New Beginnings for Jeremy Haines – Spring
Introducing a series of fictional short stories, written by Brett F. Braley-Palko, following the journey of protagonist, Jeremy Haines, as he navigates the new opportunities that unfold with his bespoke suit commissions from Cad & The Dandy.
Jeremy Haines was the regional supervisor at a London bank. Called Jim by his friends and Mr. Haines by his secretary, his days were spent helping the bank clerks make good decisions. “Did you see the new rates on auto loan policies?” he’d remind his staff.
“Did someone refill the toner in the printer?”
“Did anyone file this application?”
“Where are we with the Margo account?”
Jeremy Haines was punctual, friendly, and respected by the bank’s upper-management. He had a terrier named Goose and a girlfriend of three years called Natasha. He lived in London’s Notting Hill and would sometimes bike to work.
But, Jeremy was also in a rut.
It began about a year ago, if Jeremy had to guess. He’d walk to work with sweaty hands and would gulp back a stammer if caught off-guard before he settled in for the day. It was unlike him to complain, so he did not. Instead, he would sit staring at the tableau of his desk while his computer hummed into operation. There were five documents for him to sign, fifty-three paper clips in the small glass jar. There was a fountain pen that needed refilling and five ballpoint pens without caps left behind by bank clerks in a rush. There was the birthday card awaiting his signature and three stamps tucked beneath a stapler for safe-keeping. That was his day, abbreviated and dull.
By mid-morning he would stretch exaggeratedly and make himself a cup of tea. His secretary, Lucie, would offer but it gave him something to do. He would wait next to the electric kettle in the small kitchen, dropping in a few hellos and good mornings to staff members who sidled next to him to get some milk or sugar. More than once, he’d get a, “Morning, Bob” in return.
Bob was the building’s janitor—and eighty-three years old at that.
It happened with his secretary, as well. Jeremy learned that if he sat perfectly still, Lucie would walk right by him to pick up the outgoing mail on his desk – he blended so well into the bland office environment he was practically indistinguishable from the furniture.
This rut was unavoidable for a man like Jeremy, who took his work seriously and to whom life had been kind. With nothing to prove, he had settled into the comfort of middle-class life and only recently had become aware that he was bored.
It was only when he was out to dinner one Friday evening that he finally realized it himself. It was Natasha who asked him if something was wrong. Had there been a bad day at the bank? Had Sandra forgotten to call for housekeeping again? He had hardly touched the cocktail he had ordered. Was it too strong? Should she say something to the waiter?
Before Jeremy could stop himself, he said it out loud, the thing that had plagued him for months.
“No, it’s not that. I’m just bored.”
There it was! A name to his condition. And there was Natasha, looking over the rim of her martini glass, brows knitted.
“Oh, darling, not at all! Just with…life. With things. With work. With me. I need something but what is there I want? I still can’t put my finger on it.”
Natasha did not seem convinced that it wasn’t her. She looked down at the menu, pretending to read the soups du jour to give herself a moment to respond.
“Why don’t we book a holiday? The Peters have that lovely home in the Cots–”
“I can’t. We just went on holiday last month. You know how the bank is about those things.”
“Even for a weekend?”
“What about Goose?” His terrier was, at this point, quite settled into old age and the less disruption to his schedule of napping and eating the better for both he and Jeremy.
Natasha took a look at Jeremy. A hard look and a long one. She was surveying his flaws, trying to fan out a solution as one may do with the tarot. There! Her eyes sparked. She had it.
“You know what helps me when I’m down? A new wardrobe. Look at you! You’ve had the same wardrobe for years. It’s all the same with you—pinstripes? Darling. A banker who only wears pinstripes? It writes itself, honestly! And it ages you, darling. I saw it in the waiter’s eyes when we sat down, even. I could tell. He was thinking, ‘How nice, this ravishing young lady is taking out her poor uncle from the home counties. Probably has never been in a restaurant that wasn’t a buffet. How nice of her.’”
“But I like my suits…” Jeremy tried to retort, but he looked down and, with fresh eyes, saw what Natasha was seeing.
There was his suit jacket, striped in charcoal and grey. A loose button he had reattached himself was dangling precariously, threatening to fall into his bouillabaisse at any second. A small bit of ink had smudged the sleeve and there, on the shoulder, the threads were exhausted from straining against the additional weight Jeremy had gained since buying this particular suit seven years ago.
“See, I think it’s these clothes of yours, Jim. They’re making you feel bad. And I always think that, well, if I look good I feel good. I love you, but you don’t always look so good. Well, I think you can look better. And I think it’s, well, I think it’s time you started to, um, well, looking better if you ever want to get married and all, that’s all. I just think pinstripes make one look so old. I don’t want to feel old just yet. You’re only thirty-six!”
Maybe she had a point, Jeremy thought. It was Spring now, a time to feel refreshed. And, really, he had been thinking for some time of getting something bespoke. This suit had been tailored, but styles had changed and he was so very tired of blending in so well with the other supervisors at the bank. That was part of what bored him, seeing so many of the same looks and styles and stripes on nondescript men rushing on and off the Tube.
Yes, maybe she had a point. Jeremy needed change—why couldn’t it come first from his wardrobe?
Natasha promised to call her father to see what tailor he used. Mr. Wormwood was in property and wore a bespoke suit every day, even on the weekends. Natasha’s father intimidated Jeremy, but he couldn’t deny that he wore great suits.
The waiter came over with the bill and asked, “Can I get you or your niece anything for dessert or a coffee?”
Natasha’s smile said it all. I told you so.
* * *
The following Tuesday was Jeremy’s appointment. His car dropped him off on Savile Row and there the orange flag greeted him. He had arrived at No. 13, Cad & The Dandy.
Up the stairs Jeremy went to be greeted by the bustle of a proper tailoring operation. Here, there was a phone ringing. There, a man apologized with, “I have gained a bit of weight since the pandemic…” Turning the corner up the staircase, he went to the reception area of the building, a slate-blue room with natural light reflected in large mirrors against one wall and a fireplace against the other.
He took a seat in one of the tawny leather chairs and crossed his legs, surveying the room. He was early for his appointment and did not want to make a fuss. Above the mantle was a ram’s head. Jeremy tipped his head in the direction of the ram, “Hello, old man.”
“I don’t think you’ll get a response from Bob today, sir. He’s been a bit taciturn lately.”
Jeremy jumped, startled and slightly embarrassed.
“Oh, I’m so…um…I didn’t think anyone was ready for me just yet.”
There stood his tailor, Morris, with a slight twinkle in his eye. Balding and self-assuredly compact, Natasha mentioned that her father only trusted Morris. And as opinionated as Mr. Wormwood was, this was undoubtedly a good thing.
With a handshake and one more apologetic shrug of his shoulders, Jeremy followed Morris to another room and the suit consultation began there. What sort of suit did he want? What weight for the fabric? Solids or patterns? Something lustrous? Was the suit being made for any special occasion? Would you wear the suit after work?
After weighing the options and feeling each fabric Morris presented, Jeremy settled on something simple for everyday wear. A two-piece in an openly woven cloth called Fresco. Bright, the color was called French navy, so different than the muted blues of his peers’ suits. It was electrifying to see the potential of a new wardrobe. Already, his hands feeling the swatch of fabric, Jeremy began to understand the potential a new suit could have for his life. Maybe there was something to what Natasha had said. Maybe, just maybe, his old pinstripe duds had been ageing him, settling him into the dull banker’s life that struck him more as a prison than a career. Yes, this suit, he decided, would be the first step to something new. Just what that meant, well, he wasn’t entirely sure.
Next, a notepad was produced from some inner pocket of Morris’s jacket and a small pencil soon followed. A measuring tape bisected Jeremy’s shoulder blades, trailed his inseam, and belted his waist. Small nods, little scribbles. At one point Morris said gently but firmly, “Please don’t suck in your stomach, sir.” and at another, “What is your normal posture?”
When all was done, Jeremy was more aware of his body than ever. Were his legs always so long? Were his hips abnormally high for a man? Jeremy shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“Let’s have a cup of tea” suggested the tailor, leading Jeremy back into the sitting room. While the leaves steeped, Morris asked pointedly, “What do you want from this suit, Mr. Haines?”
It is a little-known fact that one tends to feel more connected to someone who has measured every inch of you. Or, at least for Jeremy, this axiom held true. He rattled off his complaints about life. How he blended so well into the scenery of his office he was sometimes mistaken for a coat rack by his secretary. How he felt Natasha didn’t really respect him, but just liked his company, like a pet cat (“…but please don’t tell Mr. Wormwood I said that!” Jeremy added, noting Morris’s connection to Natasha’s father).
By the time he was finished, the tea had cooled and Jeremy had to leave for a meeting. They shook hands again and said their goodbyes. Morris walked him out the door, but could not shake the image of Jeremy Haines for the rest of the day. He was touched by the eagerness of his client, who had sat so sullenly in the waiting area and lit up so much when talking about the new life his suit could bring him. What, thought Morris, could he do to keep the momentum going for this young man? Morris himself had a life full of adventure before settling into the sartorial profession. This man, he thought, had never taken a risk in his life. What could Morris do to change that? Well, he could always call in a favor to a gentleman in Lewes…
* * *
For three weeks, Jeremy daydreamed at work with such fervor he often forgot to do his actual work. He had a renewed energy. Something about his time at the tailor had sparked in him a need to change—and rapidly.
For one, he began to bike to work more often. He could not face seeing the doldrum crowd of pinstriped compatriots that queued like brainless hordes at the Tube. Instead, he ate breakfast with Goose and strode out into the morning air, ready to feel the cold blast of wind in his lungs. He dressed more casually now for the ride to work. The pinstripe suits were broken up into outfits he felt more comfortable in. A roll neck with the suit trousers; a polo shirt under his jacket. He did not try to blend in with upper-management. He sat at his desk and daydreamed instead.
Inspired by his choice of a French navy suit, he began to study French again, a language he had taken in school and promptly forgot about as soon as he was handed his diploma. A world can look so much larger when one appreciates another culture, he decided. He got Indian one evening for dinner. Natasha complained she didn’t like curry very much and only munched on naan.
Yes, here was Jeremy Haines, a man on the verge of something. He still didn’t know what it was, but, as they say…c’est la vie.
* * *
The third Tuesday finally came and back to the steps of 13 Savile Row he went. He greeted Bob like an old friend this time around, nodding merrily to the mounted ram’s head. He shook Morris’ hand with a friendly, “How do you do?”
Morris went to the back room and came out with his suit on a hanger. Jeremy got up to see and there it was and it was…not what he was expecting. Morris read the disappointment on his face.
“This is the toile, Mr. Haines. Don’t look so down! We have to get the fit right before we use the fabric. Remember?”
“Oh, right right! Yes. Well, let’s try it on and see!”
To a fitting room Jeremy went and undressed. In his undress, he looked at himself in the mirror. A bit lanky and pale, even in his underwear he looked like he worked at a bank, looked like the hundreds of middle-class men who had come to this shop before him. Was he so different after all? Was that the cause of his rut, his realization that nothing exciting would happen to him anytime soon?
He turned his back to the mirror and put the toile on. Even in this cheap blue fabric, the fit was better than any suit he had worn before. The seam guided its way up his thigh to cut a slimmer pattern, giving him height. The chest was taken in only slightly to accommodate his thin frame, making it an optical illusion of broad shoulders and straighter posture. Here stood Jeremy Haines, a man in his good suit.
Morris seemed pleased with the fit of the toile and brought out a small bit of chalk to highlight further alterations.
“Presto!” Morris said, stepping back and clapping his hands. This was a man who celebrated his craft. Both he and Jeremy saw the potential of this new suit.
After taking the toile off and replacing it on its hanger, Jeremy stepped back into the reception area where Bob the ram acted as sentinel.
“Come, Mr. Haines. Have a cup of tea with me before you go.”
“Oh, I really must be off, Morris, but thank you.”
“Fair enough, fair enough. But tell me—how are you doing?”
A question rarely asked of him, even by Natasha, he was caught off guard and told the truth.
“Oh, it’s all the same, Morris, you know.”
“Yes, I can see how working in a bank can be repetitive. But are you making the most of your time?”
“Probably not, old man. I began to learn French, but it’s going quite slow. I’m using audiobooks and, well, it’s hard to read all the silent letters, you know.”
“Oui, je peux voir comment ce serait difficile,” replied the tailor, smiling into his cup.
“A bit slow for a student?”
“I can see how it’s difficult, but keep it up. I think this suit would look quite nice in Paris, if you ever do go.”
“Well, let me ask you, Morris. Were you bored at my age?”
“No, Mr. Haines. Never. I’ve been a tailor most of my professional life and every day is different. And when the days get to be the same and I begin dreading my work, well, then I know it’s time to retire.”
“Maybe I need to be a tailor then!”
“I think you just need an adventure.”
On that, they shook hands. Morris promised to call when the suit was ready.
* * *
It was five weeks later that Jeremy found himself back under the gaze of the ram’s head above the mantle. Today! Today he’d walk home with a new suit. And there Morris was to greet him in the doorway, holding the suit out for him to try on one last time before taking it home.
Jeremy’s long legs no longer seemed so lanky. The softness in his midsection was hidden by the trompe l’oeil of fine tailoring. The French Navy color brought out the blue in his own eyes. He could move in these clothes, not constricted like his pinstripe wardrobe. Why, he could even dance in them! Jeremy’s mind began to daydream once again of taking Natasha to the south of France in this suit, swaying her in his arms, a young man of thirty-six.
“Is everything to your liking, Mr. Haines?” called Morris from behind the dressing room curtain, interrupting Jeremy from his own imagination..
“Yes, very much so!” replied Jeremy. There he was, the Jeremy he had almost forgotten, in his new suit.
And what was that in the breast pocket? A small envelope bulged from his breast. He fished it out and written in the script he recognized as Morris’ were the words, “For a new adventure.”
Opening the curtain, he turned to the tailor.
“Morris, what is – “
“Mr. Haines, you look great! I hope you are pleased.”
“Yes, quite. But what’s in the envelo–”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what envelope you’re talking about,” he said with a wink.
* * *
At home, sitting on the edge of the bed, Jeremy pulled out a slip of paper with the Cad & The Dandy letterhead. It read:
Dear Mr. Haines,
I hope these tickets to the Glyndebourne Opera Gala will help get you out of your rut. They’re putting on La Bohème, so keep studying your French.
The Gala is on June 28th. Please make an appointment so we can get you properly dressed for the occasion. You never know who you’ll meet!
Illustrated by Miguel Carranza, an illustrator and portraitist residing in Mexico. You can find his work on his instagram @milkymike462.