issue 7 home | broken news | criticual urgencies | cyber bag | ec chair | ficciones | gallery
letters | reviews | secret agents | serials | stage and screen

HomeArchivesSubmitCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Uh-oh, Hat Girl
by Jim Ruland

There 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 relief.
     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 first.
     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.

Jim Ruland is currently at work on LORD LOUD NUMB & THE KOOBLA KONS a screenplay about a Goth-Metal band who draw inspiration from the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


issue 7 home | broken news | criticual urgencies | cyber bag | ec chair | ficciones | gallery
letters | reviews | secret agents | serials | stage and screen

HomeArchivesSubmitCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch

Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.