Blind Among the Mannequins

My guide dog and I walked into a hat shop; a boutique; a room filled with tiny crescent hats on mannequin heads. To me they were splotches of color; weird as a Kandinsky painting, lovely. And there I was, a man in a hat shop with a dog. It began. The shop keeper wanted to know what I was doing there. She landed right in front of me like a jumping spider. She couldn’t say what she was thinking—”why is a blind person in my shop? Why is a blind person interested in women’s hats? Why would a blind man know any women? Why would a blind man have taste? Or money? Or curiosity? Most likely he is lost! Oh my God! A lost blind man has entered my little store! What should I say?”

Then the man terrified the hat woman by touching a hat. (Oh Lordy who knows where the blind man’s fingers have been?) The blind man, moi, saw a burgundy thing. It was a wide brimmed felt fedora the color of cranberries. His fingers caressed it. His guide dog admired him admiring the thing. It was a moment of small, contained, aesthetic pleasure. Nothing more.

“What are you doing?” asked the shop keeper. She fumbled her opening gambit—didn’t say “can I help you?” or “what are you looking for?” (She didn’t know if blind people “look” for anything…was it OK to say “look”—and maybe it wasn’t—so she said “what are you doing?)

“A fedora,” I said. “A mauve fedora!”

“Well, yes,” said the shop keeper.

(She wanted to know how I “knew” it was a rose-purple fedora but couldn’t ask. She imagined all blind people see nothing. This is a common presumption.)

“A mauve fedora,” I said again because I liked saying it.

“Mmmm,” said the shop keeper.

“Indifférence violet,” I said with a bad French accent.

The shopkeeper stared.

“Je veux acheter un chapeau pour mon chien,” I said.

“You want to buy a hat for your dog?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I want to buy her the mauve fedora.”

“Oh dear!” she said.

“I might decide to buy two,” I said.

“One for my wife, one for my dog,” I said.

We can be misunderstood and stylish. Two components made into a third thing in this blind life.

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