John wandered, aimless and unconcerned, like an old dog who has lost his master. His eyes never left the pavement; the cracks might have been of great interest to him or maybe he didnâ€™t have the will to lift his head. There seemed to be nothing left in the man, no reason to continue on with his life. His chest heaved and fell with long breaths like the sigh found in the middle of a long sob. He shuffled along the sidewalk, hands stuffed in his leather jacket, oblivious to the people who jumped to the right or left in order to dodge him.
He passed by shop after shop, never stopping to look at anything in the windows. Sun beamed into the storefronts, illuminating the objects inside while car horns blared outside as if to announce the fine goods the stores offered. Clothes, candy, shoes, toys, every shop had something. People went in and out of the stores, butterflies fluttering from flower to flower in search of the perfect nectar. The main street was alive. It brimmed with joy, laughter, and festive talks and was filled with the aromas of freshly baked bread, brewing coffee, perfumes, and flowers. The smells, the sounds, the sights, all of it was paradise for the shoppers keen on enjoying a pleasant summers day.
Paradise for everyone except John.
His head began to lift. John could see the stores, could see the street that wound around the nearby ocean boardwalk, could see the skyscrapers off in the distance, could see the people jumping out of his way, and now, could see the little hat store on the end of the street.
Right before the street turned into an oceanfront boardwalk and the cars turned to go off their own way, was a hat store. It was plain and small. The leaking mortar from the brick walls told of its storied history, one which might have just been a story of advanced aging due to neglect. A small bell hanging just outside the door jingled in the wind. Hats lined the storeâ€™s windows, each one on top of a white faced mannequin that stared out onto the street with the same blank look occupying Johnâ€™s face.
John stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, accruing some angry utterances from people who almost bumped into him, and stared at the hat shop. His face danced. Light returned to his eyes, a fire only brought on by passion or want of vengeance or deeply buried memoriesâ€¦or maybe all of them at once. He pushed up his sleeves, rolling the leather well past his elbows, and marched towards the hat shop.
The bell jingled as John entered the store. Hats of every variety stared at him, but he didnâ€™t stare back. The already small shop seemed even smaller as John, with chest puffed out like a young stag trying to impress a mate, stepped up to the counter.
A little man sitting behind the counter pushed up his horned glasses and swept aside a half done hat. He spit out the pins in his mouth and said, â€śWelcome to the Hattery, is thereâ€¦â€ť
John interrupted him and pointed to a sign in the window, â€śThe tricorn hat! Do you have one?!?â€ť
The little man picked up one of the pins he had just spit out, placed it in his mouth, and began using it like a toothpick, saying, â€śI think I just sold the last one to a little boy about five minutes ago.â€ť
A jingling of bells let the shop owner know that the odd man had already exited.
John ran around the street, searching down every corner, every alley. He raced past people, knocking their shopping bags into the air, spinning them around in a ballet style performance. From one side of the street to the other, he searched and searched and searched. Ending up back at the hat store, Johnâ€™s eyes kept scanning the area, but his deflating chest was evidence enough of what he thought. He was about to give up, about to turn around, stuff his hands in his pockets, and forget he ever felt anything at all when he saw something in the distance: a three cornered hat perched on the head of a little boy carrying a red balloon.
He sprinted to the boardwalk. John couldnâ€™t pull his gaze off the hat. His eyes became clouded, almost milky. Maybe there was a private screening of his past life going on somewhere in there. Maybe he was remembering some purpose he had forgotten long ago. His eyes only showed that a story was being told, not what the story was about.
John was ten feet away from the child when a gust of wind rushed past him and picked the hat up off the boyâ€™s head. It floated in the air, hovering there for an instant like a hummingbird about to sip sweet nectar, before flying towards the water. John rushed forward, tried to grab it. His fingers wiggled in the air, almost as if they could feel the fabric. He was about to grab the hat, about to take it into his hands.
The wind wouldnâ€™t let him have his prize. It took the hat even further, pushing it dangerously close to the edge of the boardwalk and the ocean below. Johnâ€™s legs ached with every step and his hands tensed each time his fingers stretched to grab the illusive quarry. The hat kept sailing and the wind kept mocking. Just as John was about to grab the hat for the second time, he collided with the railing. He tried to climb up on it, tried to get just a few inches higher, but the hat was already gone.
Having completed its cosmic joke, the wind died down. The hat swayed from side to side, plummeting to the ocean like a red leaf in the fall. It touched the water. For a minute, it sailed on the open waters. John watched with wide eyes as a wave swallowed the hat and dragged it under the sea.
John leaned on the railing, staring out into the waves. His body didnâ€™t decompress, didnâ€™t fall back to the way it had been before. A smile, one so small it needed a microscope and a team of scientists to discover it, inched over his face. He stared at the sea and said to himself, â€śGuess thatâ€™s a sign, time to get on with it then.â€ť