The Hat

The Hat


A woman has just come into the possession of a hat. It doesn't matter how it came into her possession, except to say that it was very unlike her everyday life, which made her tingle inside every time she thought about it. A secret. She liked secrets, especially when they didn't lead to shame or self-torture. A pleasant secret. Yes, that's it. A pleasant keeping of something that made her tingle inside.

The hat is made of black velvet, and on the side is a purple silk flower made to look like a poppy. The brim is floppy and wide, but not too floppy or wide. She wouldn't have liked the hat as much if it had hid her eyes. She stands in front of the bathroom mirror as she puts on the hat, adjusting it just so. She watches her eyes as they become wide with excitement. She is about to wear it out for the first time.

It fits well around her head, not too tightly, as other hats she has had a fancy to try on in the department store. She has a large head, most of which is forehead, which she keeps covered with bangs, so people don't notice. This hat is loose enough to be pulled down over her ears and not press the ears too tightly, avoiding a potential headache. Headaches were always trouble with hats, not that she had any other hats, for just that reason. She liked to steer clear of even the potential for trouble. She was the kind of person who always had an umbrella in the car and a pack of Kleenex purse tissues tucked in her large purse. There was a restaurant tip gauge in her wallet and a sewing kit from the Hilton underneath the checkbook. And if a label said "dry clean only," she'd never think of washing by hand. Speaking of washing by hand, she did all her panties and bras by hand, steering clear of washing machines that ate up fine things. She supposed it was a family thing that could never be changed. Her mother's favorite adage was, "Don't rock the boat." She had been accustomed to a certain way of doing things that was more habit than choice, and even though she knew it was more about habit than choice, it didn't change anything.
Until this hat. It was a perfect hat. The velvet is thick and very soft. Once, she made a velvet dress, but that was when she was in high school and believed in such things as the magic of a dress, in the costume that reveals only what you want revealed and no more. Her boyfriend was speechless when he saw her waiting in the front room of the bungalow she grew up in. His hands shook as he tried to pin the prom corsage to her chest. An unusually good dancer for a high school guy, he tripped and stepped all over her feet that night. She had been a knockout, but it was beyond sexy or alluring. Something that their seventeen year old minds hadn't the terms for. He broke up with her not too long after without explanation, which didn't surprise her for she had no explanation for it herself. She had no occasion to wear the dress after that and packed it away in the basement. It got misplaced or thrown out by her mother some years later, long after she had moved away from home.

She turns her head this way and that, lingering in the memory of another time when there was magic in her life. It has been too long. She feels she is being coaxed, as if she has invited into her presence an invisible power, and now it wants her to take it seriously. She sees this, whatever it is, in her face as it changes when she adjusts the hat and pulls out tufts of curly bangs.

In the bottom of her make-up case, she finds the lipstick she had been looking for. "Too Hot Red," it's called. Sometimes she wears this shade in the Summer when her skin is a few shades darker from working out in the garden. Such a mundane thing, she thinks. The garden, weeds, chores, her mind wanders, cleaning the ridiculous lasagna pans, wiping up spills on the linoleum that someone else did and left. It's all ridiculous, endlessly going through the motions, not questioning. She hasn't known what to do about the restlessness she has had lately, the sudden welling up of tears when she sees the light hit the edge of the kitchen curtains a certain way. Such things never used to bother her, let alone notice. Light that slants to the wall and floor, inching its way over the carpet, following the earth's spin, while she watches. She sits for long stretches without energy to move. Even taking a breath is painful and it feels like it is all she can do to take the air in and let it out. "I'm depressed," she has thought on occasion when this strange reverie of light watching passes.

But now, there's this hat. She strokes on dark blue eye shadow, taking her time, enjoying the sensation. She brushes thick mascara, black like the hat, over her naturally full lashes. There was this dialogue going on in her head that went something like this, "I'm going out and be reckless, I've got to pick up the dry cleaning, I'm going to a bar and pick up a man, no, there's AIDS, I've got to go to Perrys and get pantyhose for work, I'm going to the park and dance on the benches." The fact was that she was not the reckless type, especially when it came to men, and the errands were nothing more than boring tasks. Tasks of no consequence. Not good enough for this hat. She wanted consequence and magic. She wanted people to look at her and wonder, "Who is this person? Who would wear such a hat?" She wanted to wonder at herself, "Just look at me being reckless." And then it came to her that it wasn't so much what others wondered, that was the trap wasn't it? Trying to please everyone but herself until she no longer knew what she even wanted. She was confused, and though she hated confusion, she stuck with it and this question came to her, "Just who am I?" She turned away from the mirror. She had stared so long at her face it didn't look like her face anymore and that alarmed her. "So what if I just got in my car and ended up where I end up, the dry cleaning isn't going anywhere," she thought as she put away the make-up case. It was a perfect hat. Of that much she was certain. And the return of magic. She took just one more look at herself in the mirror before she got in her car and let the hat lead her where she needed to go.

Sandy Gerling

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