She sensed when he’d show up. She’d turn her head and look out the window. There he’d be 3 floors down in the parking lot. The man in the hat.
Tall, almost lanky. Black hat – she wasn’t sure the term – Boiler? Brimmed? Felt? Always. Sometimes with a vest. Sometimes a leather jacket. White guy. Indiscriminate age, maybe 28 or 43. Not as old as she was. Not young enough to be self-conscious.
On him the hat worked. For her. There was something about his gait. Self-assured. Never in a rush. Going somewhere. He looked like he could time travel, be comfortable anywhere. The kind of guy who could wear an “I heart my cat” shirt without an ounce of irony or stroll to a piano bar in a dusty western town. He’d need a wider brimmed hat for that.
She wondered where he worked. She realized she was unaware of what the other companies in the building were or did.
She never saw him at the food trucks. She hated the elevator; he struck her as a take-the-stairs guy. She liked the familiarity of the mystery of him a few times a week. Possibility in the guise of routine.
One day she was walking down the stairwell. There he was – she had been right. Up close, she still liked his face. Light eyes. Pale. Maybe intelligent. Short dark hair, at least what she could see around the hat. Could be a banker if he swapped jeans for a suit.
“I like your hat.”
Nice smile, “thanks.”
“Goes with anything; in this climate, you could wear it in any season.”
He agreed then described his summer hat. Made eye contact. Then held the door.
She paused. Almost held out her hand. Introduced herself.
Maybe it would have been what her former father‑in‑law used to call “the Greatest Love Story of All Time.”
Maybe she would have made a new friend.
Maybe they would have grabbed a cup of coffee or a beer.
Maybe they would have talked about cats.
Or ended up naked and sweaty tangled in bed sheets.
Maybe, naked, he would’ve let her try on that hat.
Most likely none of that would happen.
She had good American life by any standard; in her routine she didn’t have was much that was interesting.
And the man in the hat, he was something to ponder.
What if under that hat was a wispy, greying, middle-aged comb-over? What if the intelligence in his eyes was anxiety? What if he was just another IT cog who played golf, drank too much on the weekends, and watched sitcoms after work?
She liked speculating about the man in the hat.
She did not hold out her hand or ask his name.
Instead, she walked through the open door, cold reality making way for fantasy: “thank you. Good night.”
She did not wait for his response, for him to catch up, share details about his life, and maybe walk with her to her car.
Tara Hun-Dorris, a West Virginia native, lives in Raleigh, NC.