage of his scalp would encourage the fungal rot of the skin. To solve this problem, he would ensure that his head would be walked around the house hatless and naked for exactly forty-five minutes each morning.
However, on one particular Sunday morning in June, Mr Eckles couldn’t find his bowler hat. He had already laid out his double tweed suit with the finely stitched lapel, but the outfit just did not look complete without the bowler hat sitting on his pillow. Despite this devastating deficiency, Mr Eckles still acknowledged that the sun will rise – with or without a bowler hat – and thus continued his day with his head as bare and naked as it always had been.
In this condition, Mr Eckles walked down to his kitchen. He sat at his simple oak dining table with a mug of lukewarm tea, just as the morning sun trickled through the kitchen window and settled ever so gently on his shiny scalp. Forty-five minutes would certainly suffice as an effective deterrent to all the fungal spores growing eagerly on his scalp, he told his mug. It stared back at him with such a disapproving frown that, on the forty-fourth minute, Mr Eckles stood up, walked to the sink and washed the mug with a disinfected sponge and Dawn dishwashing liquid.
This was unprecedented, he thought to himself. Forty-four minutes cannot possibly be enough time to rid the scalp of fungal spores. He put down the disinfected sponge and looked at the mug. It grinned back at him. Highly unusual, he murmured back to it.
‘Yes, it certainly is.’
Mr Eckles looked up in surprise. A small fairy was sitting cross-legged on his simple oak dining table, dancing her little fairy fingers around the ring of condensation left by the mug. She had a tuna fish the size of a small cat sitting in her lap.
‘Trevor tells me you like tuna.’
Mr Eckles lowered his eyes suspiciously at the nymph perched on his dining table.
‘Did you take my hat?’
Her spitfire eyebrows gather at the centre of her forehead. ‘Why would I do that? I don’t even like bowler hats.’
‘Why aren’t you out anyway? It’s such a nice day.’
‘What about your hat?’
‘I don’t have it.’
‘You don’t need your hat to walk. If you’d said your shoes were missing, maybe then I would understand. But even then you don’t really need your shoes.’
The mug chuckles. ‘I need my hat to go places.’
‘He’s the elf who lives in your closet. I think he hates the hat. God-awful hat he calls it. Says it’s a fashion faux pas. Maybe he took it?’
Mr Eckles looked down at the mug. He was confused. He didn’t know what else to do. This was not normal, not predictable, and it sure as hell wasn’t natural.
Plop. ‘Someone’s at the door,’ whispered the coffee mug with soap suds in its eyes. Mr Eckles looked at the door. The fairy looked at the pantry. Mr Eckles looks back at the mug. He can’t do it. Not today. It is already 10:04am and he hasn’t even found his hat.
‘Are you going to get that?’ The fairy places the fish on the table and drops off the table. ‘I think its Trevor. He said that he was going to finish his puzzle, then come with us to the park for a little bit. Do you want to have fish and chips from the sea or from the bakery?’
‘I don’t have my hat.’
‘So? We don’t need your hat to hold the chips. Trevor’s hat is big enough for all of us.’
‘I need my hat.’
‘Why? We only need one to carry the chips.’
‘I just need it.’
‘But you only need a hat to either carry things or if it’s cold. And it’s not cold at all.’
‘You don’t know the cold.’
The little fairy looked at him in wonder.
Plop. Plop plop plop. ‘Alright. Alright.’ The little fairy danced across the kitchen towards the pantry and flung open the doors.
‘What bloody well took you so long?!’
‘Oh Eckles was having a good chin wag with his mug. Look at him. He’s still at it.’
They both look towards the sink and the man with the shiny head standing next to it. Trevor sighs.
‘Eckles, you really have to stop talking to the crockery. You know how they are!’
Mr Eckles looks back at him.
‘Well? Are we going to stand here all day?
Mr Eckles looks back at the coffee mug; it didn’t seem to want to say anything anymore. Instead, it sat there looking at the bowler hat hanging off the knob of the pantry door. Mr Eckles walked up to smooth velvet bowler hat, picked it up and looked at the open pantry. Two sets of sparkling eyes stared back at him, waiting. Mr Eckles placed the hat down next to the coffee mug, just to keep it company, and then walked through his heavy oak door to catch the 10:30 bus to town.