The Man in The Black Fedora

“Happy Hour” Painted by Traci Dalton

It was the night of my twenty first birthday.  Not content this time to spend another Saturday evening absent mindedly watching my pitiful hand-me-down TV, complete with rabbit ears, in my flat, I reluctantly agreed to a night of drinks and mingling with my former suite mates Collette and Petra.

So here I was then.  Freshly twenty one sitting on a bar stool at Philospher’s Jazz, a swanky uptown restaurant and bar known for its good food and live jazz bands on the weekend.

Only two weeks ago I’d turned my tassel and received my sheepskin from Wellesley.  Fresh out of Ivyville, I finally had my liberal arts degree in Anthropology after spending four grueling years to finish.   So here I sat with no job or job prospects and no prior history or possibility of a single relationship with a male.  At twenty one, all I had were my two loose friends that abandoned me four seconds after we walked in.

Fine then!  I ordered a 7 and 7.  My first, but I tried to look like it was habit.  I drank it fairly quickly, and then realized my dilemma.  Inexperienced at drinking and everything else for that matter, I could not continue at this pace or I’d be out cold on the floor in under an hour.  I contemplated ordering a hydrogen bomb—on the rocks, please!  Yes, water is what I needed now.

Then I saw him!

Six heads away to my right, he was seated and slightly hunched over putting down the last of what I assumed was a scotch.  He was wearing a black felt fedora wrapped by a wide band of red silk.  A single black and white dotted peacock feather was tucked inside the band.

Fabulous I thought.  I tried to turn my head before he could look up and glance at me.  Too late!  In a flash, he looked to his left and instantly our eyes locked.  Three of them did anyway.  His right eye was concealed by a black patch but his visible left eye was the darkest truest brown I’d ever seen.  Despite the dimness of the bar, it was unmistakable.

I felt a chill of what exactly is this run through me.  He was lean and tall and was wearing a dark gray Italian silk suit that was clearly custom made for him.

I raised my hand, “Bartender, I’ll have a…” “Dance with me,” I heard a voice say as a strong hand grabbed my wrist and put my hand down.  How had he transported himself to me so quickly?  Please I thought don’t do this.  Not tonight.  Not on my birthday.   He was not like the nerdish college clowns and cheating husbands that were everywhere else hoping to get lucky with random strangers or secret loves.   No, this one was a fish out of water and did not belong here.  I wanted no part of it.

“Uh, I have two left feet; I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” I replied.  My objection was overruled.  I was suddenly being pulled towards the floor.  “Ah, they’re playing our song,” he whispered in my ear, “Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango.”  Feeling less than inadequate by now, all I could do was take hold of his hands and stare into his deep brown eye and patch.  I began memorizing every feature of his tannish face.   After all I was a bona fide anthropologist now; it was my job to get to the root of people.

He pulled me in close to his chest and leaned his chin close to my left ear.  “You,” he said with a low accent peppered in Spanish, “are exquisitely beautiful.”  Boom!  In an instant he had pushed me out and away from him, leaving me almost orphaned, save for my hands still holding his as if he were my lifeline.    How much time had passed?  Ten seconds?  Twenty?

In, out, left, right he pulled me.  Whose feet are these?  They couldn’t be mine.  I was dancing, but not of my own volition.  He spun me, and alternated pushing me out and pulling me back in.  Each time he whispered something profound in my ear.  His voice was low and smooth, and he hooked me deeper into whatever trap he was setting with each turn and quiet whisper.

I was no longer bound by earth’s gravity; instead an invisible string kept me connected to this man of mystery and also from making an utter fool of myself on the floor.  He exuded a heat that startled me and made me nervous, but he kept me moving so that I wouldn’t be paralyzed by this fear.  Thirty seconds, maybe forty now had passed.  Maybe even a minute, I lost track.

He pulled me close to his right side and this time it was my left ear as he paused and whispered this:  “I envy the man whose destiny is to plant his lineage here” and like a whisper he put his right hand on the flatness of my belly.  Out he thrust me again!

Who are you I didn’t dare ask.  Who even speaks like this?  That eye, the fedora cocked just so, almost obscuring the patch.  Who calculates their appearance to such degree?

“What do you do?”  I asked lamely.

I fly all over the world from corporation to corporation.”

“Doing what?”

“Consulting,” is all he said.  I’m sure he was probably a ringless married man or some other Casa Nova, but he was good I tell you.  I’m not a gullible person.  I spent the last five years turning down almost lawyers, physicists, astronomers, and neurosurgeons.  Pedigrees don’t impress me.  Hell my own, or the process of it, began boring me two years ago.

Suddenly, I found myself wanting something more.  I did want excitement in my life.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my weekends reading Jane Austen, or the New York Times, petting my adopted cats Lemon and Lime.    For the first time, I wanted a man.  I wanted this man.

The tango was winding down.  Laughter and smoke and couples behaving discreetly and singles mingling loudly surrounded us, but my awareness of it all was minimal.

I’d always dismissed my girlfriends who spoke of love at first sight as kooky.  Disturbed and kooky twits.    This is not possible.  You can’t just fall.  Yet here I was, me, an exquisite beautiful dancer with the man in the Italian silk suit and black fedora.  I’m either dreaming or in a parallel universe.

The music stopped.  He turned me a half-turn.  I acutely felt the openness of my backless dress against the heat of his chest.  “Close your eyes,” he whispered and then softly kissed my right shoulder.   I did as I was commanded.  I felt the softest of silk being tied around my eyes.  Classic, I thought.

“Hold out your hands” he said and he let go of mine, “behind your back.”  Okay.   The nervousness was near full on shakes now.  My right ear again felt the breath of his whisper.  “Now close your eyes and count to ten…..slowly.”

I felt what seemed like a thornless rose being softly placed in my hand.  “Slowly,” I heard his voice a little further out.

“One.   Two.   Three…..”  I counted as slowly as I could.   Another jazz song began to play.  I heard the brush on the crash symbol and the dripping melody of a piano, and an accordion—in and out, in and out.  “Eight.  Nine….”

Then I heard an unmistakably horrible sound outside.  Pop.  Pop-pop.  Pop.   Sirens ensued.  Impossible I thought.  Only in the movies, does something so surreal happen.  I quickly ripped off the silken hanky as I pulled the gift placed in my hands in front of me.     People were still laughing.  No one made their way outside.  Everything was left the same. 

       I was holding a rose.  A black rose with a white ribbon wrapped up the stem like a candy cane’s stripe.  At the base of the black beauty, a platinum ring was encircled.  In the middle was a diamond.  It had to be at least two carats—at least!  What?!!!!!!!  

     I pushed the ring over my left finger for safekeeping.  My head was spinning and my heart was pounding.  Everything was happening at once.

     Within seconds of the piercing popping sound I ran towards the heavy oak and glass doors.  I looked outside.  Nothing.  No sirens now.  Only a foggy mist loomed.  It was hot and steamy and late enough that new patrons had quit coming in.  A lone semi whizzed by.  After it passed, I noticed something in the road.  I thought it might be an animal.

Quickly I looked left, then right.  The coast was clear.  In a reflexive response to save the wounded and a futile attempt to find the vanished, I ran to the middle of the road.  It was the black fedora.  And that was all.

I picked it up and looked at the top and then the inside.  Then I saw it.  There was a message written on the silver satin lining in what I assume was black sharpie.  In beautiful script, were three words:

Wait for me

I ran back into the bar.  I found my sleazy friends.    I was nearly out of breath.

“Have you seen him?” was all I managed to get out.

“Who?” demanded Petra.

“The guy I was with!  The guy with the black fedora!”

“What have you been drinking?” was all stupid Collette managed to say.

“Didn’t you see us dancing?  The tall man in the Italian silk suit and the black Fedora?  Come on.  How could you have missed it?”  Chuckles slipped from both of them.

“Look!  He gave me this! I showed them my left hand.  I thrust out the Fedora in my right hand.”

“SHUT UP!” Petra said.  “No way,” Collette said simultaneously.

That was seven years ago.   I spent the next four years waiting and drinking at Philospher’s for my ghost husband to return to me.  He never did.   Finally, three years ago, a friend of one of my professors at Wellesley contacted me about an expedition to Cape Verde off the western coast of Africa.   It was time to move on.  I couldn’t wait forever.  My parents were past tired of subsidizing me and I was getting tired of trying to comprehend what happened in the span of a single dance.

I’ve spent the last three years with dirt under my fingernails, sometimes nearly blinded when the sun hits my diamond just right, as I try to unearth the secrets of the ancient Phoenicians who discovered these volcanic islands.  I’ve fed the grateful mouths of hungry children with bloated bellies.  I’ve published articles and pictures in the National Geographic.  At twenty eight, I’m what some would call successful.  I’m professional.  I look good in khaki and reasonable without any make up on.

Sometimes I lie in my cot under an African sky with my black fedora covering my tired eyes and I can almost hear smooth jazz a continent away.   I wait.  I wait and I wait and I wait.  I still pine and wait for my ghost husband to find me somehow.  I wait for him to return to claim his black fedora and carry me home.

Suggested Listening:  Astor Piazzolla – Libertango