The Obsolete Hat
Trixie B. sat on her deck with the stub of her right leg, amputated below the knee four months prior due to diabetes complications, propped up on another chair as she finished her second banana daiquiri of the afternoon and watched the young men hired by the condo association mow and trim the yard. The young, mostly shirtless men worked fast, professionally, and by sheer luck Trixie and her roommate Lana R. had already been on the deck enjoying a pleasant summer afternoon, not as hot as yesterday, lovely puffy clouds dancing across the blue sky, when they arrived. The efficiency of the young men would ensure the beefcake show would not last long. Lana was just returning with a new round of daiquiri’s which Trixie was certain would be extra heavy on the rum and not quite properly mixed with the rest of the ingredients as Lana had seemed to concoct them awfully fast. A fair number of friends and relatives suspected the two women were lesbians when they moved in together after both their husbands died, but that wasn’t remotely true, a fact illustrated by Lana who, after putting the milky drinks onto the glass table, said, “Figured out how we can slam that yet?”
The propensity of the two of them to go salty when discussing men was infamous; they went out of their way to lay it on, especially when in the company of others, which confused Trixie as to why anyone would conclude they were lesbians unless it were perceived as overcompensating. Trixie told her, “Thought I’d just sit here and let my aura attract them.”
Lana said, “Let me sit down and recross my legs a couple times and see if that helps.”
“How could they pass up two fat old ladies with three legs?”
Lana looked at her. “Three feet. We got four thighs. Pull your shorts higher.”
Trixie was focusing on one particular young man, his sweaty bronze skin shimmering under pieces of freshly mowed grass. She was focusing on him because she remembered him. A little over a dozen years ago he’d been her student. “Do you remember the Basengame kid?” she asked Lana.
It was as junior high teachers that Trixie and Lana had recognized kindred spirits in each other. With both their husbands gone, it had just made sense to combine their retirement resources under the same roof. Lana asked, “The one who got caught dropping crackers down the back of the younger kid’s pants?”
Trixie said, “No, the younger one. The one who was so smart.”
“Yeah, I do.”
She studied him. He looked up and saw them just then. Trixie waved at him. He seemed to recognize her. Lana said, “Yeah, I believe I see it. What would he be now? Twenty-five?”
“More like twenty-eight.”
“Two questions, then. First, he was so smart what the hell is he doing mowing yards for living?”
“Couldn’t tell you.”
“And second, why is he wearing that hat?”
“Turns out maybe he wasn’t so smart,” Trixie suggested.
Trixie felt her toes wiggle in the summer breeze – toes on the foot that was no longer there. Phantom pain. She’d been having sensations of one kind or another since her amputation, and she found them unnerving, as though she were part ghost. She knew, of course, that the removal of her leg had not removed the synapses in her brain that expected the leg to be there. The new reality made those pieces of grey matter obsolete. But because of it, she knew exactly what had happened to young Basengame as he now strolled towards them wearing that sweat stained red hat with the asinine political slogan, the yard work having been completed. A rapidly changing world had amputated the reality his synapses expected to be there, and he had failed to establish new ones. For all practical purposes he was more functionally disabled than she was. “Hi, Mrs. B,” he said happily. “You look relaxed.”
She knew Lana was floating on too much rum to let it rest. Lana said, “Where’d you get that idiotic hat? Pull it from a shithouse?”
The smile young Basengame began the conversation with immediately evaporated; no doubt not the first time since the failed election his hat had been ridiculed. “I like this hat,” he defended himself.
“Then you’ve got your head up your ass,” Lana told him. “You also believe bigfoot and aliens are trying to bang us to make hybrid babies, dumbass?”
Young Basengame thrust his chin out to show he wouldn’t be pushed around. “He’s a great man who saved America!”
“He’s a criminal who tried to take down democracy for his own profit and he should be in prison.”
Young Basengame glanced at Trixie as if looking for help. She said, “Sorry, kid, I’ve got no sympathy for you.”
He turned his back on them and walked away. “I’m not a kid, old lady,” he shouted over his shoulder. The other young men on the yard crew watched him return as they packed up their equipment and he told them something they couldn’t make out. Then they left.
“Well,” Trixie said, “That went well.”
Lana sipped her daiquiri. “Knock that hat off and staple his mouth shut and I’d still slam him.”
Trixie smiled at her. But between them passed the same thought about the young man who had passed through their classrooms, who had absorbed their lessons, who they remembered as so smart; the dull dread that they had failed.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.