The Magic Hat
By Anne Spackman
Copyright 2016 by Anne Spackman
All rights reserved.
“Have you ever stopped to consider what matters most in life to you?” Bryan asked his friend Jessica one evening. They were twenty-one years old, in college together, and studying history on her bed in the dorm with the door open.
“Of course. Money.” Said Jessica without a pause.
“Well, all right, but I was talking about concepts and ideas as well,” said Bryan.
“I want to have everything I need, when I need it, and most of what I want, when I want it,” said Jessica. “Anything else that matters I will have to think about.”
“I want to keep my imagination.” Said Bryan in his turn. “Without it, I think life wouldn’t be as interesting. How you see life is as important as money.”
“You say that, but you never had to worry about money,” said Jessica seriously, putting down her book and turning to him. “You have always known you’d have food, good quality food, to eat. You’ve always had the best clothes—look at that designer shirt you’re wearing, for example. You’ve always had plenty, such as a house with everything you need in it.”
“You have a point.” Said Bryan. “I can hardly help that, but I guess you have a point. In fact, I would say that having all of those things makes one care more about what more there is in life than just money.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Jessica, picking up her book again.
“Perhaps not,” sighed Bryan. “Anyway, what I was trying to get at was, what do you think matters most in our human lives, aside from money? You say money and shelter and things matter most. I guess they do guarantee that we have more freedom to do what we want and security to live comfortably. So what would you do with more money if you had it?”
“Me?” said Jessica, furrowing her brows a bit. “I would buy a car and a house after I leave school. And go on holiday to somewhere nice every year,” she added.
“As for me,” said Bryan seriously, “I would do something about the ocean being polluted with plastic.”
“You are such a boy scout!” teased Jessica, grabbing a pillow to throw at Bryan.
Bryan dodged the pillow easily.
“What brought this conversation on?” thought Jessica out loud.
“I don’t know. I guess astrophysics class. I was reading about age of the universe, and suddenly everything happening on Earth seemed a trifle less important somehow. We are but mortal beings on a small, fragile planet in a great universe, no matter how important each of our lives is to us ourselves.”
“I don’t think like you do,” Jessica said with a shrug. “I guess I’m more selfish, but selfishness works for me. You, Bryan, would do anything for a worthy cause you believe in, I think. You’re not selfish enough at times for your own good, but like I say, if you had been deprived of things growing up, would you be so generous and selfless? Maybe not. Maybe you’d be more like me. While I am not greedy, I get what I want for myself and I appreciate it when I get it. I didn’t have everything I wanted when I was growing up, and I can tell you that it isn’t fun going without nice shoes when you need them, or not having vacations to nice places when it’s summertime.”
“I understand.” Said Bryan. “I was merely wondering what would matter to people most if we all had the basic necessities in life already, and if people could be satisfied with what they have, instead of always needing something new and exciting. What then would be important to people most of all?”
“There you go again,” laughed Jessica. “And don’t make that face at me.”
Bryan stopped rolling his eyes upward. “Ok. I will say one thing, I think a sense of purpose matters more in being a happy person than we realize. If you ask me, there is too much apathy in the world. We need purpose to care about what’s going on and to get things done right—”
“Could you get me a drink, Bryan?” said Jessica suddenly. “I’m really thirsty all of a sudden.”
“Uh, sure,” said Bryan. “I have some seltzer in my fridge. Would you like that?”
“Oh, yes, that would be great,” said Jessica.
Bryan got up and left the room. Four doors down was his single dorm room. He entered the room and headed to a tiny fridge he had brought from his home in Connecticut. He got out two chilled seltzer waters in glass and was about to head back to Jessica’s room.
Then he stopped. He looked at the time on the clock, and realized it was almost midnight.
“Here,” Bryan said to Jessica, as he came into the open door of her dorm room. “I should be going soon, though. I was planning on shopping in the city tomorrow. I need to get a winter coat before it gets too cold.”
“Can I come with you?” said Jessica.
“Sure, but I was going to go by bus. I planned to leave at 10 a.m., and I don’t know when I’ll be coming home.”
“That’s fine. I can always resume studying on Sunday.”
“Look at that hat!” cried Jessica. She stared at it for a second. “It’s gorgeous!”
Bryan looked over to where Jessica had stopped. They were in a Salvation Army re-sale shop at Jessica’s request. He walked a few steps closer to see the hat more clearly. It was a heather grey Argyll knit beanie perfect for winter wear. And it was pretty, he thought.
“Yes, well, it’s nice,” said Bryan.
“It’s fan-tas-tic!” said Jessica, picking it up off of the display hook. “Oh, it’s only three dollars. I am getting it. I need a warmer hat this winter, too. I’ll wash it when I get home and it will be good as new.”
Jessica and Bryan headed to the cashier, and Jessica paid for the hat. She tucked it into her backpack, and they headed outside into the cold November air.
“They had quite a selection of used books in there,” remarked Bryan.
“I know. I always shop at the Salvation Army. I found one of my biology textbooks in there in September for only five dollars.”
“Wow, that’s a good deal,” said Bryan, sporting his new winter coat that he had purchased only an hour before. “It’s getting colder. You want to stop in for lunch at that pizzeria? My treat, since I asked.”
“I guess so, but I’ll pay for my half,” said Jessica. “Let’s hurry, as I’m cold and famished!”
“Ok, just grab my arm and we’ll dash across the street.”
“Nobody’s coming, and the crosswalk is miles away.”
“You have a point.” Jessica grabbed Bryan’s arm, and they headed across the road.
“I am glad you invited me out today,” said Jessica as they reached the pizza parlor. “I hadn’t made any plans for today until you asked. I’ll have to make up my library hours tomorrow, though. I usually work Saturdays.”
Forty minutes later, they were finishing a pesto cheese and spinach pizza between them, and Bryan returned from the men’s room to find Jessica talking to the waiter. He felt a strange feeling—not jealousy exactly, but he did notice how familiar and friendly Jessica was being to this new guy who was a waiter at the tables near the entrance. The waiter was a remarkably handsome young man of about the same age as the two of them.
“Bryan, meet David.” Said Jessica. “He’s a student like us, but he works here on week-ends. I think he might be in my psychology class.”
“What a coincidence.” Said Bryan. “Nice to meet you, David,” he said, extending hands to shake David’s.
“Bryan is one of my best friends,” said Jessica.
The next day, Jessica waited for her laundry to be finished in the dryer, and then she took it back up to her dorm room. She found the hat she had bought the day before and put it on the hook by the door for Monday morning, so that she would be prepared for the cold weather on her long walk to class.
Monday morning, Jessica woke early and got dressed quickly, as she had woken up late, and only had twenty minutes to get to class. She didn’t even do any make-up, just grabbed her hat at the last second and stood in front of the mirror to put it on. As she did, she noticed how nice the hat looked on her when she put it on, and she was delighted again with her purchase.
Somehow, Jessica made it to her class that morning in the nick of time. As she took off her hat coming into the classroom, she felt a strange sense in her mind, as though she had drunk too much coffee. She was very aware of what was going on around her all of a sudden.
Wish it weren’t so cold in here.
She had thought she heard the guy behind her say something like this, but as she turned around, she realized she must have imagined him saying it.
“Huh, strange.” Said Jessica, taking off her hat and sitting down.
It was some time later that she realized she hadn’t been imagining things. But, right now, she had class, and it was almost time for that class to begin.
Two hours later, Jessica went to the dining hall for lunch, and met up with Bryan. She was still in the entryway and wearing her new hat.
“Oh, the hat!” said Bryan. She’s so pretty today, he thought.
“Thank you.” Said Jessica, about to blush.
“For what?” said Bryan.
Jessica stopped. Had she heard what Bryan said or had she just imagined him saying it?
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said that I looked pretty.”
“What?” now it was Bryan’s turn to blush. “No, I didn’t. I just thought it.”
“Oh, my goodness!” said Jessica. “I could have sworn that I heard you say it!”
Jessica took off the hat. And they went inside for lunch.
“Miss Somerville, it isn’t polite to wear a hat in my class,” said Dr. Chandler. “I shall ask you to take it off in my class, unless the heating goes off.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jessica, removing her hat. She had been sitting in a state of semi-shock and fascination for five minutes at the back of the room.
The strangest thing was that she had been “listening” to the thoughts of the other students, and the professor, within those five minutes.
It took a few days for Jessica to realize, by asking subtle questions to those whom she could, that she had acquired a magical hat that allowed her to read the immediate thoughts of those around her! She couldn’t believe it, but it seemed to be true.
“Bryan, I have a problem!” cried Jessica, coming into Bryan’s dorm room a week before final exams that December. She removed her magical hat as she came in. Bryan’s room was comfortable, with a fridge he kept full.
“What is it?” Bryan looked up from studying on the bed.
“Not so long ago, you asked me what mattered most in life to me and to people in general.”
“Oh yeah,” said Bryan. “Well, Jessica, what’s the matter now? You look really upset.”
“I have been wondering all kinds of things for weeks now, about what life means and what is possible, what matters most, and oh my gosh I can’t even begin to explain—
“Jessica, you aren’t making any sense. Why don’t you try to explain in any case.”
“I’m not myself any more. It’s the hat. Entirely. I can’t take it off, or I don’t want to, even though I am learning things I shouldn’t know. I’m just too tempted and curious to take it off most of the time, but I’m telling you, Bryan, I should never have known all these things about people. It’s too much! Oh,” she cried, sitting down on his bed in a state of anguish.
“What in the world are you going on about?”
“It’s that hat I got. It’s magical.”
“Magical?” Bryan was dubious.
“Yes,” said Jessica. “When I wear it, I can hear what people are thinking around me.”
“You’re just joking.” He was suddenly slightly tense.
“No, besides, you know me.”
“You have absolutely no sense of humor,” Bryan said with a laugh, though he seemed a bit on his guard now.
“Yes,” whined Jessica. “And you know I don’t lie.”
“Are you sure you aren’t imagining things? How much sleep have you been getting recently?”
“Quite sure I am not imagining things, and I slept eight hours last night.”
“While I’d like to believe you, I have a hard time believing in magic, Jessica,” said Bryan. “It’s not scientific. Anyway, have you ever used this hat for malevolent purposes?” laughed Bryan in a strange voice that tried to be a joke.
“Of course not. I haven’t cheated on any tests—yet—either. And you should be proud of me for that. It was such a temptation, to sit at the back of the class with my hat on and take my test, but I was a good girl.”
“Glad to hear it.” Said Bryan, still sounding a bit confused.
“I am just getting more and more tempted, though, to listen to anything I want with this hat. And I don’t like the way that I am starting to feel. I feel dreadful these days, just tired out by it all. Would you like to take the hat away from me and give it away to some re-sale shop where I can’t find it again? I’ve learned too much about people I hardly even know, and I want my peace of mind back again. I don’t want to have my world shaken up every day just being bombarded by other people’s thoughts. But I’m too damned curious to stop at the same time. Oh, Bryan, I have to get rid of this hat!”
“I don’t get it. You loved that hat. You wore it for weeks, and everyone said you looked so pretty in it. You wouldn’t take it off, even at dinner—
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I know that John has a crush on me now, that Frank is lying to his father about his grades, that Samantha is cheating on her boyfriend, and that’s just the beginning.”
“Sit down and explain more. I knew that Samantha was cheating on Jason. I saw her in the hall kissing Wesley late at night a while back. But how did you guess this?”
“That’s what I am trying to tell you. I didn’t guess. I read her mind. Or I read her immediate thoughts, anyway. Bryan, I don’t want this kind of power. Not enough to find out all of these things that I didn’t want to know!”
Bryan sighed, wondering if Jessica was serious or just overworked and under stress. “If it gives you peace of mind, Jessica, then I’ll take the hat away from you and give it away for you.”
“Oh, thank you!” said Jessica, handing over the hat to Bryan. For a moment she looked pained and regretful about doing this, but then a relieved sigh escaped from her lips as the hat finally left her possession.
“Now get some rest,” said Bryan.
“Ok,” said Jessica, pausing in the doorway. “Bryan, what matters most, aside from money, and maybe just as much, is friendship and love. Thanks for being such a good friend.”
Bryan was stunned. “You’re welcome,” he finally managed.
Jessica then left the doorway to go back to her room, and Bryan stayed looking through the doorway a moment longer. Then he returned to his studies. After an hour or so of this, he again looked at the grey hat and picked it up. As he did, he felt a little strange sensation in his mind, like he did when he drank too much coffee. He got up, still holding the hat, to shut his door for the night. Then, he put it into his closet, and promptly forgot about it…