Monday, June 22, 2015

The Bowler Hat


James wore that bowler hat every single day even through the hottest days of summer. All the people of Glensville suspected he wore it to bed as well; it was worn enough, with a couple of holes in the black wool. Each morning the residents would spot James on his morning walk, part of his strict daily routine. They could spy him counting his steps on his route on Main Street; his black hat bobbing along with his lanky stride.

He always started at Jones Pharmacy, where he lived alone above the shop, and would go about a mile east stopping exactly at the intersection of Blythe and Main just before the new grocery store and then he would circle back home.

James never walked past the store. He missed the field that it once was, with the cows dotting the small slopes and barbed wire fence, the grasses growing untended around the wooden posts. The field used to mark the end of town and the beginning of the dairy and soy bean farms lining the gravel and dirt roads.

Anyone with an iota of sense noticed that as the field was tilled and leveled and the concrete foundation lain, the less and less that James met Mr. Parker’s eyes when he passed him on the street.

Mr. Parker had sold the land to commercial interests who wanted to capitalize on the cars driving on the interstate. Everyone understood why he sold it; nevertheless, their opinions and misunderstandings spread around town. All the while, Mr. Parker’s eldest son went in for his treatments and his hair started to fall.

But to James, Mr. Parker was a bad man. Before she passed away a couple of months prior, James’s mother repeated many times in her calm way, “Folks gotta do what they gotta do.” Ms. Bishop always had wise words for her son, but this time he didn’t listen to her; instead he fell into his grief to the point that the townsfolk noticed.

He wasn’t as vigilant about his step counting and he lingered longer at the corner before the grocery store as if he blamed it for his mother’s death. He started staying in his apartment longer and some days didn’t even venture out. John and Carol Jenson came by, well-meaning, with pie and baked manicotti and tried to speak with him. He took the food in his kind, awkward way, but didn’t say a word during their whole visit; he took to hugging himself as the couple sat and tried to make conversation until they gave up and left.

With everyone, there was a growing tension after the grocery store opened up. The town riled with gossip, but rather than talk in person they rarely left their homes, preferring to gossip on their cells and landlines. And with all of the miscommunications and the slights and doubt that follow all phone interaction, everyone was on edge. Or maybe the agitation stemmed from the heat and the fear of draught that had struck in August and September five years in a row. It was already two weeks without a drop of rain and the fields were already losing their sharp youthful green. The Dram River was barely a trickle now and looked pitiful in its dried up slopes of its bank.

To make it worse, Lila Stiger, the biggest mouth in the whole county shimmied her way into everyone’s business more than usual. She now had more time on her hands than was healthy after selling her one hundred acres. She had found out that Bill Anders had been philandering with one of his former students while his wife was away at work. The gossip circulated throughout town like a hungry fire and soon he was living in the log motel along the interstate.

And then, Mr. Parker’s little five year old girl, Sarah, went missing. He said to the police that he saw her from his porch playing in the soy fields just before evening. When Mrs. Parker called her in for dinner, Sarah didn’t come. They looked and looked on every single acre and went from farm to farm, but couldn’t find her. She went missing for five days and on the fifth night, one janitor from the grocery store was taking the garbage out and found lying in the dumpster little Sarah; her naked body pale blue in the halogen street lights. Her whole face covered by a worn black bowler hat.