An older gentleman sat down next to her on the park bench. She kept her eyes locked on the open book she had been reading, but she kept him in her peripheral sight. Instinctively she noticed the classic snow-grey, wool newsboy cap that was perched on top of his head. It covered the bare spots that his few remaining silvery wisps couldn’t reach anymore. She continued reading.
As she reached her hand out to turn the page, the man spoke. “You don’t see many young people with books in their hand. Goddamn cell phones are ruining the planet. Can’t even have a goddamn conversation with anyone I tell ya.” His hands moved as he talked, but he kept his gaze on the surface frozen pond that sat in front of them. The girl marked the page where she left off and closed her book. She paused to see if the man would go on. When it was apparent he had no more words, she cleared her throat and responded with what she had been thinking. “I like your hat very much.”
He smiled as he bowed his head down toward his feet.
“Do you mind if I ask where you got it?”
He turned toward her and rested his arm on the back ledge of the park bench. “How bout this, I’ll tell you where I got my hat, if you tell me what makes you happy.”
She looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Tell me what inspires you. What makes your bad days bearable, and your good days extraordinary? What makes your brain electric, your body alive and somehow manages to make the world stand still?”
The girl was awestruck. What should she say? A million thoughts swarmed the inside of her head, yet none could sting her tongue. After a few moments of silence the man kindly said, “I’ll go first.”
He told the girl that his hat had a previous owner and that it had just recently come into his possession. He described the previous owner as a self-important, greedy and high tempered nuisance that he had been cursed with knowing his entire life. Although his face gave nothing away, she could just barely detect a hint of fondness in the way he spoke. He explained how their discussions always ended in arguments, and months would pass without them speaking to one another, but he recalled, there was one instance that had been different.
The two of them were in their late twenty-somethings, both clueless, both trying to navigate the separate worlds they lived in. They met for coffee, and went on a walk through this very same park. He didn’t know if it was the bitter, winter chill that kept their mouths frozen, or if they feared once they started speaking, the peace might end. They stopped walking for a brief moment to watch the skaters on the nearby ice rink whoop and whirl around in circles, their cheeks rosy from the bustling excitement and the raw, arctic air.
She was the one to break the silence. “I thought things would be different. When we were children I would imagine my life, what it might look like, what I might look like…,” she trailed off. “It’s all wrong.” She was visibly unsettled, but more than that, she was somber.
“I feel the sun shines too bright for my eyes, the relentless wind blows my hair in every direction, cold rain soaks through to my skull. My mind is weathered.”
He didn’t know what to say, he had never been good with words when others were upset, especially when it was so unexpected. Certainly, he never expected this. He stayed quiet the remainder of their walk, if she minded, she never said so.
A few days later a package came in the mail. Upon opening the box, she found a handwritten note:
Underneath the folded tissue paper there was a gift in the shape of a hat.
Years passed much like the ones that came before, neither that day in the park nor the gift were ever mentioned. In fact, he said to the girl he’d just met, he hadn’t given it much thought until a few days ago when a package appeared on his doorstep.
His twin sister, younger by mere minutes, had passed on no more than a month previous, leaving behind a piece of shimmering armor and a memory.
When the man finished his tale, the girl knew her answer. What she had known all along, but needed a reminder to melt the ice and let the words float to the free flowing surface.
“A good story,” she replied.