"Hats" by Lynn Mundell

When Clay turned 50, he decided he would wear a hat every day for the rest of his life.

“It will be my thing,” he told Death, the dark-haired man always at his elbow.

Clay began with a knitted watch cap, but was mistaken for a notorious burglar and was shot at while helping a friend move his possessions to a new apartment.

He then bought a striped train conductor cap, which the ladies really loved. He grew tired of other men yelling “Choo Choo!” though, and was hospitalized after an especially bad fistfight.

His ex, Claudette, gave him her old beret, but he began to smoke and drink too much red wine. He put away the beret after dozing off on his acetate sofa with a lit Gitanes.

On Clay’s 51st birthday, the dark-haired man handed Clay a bright white gondolier boater with streaming fluorescent yellow ribbons. Clay disliked the hat, and accepted it ungraciously, saying “Thanks. I guess.”

On Clay’s walk to the pub that night, a gust of wind lifted the boater off his head and into a stairwell. Clay instinctively dashed after it, thereby barely moving out of the way of a cab barreling down on him.

Clay just caught a glimpse of the driver — the dark-haired man, of course — who in annoyance hurled his own undertaker top hat out the cab window, where it landed on the pavement.

Clay put the boater on top of a nearby trashcan and, stooping, picked up and dusted off the top hat. Dropping it onto his head, Clay discovered it was a perfect fit.

For many years to come — countless generations, in fact — Clay wore the top hat daily, unlucky in love, true, and generally treated with distaste by all, but at last perfectly safe to go about his life.

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