The Hat. The Bread. Jacob

It was a crisp sunny day at the end of September. I was sitting on a park bench at the top of the mountain. I had gone there to be still, to breathe, to write.

Tapping words away on my iPhone, I heard voices behind me getting louder, getting nearer.

A woman and child, perhaps a mother and son, perhaps not, walked beyond the bench, out onto the rocks in front of me.

A man, perhaps a father, perhaps an uncle, walked over and stood next to the bench.

‘LSD’ he said, perhaps to himself, perhaps to me.
‘Excuse me?’ I replied, noticing his kind face, his dark eyes, his kinky hair.
‘LSD!’ He repeated, matter of factly, as he pointed to the graffitied letters on the bench.
‘Hmm, trippy!’ I said, as I read the letters.
‘This would not be a good place for that.’ he said.
‘Maybe it would.’ I replied.
‘Maybe during the day, but definitely not at night-’

Our conversation was cut off by the woman at the edge of the mountain with the very deep, full voice.

‘Can I tell you the story now?’ she asked, to the boy and the man. ‘I wanted to tell you the story about the hat, on the mountain.’

The boy walked closer to her, noticed the edge, and then took a few steps back.

‘I was standing here,’ she said. ‘Yes, I think it was right here.’ She gestured dramatically toward the rock formation at her feet.

‘I was standing right here, and I was wearing my wide brimmed straw hat.’ She raised her hands as if to hold the wide brim, ‘To protect myself from the sun.’ She looked up.

‘It was May, I think. And I was standing right here. And Jacob was there.’ She pointed right behind her. ‘And you were there too’. She waved her arm as she looked at the boy.

‘And a big breeze came,’ she said in a singsong as she twirled. ‘And it blew the hat right off of my head.’ She tumbled her arms in the air.

‘I tried to grab for it, but I got too close to the edge.’ She stood on tiptoes and reached for the sky. ‘And the hat was gone, forever.’ She looked out over the edge, wistfully.

The boy stood by watching, quietly. The man on the bench was perhaps paying attention.

‘I think I have a photo of that day.’ She said as she pulled out her phone and began scrolling. ‘It was in May, I think it was Mothers’ Day. Let me see… Yes, there it is. May 10, 2020.’

The man then spoke directly to me. ‘You were enjoying the peace and quiet, and now here we are telling a very boring story, so loudly.’
‘Oh no, not at all’ I said. ‘it’s actually fascinating.’ Our eyes met for a moment and I think he was wondering if I was being sarcastic. I smiled and then went back to writing.

‘Here we are,’ the woman continued as she pointed to the photo. ‘I’m there wearing the hat. And there you are. And there’s Jacob. You see?’
‘Mmhmm’ said the boy.

She scrolled to the next photo. ‘Oh, look. There’s some bread I baked. It was so delicious.’ She laughed a little. ‘That’s back when I was baking breads.’

‘Peak pandemic.’ The man on the bench called to her.
‘Yes, peak pandemic.’ She replied.

There was a pause for few moments as the woman looked up to the sky and then over the edge of the mountain. She took a few steps back, and said with a sweeping arm motion, ‘Now, they’re all gone.’

‘Now they’re all gone,’ repeated the man.
‘The hat. The bread. Jacob.’ she said solemnly.

Another pause.

I could feel tears welling up inside of me, for things I never knew. The hat. The bread. Jacob.

‘Shall we move on?’ the man asked.

‘I’d like to sit for a minute. Maybe have a snack,’ the woman replied.

She and the boy came over to the bench and sat down. I didn’t look in her direction. I kept tapping away at my phone.

But now, I was writing about her. About her long flowing brown hair. Her fragile frame. Her deep deep voice. Her grand gestures. Her words.

She opened up a plastic package and passed something to the boy. From the corner of my eye I could see his feet dangling off of the bench, swinging. They brushed back and forth in the dry patch of dirt in front of the bench, for a while. He shifted forward and kicked the dirt more purposefully.

‘It would take forever to move all of this dirt,’ the boy said.
No one responded. They ate their snacks and gazed out over the edge.

‘Who would live forever?’ He asked.
Pause. No answer. They just sat staring out over the two cities on the horizon.
Who would live forever? He asked again, with more inflection.
Pause. No reply. Feet kicking dirt.
No one,’ he answered himself. ‘I think no one.’
Pause. No response. Feet planted firmly.
‘Well I will.’ he said emphatically. ‘I will because I am not gonna die til a long time. Right?’
Pause. No response.
‘Even you guys. You guys are not gonna die,’ he perhaps said, perhaps asked.

I sniffed to hold back tears, so close to falling.
‘We’ll be good for a while. I think.’ the man said.
‘Yea, we’ll all be good for a while.’ the boy said.

‘Ready to move? It’s pretty sunny up here.’ the man said.
‘Okay’ they both replied as they rose up to leave.

‘Enjoy the rest of your day.’ the man said.
I looked up from my phone. ‘Thanks. Enjoy your hike.’ I replied.

He looked down, pointed to the patch of dirt in front of the bench and said, perhaps to me, perhaps not, ‘Oh, look. Dead lantern fly.’ Then he shrugged his shoulders and added, ‘Huh.’ And then he turned and walked away.

I paused and waited just a couple of seconds before turning around to get a better look at them, for memory’s sake. But they were all gone.

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