The Hat-Giving Hickory Tree

A slanted story by Brittany Cole

Most days, Rodney never thinks about the baseball hat hickory tree. When Rodney does remember that tree and that period of his boyhood, during which the hickory thrived and blossomed dozens of baseball caps overnight, he still feels somewhat bewildered by its undeniable yet utterly miraculous existence. It seems so long ago now, that he questions his memory—was it all a dream? Something he has misremembered and imagined over the years?

Yet, he’s sure it all happened, as ridiculous as it seems. The hat hickory still amazes him, but for the most part, he has completely put those events behind him. While he isn’t necessarily ashamed of his relationship to the fantastical, he certainly doesn’t mention it to his co-workers around the water cooler (which is more of a drinking faucet outside the restrooms), and he’s never recounted this tale to his in-laws. Rodney has spent his adulthood laying low under the radar, and he wouldn’t want his pretentious colleagues to think of him as that delusional guy at the office or his wife’s parents to think of him as a freak who claims he once had a hickory that grew baseball hats. Perhaps it would have been different if he had proof of its fruit—a video recording, or even a photograph of the baseball hats dangling from its branches like apples. But Rodney’s family had been quite poor at the time, and he grew up before owning a camera or video recorder was a commonplace accessory.

Now, as a thirty-five-year-old established adult working at a marketing firm—a job which requires him to wear business casual and not a uniformed sports jersey with a logo of a chicken wing on the back, like his high school job—he doesn’t want to share any of his childhood adventures with a judgmental audience that could earn him a reputation for hijinks. He has never been interested in drawing any extraneous attention to himself and prefers to keep his cards hidden, revealing them only when necessary.

So when Rodney happens to be passing through his childhood neighborhood one Saturday morning—with his wife Camille and their baby girl in the backseat, on the way to a picnic at his in-law’s house—and his eyes spot colorful domes speckled among a tree’s foliage, Rodney practically slams on the brakes. Gawking at the tree growing beside his his childhood house, he mumbles to himself, “No way…”

——————————

As the middle child, Rodney had always been the calculating one. While his older brother James was athletic and confident, and his younger brother Terrence was handsome and artistic, Rodney had usually felt somewhat invisible between them, and learned to use his clever mind to make his own way.  In fact, it was thanks to his strategic mind that Rodney came to be the owner of his favorite Snoopy baseball hat.

Rodney grew up in a large town on the outskirts of a big city, in a house his mother Nadine began renting after she and Rodney’s father had separated, which had been shortly after Terrence was born. At home, Nadine always used the word separated, never divorced, because his parents couldn’t afford a legal divorce, although as a boy, Rodney could never tell the difference; the difference was stark to Nadine, though, who was technically owed no child support in this arrangement. Rodney’s father did occasionally send checks, but he had moved into an apartment in the city, and dropped by Nadine’s house with an infrequency that was often enough to keep his sons on his good side, yet seldom enough to leave the boys always craving a real father. Nadine did fine on her own, though, and while she and her sons never had excess, they had never had too little. She was tough on them, but they were tough for her, too.

The day Rodney first spotted his infamous Snoopy baseball hat, Rodney was seven years old, walking the several blocks home from school on a late summer’s afternoon with his best pal, Benny. Benny lived around the corner from Rodney, and his parents’ fighting often led him to hang around Rodney’s house; Nadine was the sort of woman who quickly accepted Benny as a fourth son whenever he turned up at her doorstep, and Rodney and Benny immediately became thick as thieves, and just about as mischievous. Mostly, they just enjoyed seeing what they could get away with, testing the boundaries of wit and crime, boyishly experimental.

This particular afternoon in the late 80’s, the young pair crossed the street, little Terrence trailing behind them dutifully as Rodney and Benny discussed the latest episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As Rodney was asking Benny what he would do if Shredder jumped out of the sewer right then, through the window of a corner store they were passing, Rodney suddenly laid eyes on the baseball hat: it was color-blocked, each panel of the hat and the bill a different color of either green, white, red, or blue. And on the front panel of the hat, Snoopy and Woodstock were embroidered wearing sunglasses.

Rodney loved Snoopy. On Sundays, he and his mother snickered over the Peanuts comics printed in vibrant color for the one day of the week. Nadine always clipped out the best ones and pinned them on their refrigerator to enjoy again and again. Snoopy was Rodney’s favorite, and in his imagination he always viewed him and Benny as Snoopy and Woodstock.

But the hat also affected him so much that afternoon because ever since he had run into his favorite teacher Mr. Mathas at the supermarket, Rodney had wanted a baseball hat. Seeing Mr. Mathas in “regular clothes” rather than “teacher clothes,” Rodney had felt like he had a glimpse into the secret identity of a superhero. Seeing him scanning the cereal aisle in jeans and a Wu-Tang t-shirt, Cavs baseball hat pulled over his curls, Rodney wanted even more to be just like Mr. Mathas. He was the only black teacher in their elementary school, and he was the only teacher who knew Rodney by his name and not “James’s little brother.” He wished Mr. Mathas could teach him every year, and not just that year for third grade. As Rodney’s mother had begun chatting with Mr. Mathas that day, Rodney formed the idea that he wanted his own signature baseball hat.

And then Rodney saw the Snoopy hat.

However, he didn’t have any money, and so Rodney eyed that baseball hat in the store window each morning and afternoon they passed it, hoping it would still be there, waiting for him, for he swore that one day it would be his. He and Benny stopped and ogled it through the shop front every day, pressing their noses against the dirty window to get a better glimpse of it on the hat rack, among “I LOVE CLE” caps and trucker hats.

The two were equally clever, and together they brainstormed. “There’s nothing clever about stealing,” Rodney said and Benny agreed, as they picked their way home, kicking at rocks and stepping on ants. “We’ve got to get it an honest way, because my mom will want to know how I got it.” (Rodney had made this mistake in the past, when he had stolen a rubber ball after his mother said he couldn’t have it. He had really regretted her finding out that time.)

“Well, the hat costs money. How do we get money?” Benny asked, holding his backpack straps and sniffling.

“From people with money,” Rodney replied, pursing his lips in thought. The gears were turning.

“How do we get them to give us money?”

“Doing things or selling things.”

“So what do people want?”

This was the question, and one that the boys mulled over the rest of the evening and during their sleep. They mulled over it until the answer seemingly presented itself to them the next day.

Rodney and Benny occasionally stopped by a candy shop Nadine’s friend worked at, and having a soft spot in her heart for her gal friend’s precious son and his buddy, this lady would often let them each pick out one piece of candy, her treat. She was old enough to be Rodney’s grandmother, and she acted like it, too.

The two of them often stopped there before school on the days she was working, and this day in particular, they had brought her some dandelions they had picked along their way. As soon as she saw them walk into her store, she began gushing over them and urged them to pick two pieces each. While other boys may have been embarrassed by this, Rodney and Benny knew it was worth being “gentlemen,” as she always called them, in return for her small tokens of affection.

Later, at recess, as Rodney pulled out a warm block of Bazooka bubblegum from his pants pockets, a boy in his class approached him. “Hey, where’d you get that gum?” This boy wore khaki knickers and black dress shoes without scuffs, and it looked like his mother had slicked his blond hair back with more gel than looked necessary. It was apparent from the way he was eyeing the gum that he wanted it for himself. Benny nudged Rodney in the ribs, and the idea suddenly forming through telepathic intuition, they beamed at each other.

“Oh, this? You can have this, if you want… For a quarter.” That was more than it cost at the candy shop, but the difference was that they weren’t at the candy shop—they were at school.

The boy considered this, then shrugged. Pulling out a dull quarter with a spec of lint from his ironed pants, he handed it to Rodney and took the piece of gum from his other hand.

It didn’t take long for Rodney to realize who his target demographic was. The white kids in his class always had spare pocket change for which they were happy to exchange for candy and gum—contraband in their elementary school—and Rodney brought the sweets right to them so they never had to plan ahead. He and Benny cashed in all their cuteness credit with the old ladies around town who loved to give them hard candy or suckers in exchange for helping them cross the street or carry their groceries or flattering them with weed-flowers, and sometimes the ladies they helped even gave the boys actual money. Between their strategically kind deeds and their candy hustle at school, Rodney and Benny had saved up several dollars within a couple weeks.

The day Rodney bought his Snoopy hat was glorious. After weeks of anxiously checking the storefront every time he passed it, hoping it would still be there for him to claim, he and Benny finally marched into the shop and purchased the cap—with a few dollars to spare!

The Snoopy cap fit perfectly over Rodney’s spongy curls. Checking himself out in the reflection of the store’s window, he beamed. This was who he was: the kid in the Snoopy baseball cap. He wondered if he’d grow up to look like Mr. Mathas, and then if kids would notice him more or if he’d blend in more because of his new hat. Whatever happened, he felt that if he was wearing this Snoopy hat, he’d be the best version of himself. The New Rodney.

While the candy business was only supposed to be a temporary income, the kids at school became somewhat abrasive when Rodney and Benny stopped bringing the goods to class. Wearily, they decreased their stock but continued to provide gum and Tootsie rolls infrequently, which earned them enough change to spend at the arcade on the weekends, but wore them out nonetheless. It was nice to have the extra money, but when another student vendor popped up, Rodney and Benny thankfully relinquished the market control to the other kid. Running a business was too stressful, and Benny swore he saw a few gray hairs on his head from the ordeal.

——————————

Unfortunately, Rodney had an older brother who liked to remind him he was older, and one day several weeks later while horsing around in their backyard, James had plucked Rodney’s beloved baseball cap from his head and with one quick flick of his wrist, sent the hat soaring through the air, for it to become wedged in the crux of two tree branches high above them.

James had let out a hearty laugh. “Ha! Well you can have it back now Rod, if you can get it!”

Feeling as though he had been robbed of his new identity, Rodney grew uncomfortable, and became enraged. “I hate you James!! You’re the worst!!” he shouted at his apathetic older brother, who strolled away back into the house to avoid the blowout. Still in the yard, Rodney screamed and jumped up and down, fists balled, and then ran to the hickory, helplessly grappling at the smooth trunk and sliding down it with each hop. Terrence, nearby, watched and offered advice—“Try to get to that limb!” “I’m trying! Go away, Terry!”—as Rodney’s gangly body failed to shimmy up the tree.

The hickory was young in terms of tree lifespans, its bark just beginning to turn to flakey chunks, its canopy beneath the height of its neighboring trees. However, the trunk was straight and its lowest branch was high above their heads, ten feet off the ground, and the hat—several yards higher, above layers of twigs and leaves, was far out of reach.

Rodney was heartbroken. Even though his mother made James apologize and buy him a new hat, Rodney still mourned the loss of that hat, that signature hat of his that had even earned a compliment from Mr. Mathas the week before. The boy spent the rest of the week attempting to retrieve his hat from the hickory, his passion fizzling out as he exhausted different methods and defeat solidified. He tried shaking the tree, standing on Terrence’s back, using a ladder, but even when he got to the first branch, his hat was still too far up to reach.

Discouraged, he finally quit trying.

——————————

Three years later, as a ten-year-old, Rodney had moved on from his Snoopy hat. He went on to wear many other hats, and came to be the kid who was always wearing a baseball hat. There was something about the “look” that just made him felt safer, more confident. He liked wearing hats because he noticed that adults left his hair alone this way—if they could see it, they’d tell him it was nappy and make him comb it, but if he tugged a baseball hat over it, he would draw less critique from adults and could blend in better.

His friendship with Benny continued even though they now had different teachers. Every day, they entertained each other, sometimes letting Terrence and his friends play with them, too.

And actually, it was Benny who saw the first hickory hat bloom.

The boys were shooting—and missing—hoops in the driveway with Terrence and a couple of his neighborhood friends. It was a summer’s day, the sun hot overhead, and sweat shined on their foreheads, sleeveless t-shirts moist and warm against their skin. Benny was the only white kid among them, and as the sun began to burn him, he retreated to the hickory for a shade break. The hot concrete of the driveway was merciless and his cheeks were flaming red.

Leaning back underneath the tree and looking up, Benny spotted something funny. He squinted at the bright blue color somewhere far above him, questioning if he’d ever seen blue in a tree before. He knew about the Snoopy hat incident, but that wasn’t what he saw—it was something different in the tree!

Calling over the other boys, they grouped beneath the hickory and ogled at the object far above their heads. It was an unnatural sight—what was blue that grew on a tree? Perhaps it was another toy that had gotten stuck up there, but neither Rodney or Terrence recognized it as theirs. Bored with this, the boys resumed their game.

Over the summer, Rodney and Benny occasionally noticed more vibrant colors collaged among the hickory’s canopy, but all too far above to distinguish. The colors had no particular shape, and while they seemed to be a different texture than the leaves, from the ground they couldn’t quite discern. At first these observations took weeks between them, but halfway through the summer, their presence accelerated.

“I wish we could climb it,” Rodney said, glumly, as the boys laid on the grass staring up into the branches on another hot day. “I want to know what’s going on up there.”

“Have you tried?” Benny asked, ripping a handful of grass out of the ground.

“A long time ago…” Rodney said, remembering that day James ruined his Snoopy hat. “I wonder if James could climb it,” he added. James was now fifteen and hitting his growth spurt, but he also wanted less and less to do with Rodney and Benny. He was a teenager, now—he had his own friends and girlfriends to care about.

Benny considered this. “If anyone could, he’d be our guy.”

“It’d be cool if we had a tree house up there…” Rodney imagined, slapping his leg suddenly and squishing a bug. “Like a fort.”

“My uncle’s a carpenter,” Benny offered.

As some parents may know, the persistence of determined children can often break even the strongest-willed adults. Somehow, Benny and Rodney persuaded Benny’s uncle into building a tree house in a stranger’s backyard, for the payment of only Benny’s gratitude and a few of Nadine’s apple pies. Having rolled her eyes initially, Nadine was impressed by the boys’ smooth-talking ways—and also a little nervous where this may lead them in the future—but willing to donate her baked goods to their cause. However, halfway through building the tree house, Benny’s uncle became injured at his job and gave up on the treehouse altogether, which left Benny and Rodney with only half a fort—which was still better than nothing.

The hickory now had wooden planks attached to its trunk like ladder rungs, and on the first branch was a square wooden platform with two walls. It was enough to get them halfway to their curious color splotches and give them a fort from which they could toss things at the people below them, which they certainly took advantage of. (Finally, Rodney would have the upper ground on James!)

But with the new vantage point, Rodney realized the colors in the trees were swatches of fabric, and from a certain angle, with the right light, they looked like they were domes with bills—baseball caps.

“I think someone is tossing baseball hats in our tree!,” Rodney declared to Benny one day as they were turning their lips purple with popsicle sticks in Nadine’s kitchen. “There’s more in the tree every morning.”

“We should do a stake out,” Benny resolved, slurping his rapidly-liquefying popsicle.

With a nod and a lick, Rodney agreed.

That night, Rodney and Benny slept—or, tried not to sleep—in Rodney’s backyard. Nadine refused to let them sleep in the tree house like they originally planned, especially without four walls to keep them from falling to the ground. Instead, they compromised with her for a night on the back porch, and all night they took turns dozing off while the other watched the tree with a flashlight, although by morning they were both snoring underneath blankets on the plastic lawn chairs, no hat-tossing ever witnessed.

But there was no way someone could be planting these hats on the hickory. The nature of their positions on the branches seemed impossible for any child—let alone adult—to place there. These hats now popped up like ornaments on a Christmas tree, and Rodney and Benny finally accepted what they had been denying all along.

In their tree house, Rodney was the first to confess. “Benny… I don’t mean to sound crazy, but I think the tree is growing the baseball hats.”

Benny, relieved that Rodney thought the same, replied, “That’s really the only answer, it seems.”

——————————

The two of them were content to let a baseball hat tree be a baseball hat tree. They were going to accept the strangeness of the situation and move on with their lives, returning to the video games and cartoons they had been distracted from for weeks.

Until one day, just at arm’s length outside their tree house, they noticed the fabric fold of a purple baseball cap. It wasn’t quite a baseball cap yet—it was budding, still folded in on itself, but the bill was undeniably attached to a branch. The next day, it began unfurling, releasing its fabric panels and finally, it popped open, revealing a plain red baseball cap.

There was something irresistible about it, and Rodney felt no choice except to pick it from the tree, like Eve with her first apple. With a firm tug, the bill separated from the branch, and Rodney replaced his own hat with it. It fit perfect.

This, too, would have been enough, but then the baseball hats started blossoming by the dozen, much closer to the tree house. Soon, Benny had a blue baseball hat, Terrence had a yellow baseball hat, and even James had a green baseball hat. And these were just that hats that grew within reach!

The first growth of baseball hats were plain colors. Even after they ran out of friends to gift baseball hats, Rodney and Benny continued picking the caps once they were ripe and stored them in Rodney’s closet. Nadine was bewildered by the tree, and while at first she accused the boys of stealing hats and telling outlandish lies to cover their tracks, once she saw the hat hickory herself, she didn’t know what to say. She wondered if she should call the city to report this strange, scientific feat, but ultimately, the tree promised only to be a helpful opportunity for them, and so she let it go.

“I do not want to hear about this causing any trouble for anyone though,” she ordered, shaking her head in amazement and brainstorming how this could come back to bite her. “You boys don’t tell a soul about this. Otherwise I’ll have all sorts of random folks comin’ to my yard and taking from our tree.”

Rodney and Benny agreed to keep it a secret, which they had already planned. They, too, wanted to protect this tree from the exploits of strangers.

School began again, and Rodney and Benny decided to try their hand at being entrepreneurs once more. In the hallways and on the school’s playground, they dealt hats to other kids. This time, though, they felt like they couldn’t lose! No matter what price they sold them for, they’d be making a profit; they had a seemingly endless supply of free hats. The two of them were able to undercut the price of local shops, which kids with little allowances loved.

That fall, as the hat hickory’s leaves began changing colors, the quality of the hats changed, too. The tree began sprouting wrinkly, incomplete baseball hats in dull browns and burnt oranges, and most of the hats they picked weren’t even worth trying to sell. The boys took the winter off from sales as the hats and leaves dried up.

After a long winter during which the boys almost forgot about the hat hickory once more, spring brought with it leaves and fresh hats—these, though, far more intricate than the previous year’s harvest. While the first growth of hats were plain colors, these hats began blossoming in multi-colored patterns! The new styles reinvigorated their sales; however, even more to their astonishment, the caps began growing with embroidered patterns on them.

Nadine had hardly believed it, as it was. But the evening when she saw a perfectly embroidered Cavs logo on a blue and orange flat-billed hat that Rodney swore he picked that morning from the hat hickory, she shook her head and put her hand to her mouth.

“Rodney… Are you sure…” She feared so much that she couldn’t put into words for a ten-year-old.

“I swear, Mom,” he said, fully believing in the power of the hickory. “It’s the magic of the tree. I’ll be careful.”

James, Rodney, and Terrence began fighting over the hats, though. Rodney felt that he and Benny had full claim to any harvests from the hickory, but James and Terrence argued that they had more right than Benny to what hats they wanted. There was a full-out brawl among brothers over the flat-billed Cavs hat, and while James won the tussle by his sheer braun, the tree soon grew a Browns cap that Rodney traded back for the Cavs hat.

The Cavs hat—likely inspired by his long-ago mentor, Mr. Mathas—became Rodney’s new “signature” hat. Now that he had the only hat he truly wanted, he made peace with his brothers by giving them first pick of all the hats they picked, with the stipulation that they could only choose one per batch. Nadine demanded a cut of Rodney and Benny’s hat profits—“I pay the rent here, after all, but I’m proud of you boys”—and they used the rest on toys and activities that all four of the kids could enjoy, like a new basketball, trips to the arcade, candy, and Nerf guns. These were the golden days.

Unfortunately, the hickory was quite inspiring to many, and after Terrence drew a picture of the hat hickory for art class, the deal began falling apart. Terrence’s teacher had praised his skill, yet told him that he should draw things as they really are, not made-up.

“But this isn’t made-up! It is real!” Terrence insisted, irritated with the art teacher’s weird rule and condescending tone.

Word got around that Terrence was claiming he had a hat-growing tree, and kids began stopping by Nadine’s house to gawk at the tree in their backyard, congregating on the sidewalk in clusters and pointing excitedly at what they could see of the tree behind their house. Suddenly, the source of Rodney and Benny’s supply was exposed, and it outraged their peers and their neighbors.

“How come they get a free lunch?!” parents around the neighborhood complained. “They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but it does for Nadine’s family!”

“So that’s how she supports the boys,” ladies would talk spitefully. “She hustles the hats, huh. I wonder what else she hustles.”

“They should have to share their hats for free with everybody, since they get them for free!” jealous business owners demanded.

While at first Nadine and her boys were able to roll their eyes or ignore the hype surrounding their hat hickory, as with many good things, publicity ruined it. It grew on Nadine’s nerves how others who had their whole lives handed to them could be so bent out of shape that a blessing had landed in her yard. After working so hard at the nursing home to take care of her patients as well as her sons, and pay her bills almost completely on her own, her skin boiled to think that it could all be undermined by petty, jealous gossip. Yet, it got to her. She and her sons had made enough friends within their town that many were defending them, but Nadine hated the limelight, and she feared that television crews would begin showing up on her front lawn, broadcasting their hickory and placing an unwanted spotlight on them. All she wanted to do was to work and be left alone to mother her children.

At first, Rodney and Benny held a grudge against Terrence for outing their secret. Rodney had often thought Terrence a nuisance, and wished his mother hadn’t given birth to him—in his anger, he felt that if Terrence hadn’t been born, their parents might have stayed together.

But Terrence was sensitive and soft-mannered, and Rodney’s heart couldn’t stay hardened for too long. He saw how guilty Terrence felt, and while he didn’t want his hat business to end, he certainly wanted the gossip to stop so that his mother could quit fretting what other people spoke of them. Besides, he had already received so many hats from the hickory, it would be greedy to want more. On top of that, the kids at school were becoming nasty to him, repeating the harsh words of their parents.

Looking back on this decision in adulthood, Rodney often wonders if there had been another way. At the time, it seemed like the easiest and quickest solution, but now he wonders if they should have stood their ground firmer, asserted their right to the tree. He never fully explained his theory to anyone except Benny, but Rodney had long suspected that his special Snoopy hat had been the seed to mesh with the tree, that the hickory merged with the cap and enveloped it into its very genes. If this were the case, then the hickory hats rightfully belonged to Rodney, who had bought the Snoopy hat—or James, just because he was technically the person to throw it to the tree.

Regardless of this, Rodney came to his mother one evening and proposed his idea to cut down the tree. His lip trembled as he spoke it, a sadness tugging at his chest, but he felt it was the best way to amend this mess and right their problems. While his mother, touched, felt it wasn’t necessary to resort to that, the following week brought vandals to their hickory, and seeing hateful words spray-painted in her yard scorning her family, that was the final straw.

Within another week, a maintenance crew appeared at their house with chainsaws and a lift. The boys were all at school that day, and by the time they arrived back home, the tree that used to loom behind their house as an escape from reality and a soft spot of shade was just an empty patch of sky above an oozing stump.

It was interesting, how little yet how much changed for their family after this tree was cut.

——————————

Stopped on the side of the road, now, Rodney relives these memories in a flash. Camille, who only vaguely knows of the hat hickory, doesn’t understand why Rodney has stopped the car so suddenly.

“Rod! Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?” she asks, turning to check on their baby daughter, who is looking around bug-eyed from her car seat. Camille then turns and follows Rodney’s gaze to the tree, struggling to piece it together with an obscure fact of Rodney’s history, some detail he had mentioned at the beginning of their relationship, which she remembered as if he had told her of a dream he once had…

“It’s a hat hickory,” he says, the explanation which is enough for him but not nearly enough for her.

“What?” Camille asks, frustrated, and her hoop earrings wiggle with each movement. “You mean that dream you had?”

Rodney shakes his head distractedly, promising to tell Camille all about it later. For now, he is lost in his moment, staring out through the windshield of his SUV. He has heard that plants are resilient, trees are amazing, but this? An offspring of his once-hat hickory, in its own adolescent, decades after he sacrificed his own dear tree? With this realization of kinship, he realizes himself, the dreamer and entrepreneur he has always been, the clever child with a smart tongue, and the son of his unrelenting and loving mother.

Like a landslide, an epiphany shifts his thoughts. Suddenly he is realizing how long it has been since he’s seen his mother and her new husband at their new house. That he stopped calling Terrence to check in on him in New York. That he hasn’t heard from Benny in years. That James might be going through a rough patch with his own divorce. That Rodney feels like he can’t be himself at his job, and moreover, loathes the work he does and his uppity co-workers.

These thoughts, which would have seemed so depressing and hopeless to him ten minutes ago, in light of this new tree, excite him. Growing doesn’t always mean starting over, and growth sometimes lays dormant for years before it blossoms. All the moments he’s thought he’s lost himself over the years he wasn’t actually lost, just dormant. Biding his time.

“Rodney? Is everything okay?” he hears Camille pleading, her soft hand on his forearm.

“Yes,” he assures her, marrying his daydreams with his surroundings. He thinks that he understands now, and takes a deep breath, glancing at his wife, whose beautiful face shines in the sunlight of the day. He smiles, placing his newfound hope inside her deep brown irises. With a final glance around the neighborhood he grew up in, the grassy yards and half-maintained houses, and the young hat hickory growing with vigor, he puts the car back into Drive and apologizes, making a promise to himself to start wearing baseball caps again.


For more stories by Brittany Cole on Slanted Spines, visit the Stories page.

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