"Hats Off" Copyright (c) 2019 by LA Spooner. Used under license.

Hats Off!

Story by Anthony Diesso

Illustration by L.A. Spooner


Somewhere on the coast of North Africa; sometime in the early 1930s

A kid hopped up to Don Fedora, plucked the Panama hat from off his head, and bolted into the marketplace. Instantly in pursuit, Don hollered back to Vicky. “Stay here! I’ll be right back!”

“Let it go, Don!” she called. “You’re due for another one!”

“Never mind! That hat’s brought me nothing but luck!”

“What luck?”

“It brought me you!” he cried before plowing into a crowd of merchants, carts, and camels.

“No, it didn’t—you did, you dim-witted twit!” She pointed to the felucca sailboat behind her. “Besides, Cappy says he’s ready to cross over! Donald!” She threw up her hands. “Well, try not to get killed—it looks painful!” Realizing he was out of earshot, she appealed to the sailor. “Not very smart, eh?”

“Not very smart,” the man agreed. Removing his white kufi, he rubbed his close-cut, bristly hair. “Monsieur is likely to get his throat cut.”  

“Think so?” She shrugged her shoulders. “You may be right. But he gets rambunctious sometimes, like a pent-up poodle, and you simply have to let him run it out.”

The man nodded and patted the air, though he didn’t think much of the idea. “That naughty little boy will run Monsieur right into a hell-hole.”

“Oh, you know it.” She spread her hands apart as if imagining a marquee title. “But after all, it’s not just a hellhole—it’s a ‘Don Fedora Adventure.’  Still, it’s more of a ‘Vicky Fedora Adventure’ getting him out of it…So tell me about your troubles.” 

The sailor turned his attention to the sun-sparks that filled the ocean and had left him with a permanent squint. His eyebrows jutted like tangled wires as he lowered them, and his face was wrinkled with worries he was just waiting to describe. “Oh, my goodness, troubles, troubles…”

— ♦♦♦ —

Camels, carts, and tunics; tails, lamps, and turbans; tables, brassware, baskets; birds’ wings, backs of feet—the boy’s bare feet.  Don threaded through the market crowd, leaped steps, and raced down alleyways. He saw the boy slide neatly under a table, scurry through. Don leaped across the same table, caught his foot, and toppled forward. The table tipped, spilled figs and lemons to the ground. He got up, slipped over crushed fruit, fell down. Still with his eye on the boy, he straightened himself up and slipped again, fell down.  Up again, he ignored the hollering behind him.

“Nassab! May God destroy your house, the house of your mother, and the house of your father—whom you’ve never met. And may you live with the dog of your mother-in-law and may you get fleas from them both!”

Don hardly heard the insults; instead, his thoughts sped on with less direction than his feet.  Where does he get off taking my hat’s chockful of memories, when Vicky wore it to protect her from the sun went down, and so I put it on and smelled the fragrance of her hair, so that—that rotten kid, I’ll give him such a pinch when I—

“Nassab! May God destroy your— “

Hat, I know, it’s just a hat, but it’s full of—

“Fleas from your mother in law!”

Tunics, tables, turbans:  in the patchwork views of beige and white, Don lost the boy.  Scanning his surroundings, he glanced above eye-level and saw him leap from another market table to an iron-railed balcony. Having made it to the ledge, he gave Don a final backward glance with the brim of the hat in his teeth.

“Pshaw!” Don struggled onto the table, its legs bobbling beneath his weight. “You, you get that—that hat r-right out—out of your m-mouth!” Trying to keep balance with his knees, he lifted to a squatting position and leaped at the balcony rail. His feet pushed off from the table, causing it to tip, spill over bowls of oranges. 

“Idiot! Your mother’s bald from ringworm!” shouted one of the merchants.

The clumsy jump brought Don’s fingers to the base of the iron beam, and creeping them to the top, he managed enough of a grip to lift himself.  Swinging his left leg up, he rolled over the metal frame, then staggered through the window, then the house. “Well, at least no one saw that little bit of footwork,” he sighed before tripping over a stool.  

Coming from outside, the inside looked much darker, the whitewash looking like gray wash. He struggled to his feet and hurried on. His panting bounded off the walls, while distant calls approached him. “What are you doing, hey, get— “huff puff huff…


“I’m sorry, please, excuse— “Don echoed back.

“Another, hey—what are you—get, get out of— “

“Please excuse, just passing through.” He bumped into a bowl of figs that bounced across the table. Don saw them dance at the corner of his eye, though he still had his attention on the boy. “You rotten imp, come back!”

A rug slid beneath his feet, which he rode to the end of the room, where without losing speed he skipped over bunched-up fabric, went through the door, and made his way downstairs.  At the bottom, he tripped over a wicker chair, slid headfirst across the floor, and bumped against a table. The boy had stopped running at this point and was simply watching. Don saw him, struggled to his feet, and continued the chase. Like a racehorse on a track, the boy sped in circles around the table, with Don just behind him; unlike a racehorse, he knocked over chairs to block his competitor. Don skirted around, leaped or flopped over the hurdles, not quite reaching him after several laps. A few of the tenants had gathered by this time and were watching the event with disbelief.  

“Aw, nuts!” Losing his patience, Don finally leaped across the table, tilted it, sent both him and the furniture to the floor.

“You get that for cheating!” someone shouted, while the rest of the tenants began to hoot and jeer.

Don picked himself up and searched the room.  He saw the boy’s shadow at the doorway. “Excuse me, pardon me,” he said, poking himself in the eye while trying to run, bow, and salute at once.

A man’s shouts echoed after him: “You crazy man! Your mother shows her red butt to the monkeys!”

Like a kick in the leg, the insult nearly knocked Don off balance, but he regained his equilibrium and continued to run with one eye shut.


“Wash dish.” Vicky addressed the sailor with two fingers stuffed into her mouth. “Yuh shee, like dish. Ish ritty eashy. Jush remema da kee yur tongue short of folded up, den bwow!” She let out a shrill, tea-kettle whistle that caused the man to wince and step back several feet. She took her fingers out of her mouth and tapped them dry on her khaki skirt. She smiled. “You see? It’s a marvelous way to get someone’s attention.”

The sailor hunched over to study her movements.  Beneath the tunic, his shoulders closed in toward his chest. Tautly muscled and knotted from years of rowing, they tended to express more of his state of mind than his weathered face, his squints, and toothless grins. He pressed fingers through the space made by his missing front teeth and began to blow.  “Fffffff. Ffffff.”  He looked up at the crowd surrounding him and blew again. “Ffffff. Fffff.”

Vicky tilted her head sympathetically. “It takes practice, but believe me, it’s worth it.”

The sailor nodded and tried again. “Ffffff.”

Acknowledging her audience, Vicky raised two fingers, then pressed them in her mouth and blew. Afterward, she laughed. “It’s plenty useful. If you call for someone, he can always try to ignore you, say he couldn’t hear you. You give him that whistle, though, and there’s no mistake. There’s just some things you can’t put into words…”  

— ♦♦♦ —

“…mother and her mother and her mother. Your backside is red like a monkey’s, and the fleas that cover the rest of your body are afraid to go near it!” cried a merchant.

Bong! Don inadvertently kicked over a brass ewer: it rolled several feet, flashed light over the bazaar, and struck a tethered camel in the shin. The animal shook its jowls in disgust and knocked into a birdcage, causing the finches inside to chirp and hop around like red, blue, and yellow flames.

Holes in the canopy above caused daylight to flash like camera bulbs.  Temporarily blinded, Don imagined the worst that could be going on, and shouted, “Leave the brim alone!” though his voice was lost amidst the haggling and animal noises.  Stepping forward, he tumbled over a sheep, which fell against his chest and began to bleat angrily.  His palms in the dirt and up to his ears in wool, he still caught sight of the hat. It was on the boy’s head as he climbed a ladder to the rooftops. He could also hear the voice of the man whose house he’d entered: apparently, he was chasing Don simply to continue insulting him.

“You sneaky goat-lover! You use the barnyard like a whorehouse!”

“Whew!” Don shook his head with disbelief. He lifted himself and broke into a run, careful to avoid a collection of yellow, blue, and red glass lamps. He reached a wall and looked up to see the ladder’s shadow fatten and tumble toward his head. He veered out of the way so that it simply wobbled to the ground. He picked it up, straightened it against the building and ascended.  The wooden skeleton shivered beneath his weight, and when he’d traveled about eight feet, the ladder again began to wobble. He looked down to see the insult-hurling neighbor climbing after him, though with no apparent purpose other than to continue with his angry slurs.

“You belong to a cult of camel-lovers, and you write the animals naughty poems, and you hoot and whistle as they trot on by.”

Don rolled his eyes and groaned. Without the canvas tenting overhead, the sunlight was fierce, so that it took a moment to make sense of his surroundings. The rooftops were mud-brick cubicles littered with palm fronds; tight packed and relatively flat, they were easy to navigate, though an occasional breach caused Don to leap, passing a slender patch of the world below: small tables, dog-sized mules, the little crowns of sun-bronzed heads.

He rubbed a forearm across his brow to keep his eyes clear. And as he squinted, he saw the boy still wearing the hat, crushing it with a palm to prevent it blowing off.  Don’s look of distress next turned to a grin, though, as the boy came to the building’s end.  “How about it now, wise guy? You gonna grow yourself a pair of wings?”  The boy returned his smile, then leaped over the side onto a clothesline. It sagged without breaking and lowered him two stories into the marketplace. He then let go of the line, which bounced back quickly into place.

Genuinely impressed, Don hooted. “Atta boy!” He turned to see the insult monger’s head poke past the roof.  He was standing at the top of the ladder without climbing off, and still shaking his fist in the air. “You son of a mutt! You roll in the dirt, and the dirt gets dirtier than you do!” Don ignored the man and looked over the building’s side to see the boy waiving at him with the hat. Don inspected his surroundings, tried to assess the clothesline’s strength, and shook his head. He looked directly below him, saw a few empty crates and a ceramic jug.  Hurrying to the other side of the building, he noticed a heap of dried-out, grassy-looking stuff. “Gella,” he muttered distastefully. “Alright, then— Just remember to plop down with your mouth closed.” Holding his nose, he leaped over the side and plunged into the heap, which took the impact with a slight wobble. Don rolled out, brushed himself off by slapping his pants and shirt. Then glancing up, he saw the haranguer’s face peer over the side of the roof and shout.

“You—you jumper into camel dung!”

Don saluted the man before hurrying through an ancient archway.   


Vicky held a coffee cup in one hand, and with the other, she waived as if directing traffic. “When we first became a couple, Don asked all sorts of questions, where I went to school, what things I studied, where I saw myself in half a dozen years. Cripes, you’d think I was applying for a job. One day he got around to asking what my father did, and I told him he was an oculist.”

“What’s that?” the sailor asked.

 “Oh, that’s an eye doctor. Don thought I’d called him an occultist, and said, ‘You mean he chases ghosts?’”

“I answered, ‘No, silly—he looks into people’s eyes.”

“And Don asked, ‘So what does he see?’”

“And I replied, ‘What they can’t see.”

“And very pleased with himself, Don said, ‘He sees what people can’t—so I was right.’”

With her index finger, Vicky drew a circle in the air. “And that’s my Don. “

The sailor lifted his cup as if to toast her comment, then took a sip. “Oculist—occultist. Eye doctor for ghosts,” he laughed while looking at the tarnished dallah next to him. The sun on the brass pot enveloped it in sloshy fire, and he tapped it, heard a low, dull thunk. He lifted it to fill Vicky’s cup, then his own.    

“So how are things with you?” she asked, nudging him with an elbow.

“Ohhh…” The man lowered his head and thought for a moment; afterward, he stared at his boat. “Always something: weather bad, business bad, sails bad, boat bad, though not all at once. I’m glad for that.” He left it at that, put two fingers into his mouth and made another effort to imitate her whistle.   
                “Not quite—look here.” She showed him how to position the fingers.

                The man looked around and grinned. “Doesn’t work so well with your husband, eh?”

                Vicky shrugged. “Actually, it’s my husband who doesn’t work so well.” She glanced in the direction of the marketplace as if capable of seeing exactly where he was.

— ♦♦♦ —

Don chased the boy down a side street where the walls were tight, and right into two haggling merchants. One of them held an unplucked chicken which swung in rhythm to his gestures. The boy paused to study the obstacle, then crouched beneath the swinging bird, and scurried up the alley. Don stood before the battling pair and frowned. He first attempted to nudge by one of the merchants. The wide swings and dancing chicken prevented this, however. He sighed, reached into his pocket, then waived at the two men. Having their attention, he handed each of the combatants a coin. They both nodded, and the one with the chicken handed it to Don, who took it with a nod before hurrying up the passageway.   

When Don had reached the alley’s end, the boy was out of sight; his shadow still lingered, though, like a train of rusty-colored silk, and Don followed it around a corner. As he arrived at an adjacent alleyway, he saw the shadow slide around still another corner. Don turned the corner to another alley, saw the shadow slide around still another corner. He followed around, turned, returned to seeing the shadow, turned, saw nothing but a shadowy archway in the stone façade.

“Oh, never mind!” He snapped his fingers with disgust. “It’s just like filling out a tax form. Anyway, what’s in a hat? Nothing! It’s as empty as a…as a…” He turned, took several steps away from the building, then paused to give himself a chance to change his mind. “So, everything up to now was a waste, huh? Running through homes, jumping off roofs into camel dung, following that kid through every turn? Buying an unplucked chicken? Aw!” He went back to following the boy, ran through the entry down an obscure corridor. The walls seemed stucco and partially melted, and the arch in front of him hinted at numerous other arches, just visible enough to show him what he couldn’t see. A veiled old woman sat beside the entryway. She spoke to him, causing the veil over her lips to puff out slowly.

“You don’t know where you’re going, monsieur.

“No, that’s usually the way of it. And why should it matter now?”

“Because that way takes you underground.” She inhaled through her lips, causing the fabric to slip into the toothless mouth, like a river flowing backward.

“Wish me luck.” He bowed, then hurried past her down the corridor. There were voices, echoed whispers. You don’t know… Passing an alcove, he was surprised by someone quietly watching him. He stopped, inspected the hooded figure: the face was covered except for the eyes, and the muslin over the lips puffed out. He acknowledged her with a nod, ran several steps, then stopped. That way takes you…Hearing another set of steps, he followed the sound.  Past another alcove, he saw someone watching. Once again, he stopped to inspect the figure, which turned out to be a statue.  Underground. The giggling continued, echoed through the passageway, and along with it, the snort of a wild animal.  

Damage to the ceiling caused threads of light to drop into the corridor, aggravating Don’s eyes. That way takes you…Following the sound of running, he thumped into a—

<— ♦♦♦ —

“Stop: just stop and think,” Vicky declared while holding up an index finger. “That’s all I tell him—stop and think before you jump into anything. But does he listen? Does he?”

The sailor shrugged his shoulders. “Does he?”

“No, he doesn’t. He’d leap into the devil’s mouth without blinking. If he was a swordfish, he’d jump right onto the boat.”

“What if he was a parrot?”

“He’d fly right into a taxidermist’s shop.”

The sailor slapped his knee. “What if he was a goat?”

“He’d hippity-hop right up to a lion and bump it in the snout.”

— ♦♦♦ —

Rubbing his nose, Don stood back to inspect the object he’d just run into. It was an armoire, worn and creaky looking.  The drizzle of light from above revealed only bits and pieces surrounding it:  a basket of round…a shiny piece of…the blade-like bone of a… Finding no exit other than the one he’d come through, Don turned his attention back to the cabinet; he pulled the knob of the door, which opened with a groan. “And when he got there, the cupboard was…hmm.” He extended his hand to knock at the back, which flapped as if made of fabric rather than wood. “Oh-ho.” He pushed at it, discovered it was a curtain, and practically fell through. He crawled to the other side still holding the chicken and found himself at the top of a staircase. As he entered the cavernous space, he felt a chill, accompanied by the smell of ancient stone. Light amoebas skimmed across the walls as he hurried down the steps and ended up by stepping into a shallow pool.     

— ♦♦♦ —

“But it’s still not worth the trouble,” Vicky continued. “It’s only a hat, and mostly used for decoration—like his head. It might have been a useful top a long, long time ago, but now it looks like it was buried with the pharaohs. And another thing: it’s got sweat marks that I don’t think’ll ever come out. That’s the problem with white, though: what do you do to keep it from becoming discolored?”

“What’s that?” asked the sailor, suddenly aware that her ruminating required a response.

“I was asking how you manage to keep your clothes so white.”

The man smiled a wide and toothless smile. “Ah, I’m a no-good sailor: I fall in the water a lot.”

Vicky shook her head and laughed. Several of the locals came over with bowls of bread and dates. The sailor told them the story of how he kept his clothes white and they also laughed. He slapped his thigh, quite proud of his comment, then plucked a date from the bowl. Vicky took a date, bit into it. “Mmm, thank you very much.” She stared into the bowl while chewing, admired the colorful design at the bottom as the rest of the locals finished off the fruit.

— ♦♦♦ —

Don found himself in an ancient cistern. The water carpet, about three inches deep, reflected vaults and arches like the backbone of some great whale.  No longer hearing the boy, he scowled. “You’re not going to have me peek behind each pillar, are you? After that clothesline leap and the chair-tipping business, I honestly expected more.” He slopped over to each column and circled it. “You silly brat: why you should go through so much trouble for a beat-up chapeau, anyway? I’d never make the effort.” He whistled his way toward the staircase, took the first step, then lifted his head and groaned. “Alright, alright.” He turned around, sat on the bottom step, and addressed the silent colonnade. “You know this isn’t getting you anywhere,” he declared, his voice echoing over the water. “You’ll never be president if you go around wasting time on silly things—vice president, maybe, but that’s about it.”

No reply.

“Anyway, that hat’s on loan from the British Museum, and if I don’t give it back, it’ll start an international incident. You hear me? We’ll end up going to war, and it’ll be all your fault. What do you think of that?”

Still no reply.

“Well, I’ve had enough. Now just tell me you’ve had enough, and I’ll call it quits and go.”

Still no reply.

“So, you’re too scared to talk, huh?” Don’s upper lip was glistening with sweat, and he ran a knuckle over it. “Fine, let’s go some more.” He got up, stepped back into the water, and continued to check the pillars. “At least my shoes are getting clean.” The water cast fantastic light blobs on the stone, the motion causing him to see things at the corner of his eye.  The questionable light left him looking down to see the solid and reflected images slide together. He saw a sunken world, a temple under the sea, and a boy wearing his hat peek around one of the underwater columns.  

Don hummed a few bars of “Happy Days are Here Again.” And holding back an urge to grin, he pretended to go about his business. “If this is the way you want it, we’ll just do it like this.” He saw the boy’s reflection wiggle away from the pillar. “Okey-dokey, that’s fine with me, yes sir.” Don didn’t show a sign of noticing, so the boy wiggled still further from the hiding place.  “After all, if this is your idea of fun, then—fly, chicken, fly!” With a whoop, Don flung the poultry at the boy: it missed, though the surprise caused him to stumble back into the water.

“Now you’ve bought it!” Don ran toward the boy; the resultant spray made it difficult to see, but he reached out, grabbed him firmly by the foot. The boy yanked back his leg, caused Don to tumble forward. Don landed on his palms, sent up a splash, though he lifted a hand to lunge out blindly. “’Bout time—come here, you—when I think of all the time, the running, jumping, chicken-tossing, leaps from rooftops into camel dung, I—now you give me that— “

“You are down here for a swim, monsieur?”  Surprised at the voice, Don stopped, still kneeling in the water. He saw the boy hurry past two men and up the staircase.  Don next turned his attention to the men themselves. Their faces were shadowed, though their eyes glistened like wet stones. One of them held a leash tethered to a baboon. The animal loped down to the bottom step, patted the water, then retreated.  

“Let’s see you do the doggie paddle,” the man without the leash suggested to Don.

“It’s not in my repertoire.”

The two men laughed, their sound creating a crackling noise in the mostly empty chamber. The one who’d spoken first then said, “Well, if you can’t entertain, you’ll have to pay for us to find our own.”

Don pointed to the chicken floating face down in the water. “You’re welcome to that.”

“Give us the money, and we’ll buy our own meat.”

“I haven’t any money with me,” Don sighed, pulling the lining out of his pockets. “I can sing, though, if you’re in need of entertainment.”

The men looked at each other and grinned. “Please do.”

“Alright. Ahem…

“Ohhhh, Salome was a dancer

And she danced the hoochie cooch…”

The two men looked at each other. Then one of them pulled a gun out of his pocket, still holding the leash to the baboon.  The animal appeared bored, and its long, old-fogey face and gray hair caused it to resemble an octogenarian on all fours. The other man removed his shirt; he held it at each end and began to twirl it into a snake.    

“I’ve got no time for carnival games,” Don said.

“You’re right about that…” the man replied. He reached down to scratch the animal between the ears so that it closed its eyes and yawned, revealing two great, glistening fangs.


Vicky finished her coffee with a slurp. “Ah, that’s nice; that hit the spot.” She lay the cup down on the serving tray, where it made a pleasant hollow sound. She studied it for a moment: it was small, without a handle, and its delicate patterning reminded her of the iron panel-work she’d seen on local balconies. “You know, we hurry here and there, chase shadows into God knows what…” She looked more closely at the cup, the foamy, red-black traces in the bowl. “While all the time…such wonder out of little things…” She glanced up at the sky, which in the late afternoon seemed like another, downturned cup. After a moment, her gaze lowered. “Still, I suppose I’d better be getting up: my husband’s just gotten himself into trouble.”

“He has?” the sailor asked. “How do you know?”

“How? I’ve got it down to a science.” She extended her index finger and drew a circle in the air. “Unpredictable men are more predictable than predictable ones. They’re a lot like children. Look: children run around laughing for a while; eventually, they overtax themselves and take a bump; after that, they cry, get tired, and finally go to sleep. And Don’s pretty much like that—although he doesn’t cry so much. Right now, he’s more than finished running and is stuck in the ‘bump’ stage, which means he’s just about ready to head back to the boat.”

“You think so?” asked the sailor.  He stood up, creaking like sea-wood, and took a step toward the felucca. Age and suspicion, however, made him sit back down, though the possible insult to the lady made him stand back up again. “You really think so?” he asked her in a crouch, ready to sit back down.  

Vicky tapped herself on the forehead and grinned. “Think so? I know it. I know I know it, and that only makes me know it all the more.”

— ♦♦♦ —

In the dark, the man’s shirt wrapped around his eyes, Don found himself hurried upstairs. He lost his balance, nearly tripped several times. And in the dark, as if at a cinema, he saw images, moments from the past, of Vicky playfully pulling the hat down over his face; of her taking it, wearing it with a rakish tilt, and smiling.

“Very well,” the man declared before removing the blindfold. Out of the creamy light, Don saw he was at the edge of a balcony above the washed-out-looking city. Buildings appeared like rows of blocks, while over them stretched an occasional tower. It all seemed like a set design painted long ago, faded with age, and ready to wobble if you poked it.

“Well, well.” The man patted Don on the head. “We’re meeting a business associate down in that stone tank in about ten minutes and have no intention of making him wait. So, let’s move this along. Any final words before you go?”

Don looked down and rubbed his forehead thoughtfully; with his other hand, he gripped the bloody-looking metal, his fingers squeezing through the cage of iron arabesques.


Still staring down, Don pursed his lips to speak, although he kept his peace. Finally, his eyes lit up, and he pointed. “There—there goes the little piss-ant!” He hurdled the railing sideways, gripped the top bar as he did. He swung to the other side of the wrought iron and lowered himself beneath the balcony.  There he reached one of the rows of reinforced beams and swung from beam to beam as if they were monkey bars.  The two men listened to the commotion beneath their feet, the creaks, and smacks and swearing, and looked at each other with blank amazement. Still on the leash, the baboon peered through the iron bars, unable to make much sense of the behavior.

                The man with the gun leaned over the railing. “What does he think he’s doing?”   

 The other man patted him on the back. “Don’t know. But how can you push a man like that off a building? Come on, let’s go.”

                Reaching for the last beam, Don’s hand slipped, and he fell. He swung his arms as if doing the backstroke, and tumbled face-up, hollering, “Daaaaamit ta Hhhh-oof!” His swearing cut off as he splashed down into another mound of gella.

“What are you doing in my camel dung?” shouted an angry merchant.

“Huh?” Don groaned while stepping from the pile. “Oh, I’m getting the taste of your coffee out of my mouth.”  

“That’s a mean thing to say.”

While looking around, Don replied, “Maybe you’re right—I’m sorry. It hasn’t been an easy day.” The apology had barely left his lips, however, when he saw the boy break suddenly into a run. “Ah-ha!” He followed him while calling out, “You’ll lose it in the home stretch, you little— “

Tails, tunics, turbans, tables, tunics, baskets, backs of feet—the boy’s bare feet.  Don threaded through the market crowd— “’Excuse me, pardon— “tunics, turbans, tails— “Sorry, ‘scuse me, pardon— “  

“Dog!” A merchant hollered, threw his shoe. “Your grandma is a naughty, one-legged—”

“Sorry, ‘scuse me— “Turbans, tunics, backs, the boy’s bare feet—up right, up left, up—just ahead, just several feet up right, up left. Don stretched a hand; he slapped at, tried to catch the boy’s foot. Left, right, left— “Right there, I’ve almost got— “The hat flopped wildly— “Almost.”

Clipped the side of a cart, Don lost the rhythm in his stride; he stumbled on, however, as the boy came to a sudden stop. He tumbled forward, to where Vicky held the culprit by the arm; and hurtling through a puff of dust, he almost barreled into both. He regained his balance, though, and managed to yank the hat out of the boy’s grip as he passed. “Ah ha!”

The hat was wet and sagging like a rag, but he plopped it on his head defiantly. “Victory, Vicky—victory!” He leaned over, put his hands on his thighs, and proceeded to harangue the boy. “Now why go through the trouble, huh? For this? No one has a better opinion of that hat than I do, and I consider it a worthless piece of trash. It’s a straw basket that a hippo sat on; it’s a greasy, grimy fish trap—but it’s mine! Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!” And as he finished, a sandal sailed just a few inches past his nose.

The boy ignored Don’s tantrum, turned instead to Vicky. His outburst done; Don found himself checked by his wife’s irritated glare as well.  He and the boy sat down on the ground to catch their breath, their shoulders slumped, their chins against their collar bones. Vicky yanked the hat off Don’s head and plopped it on her own.  She gave him a disgusted look. “You, Donald Fedora, getting into all this trouble—over what? A beat-up hat! If this was a story— ‘Don Fedora and the Beat-Up Hat’— you’d spike the book to the ground after the first paragraph!”

“Oh, I don’t know; it sounds like it could— “

“Shut up. Don’t even try to salvage a reasonable excuse out of all this numbskullery.”

Don lifted his head. “How about if I sing instead?”

“You familiar with ‘Nearer My God to Thee’?”

“Never mind.” Don tilted his head back down and nodded. “Can I have my hat back?”

She poked him in the shoulder. “No—my hat—mine now!”

“But just let me explain…”

“Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!” She took it off, turned it over, looked into the bowl, then put it on again.

“Well, I tell you what— “

“What? You’ve got an idea, huh?” She gave the hat a rakish tilt. “Your brain’s simply lit up, like a woodchuck struck by lightning.”

“Not exactly the simile I would’ve picked.”

“No, not exactly, no, not a reasonable facsimile thereof.” She acknowledged the boy with a nod, then turned her attention back to Don. “Give the kid a dollar.”

“Are you serious?”
                “You heard me. Pay up.”

“A dollar for what?”

“For babysitting.”

“I don’t have any money.”

“Don’t get cute with me—take it out of your sock money.”

“Fine, that’s just fine.” He glanced around suspiciously. “Just blab away about my secret stash. Now someone’ll kill me for it.”

“Not without your help.”

“Wonderful.” He removed the shoe, pinched the tip of his sock and, after considerable force, managed to yank it off. “I hope you’re happy with the way things turned out.” He squeezed his fingers into it and came out with a wet, wrinkled bill. He handed it to the boy, who bowed to Vicky and ran off.

“What are you bowing to her for?” Don shouted at the boy.

“Now you listen to me,” Vicky said while pulling Don up by his arm. “You’ve had your fun, you’ve run around like a headless chicken, left both me and that poor sailor to wait for you, and now it’s time we were on our way.” She took him by the hand and walked away grinning. “Alright, Cappy.”

With a nod, the sailor straightened up from his crouch. He put his first and index fingers in his mouth and let out a faint whistle. The group of locals who were watching gave him a cheer.

Don was also impressed. “You’ll have to show me how to do that.”

“Maybe if you stuck around,” Vicky said and bumped him with her hip.

— ♦♦♦ —

As they sailed away, Vicky looked out at the expanse of ocean, the sun-sparks over orange water. Don looked back at the receding city. The huts, the tents, and towers were visible in the distance, brown silhouettes that bobbed against an orange dusk. Then he turned to Vicky, her eyes lit as if by candles, her features golden in the fading light. “So how was your day?”

“Very nice,” she said while watching the sun go like a cracked egg into boiling water “I swapped stories with Cappy, had a cup of coffee, and watched the world go by. How was yours?”

Don sniffed his shirt, inspected his wet shoes, and patted his bare head. Instead of answering, though, he pressed his cheek against her shoulder and quickly fell asleep. She nodded at the rowing sailor who nodded back. Then she leaned into Don’s face, half-closed her eyes, and smiled.

— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: Thumbnail for "Blood on the Curb" Copyright (c) 2019 by Cesar Valtierra.

Blood on the Curb: Part 2  By Nick Swain, Art by Cesar Valtierra

Detective McGraw continues his search for the ones that spilled blood on the curb in front of Giante liquor store.  The ones that bought it surely had it coming, but the innocent young lady who happened to be in the wrong place didn’t.  Unfortunately, the one that put them up to it sprouted leaking holes and isn’t going to be any help.

Leave a Reply