Maggie’s Hat by Julia Bruce

The sun, peeking over the heath, illuminates the bedroom where Denis lingers in the sweet interlude between the bliss of slumber and the harsh reality of day. He’d been dreaming of Maggie again: her alabaster skin, her indigo eyes, her slightly crooked front tooth that  embarrassed her but delighted Denis. In his dream, they were strolling hand in hand down the cobblestone roadway, headed to Callahan’s for dinner. 

Denis can’t remember the last meal that he and Maggie had eaten at Callahan’s or recall the last time they’d taken a walk together.  But, most troubling, his mind can’t conjure up the sensation of holding her hand.

He rubs his own meaty paw across the three-day stubble on his chin as he swings his bare feet onto the cold floorboards. He pulls on his robe and turns to make the bed. His half is a tangle of sheets and blankets, Maggie’s side is pristine and neatly tucked in. 

It’s been a month since she passed, yet it still comes as a shock each morning.

He shuffles to the kitchen to make a cuppa to shake the chill. Setting the kettle to boil, he reaches up to the Barry’s tea tin above the range. It feels too light. He gives the tin a shake. Silence. He’s out of tea bags.

Maggie always bought the tea. 

Denis sighs and sinks into a kitchen chair. A solidness wells up inside of him. The dam breaks, releasing a torrent of pain and loss.

Denis hadn’t cried when the doctor called with the test results. He’d held her close and assured her everything would be fine. He’d stayed strong while helping her shower, her body frail from chemo. He hadn’t broken down calling  911 when Maggie couldn’t breathe. His eyes had remained dry as he walked out of the hospital with all he had left of her: a plastic bag containing her clothing and purse. He hadn’t shed one tear sitting in the hard pew of St. Brendan’s Church as person after person laid their hand on his shoulder, saying they were so, so sorry. The second “so” had nearly got him each time.

It seems foolish that something this trivial would be his undoing: teabags. But now, alone in his kitchen, he sobs as he stares at the empty tea tin. 

He and Maggie had been married 52 years; more years of their lives together than apart. He isn’t sure how he is supposed to do this: to live without her. 

After a few minutes, the tears recede. 

Denis gets dressed, intending to head to Seamus’ Sconery for his tea. A biting spring breeze accosts him when he pulls the door open. Denis pivots, reaching for his cap on the wall peg by the door, but it’s gone. 

The only hat is Maggie’s royal blue beret; the last thing she knitted, in anticipation of her bald head. Denis hesitates briefly; the wind howls behind him. He grabs Maggie’s hat, pulling it on as he starts down the dirt road that takes him towards town.

He hears Maggie’s voice.

I can’t believe you’re going to pay 3 shillings for a cuppa. You can buy a whole tin of tea for that price.

Denis looks over his shoulder, but no one’s there. He swallows and speaks aloud, “Maggie?”

You’re goin’ to tell me you deserve a tea at Seamus’? Play the widower card?

Denis gasps. He must’ve tipped the Jamison too much last night. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts. 

Don’t you be making eyes at Bridgette Magee whilst you’re there. She’s too young for you.

“Maggie? Are you there?” Denis calls out. He looks up to the slate sky and Maggie’s hat slides off his head, landing softly on the ground. 

“Everything ok, Denis?” says a male voice.

Denis whips around and comes face to face with Father Donnelly.

“Mornin’, Father. Everything’s fine.” Denis answers. “Did you just hear someone talking?”

“Can’t say I did,” says Father Donnelly. “You dropped your hat though.” The priest gestures to the ground with a quizzical look on his face. 

Denis picks up Maggie’s hat and stuffs it in his pocket. He hurries home; the tea forgotten. He locks the door and pulls the curtains closed. A chill courses through him so he sits near the fireplace. He holds Maggie’s hat and eyes it suspiciously. His hands shake as he places it back on his head. 

You need to start taking care of yerself Denis. 

Denis leaps out of the chair. He pulls the hat off. He strides over to the cabinet and, even though it’s only 10 in the morning, pours himself a shot of whiskey. The alcohol burns as he swallows. 

Emboldened by the liquid courage, he replaces the hat. 

You can’t be expecting the village ladies to cook for you forever.  Make a list of groceries: a  tin of tea, eggs, milk. And get potatoes, leeks and broth to make soup. Soup is good for the soul. Go to Kingsman Market, they’ve the best prices.

Reverently, he places the hat on the table. He pulls on his coat again and heads to the market.

When he returns home, he lays out the ingredients on the counter but isn’t quite sure how to start. The leeks look rather intimidating.

Denis eyes Maggie’s hat. He places it on his head.

First you need to clean the leeks. Slice them the long way and fan them under running water to get out all the dirt.

While the soup simmers, Denis takes a shower and shaves. The comforting starchy aroma of potatoes envelops him as he returns to the kitchen. He pours himself a glass of wine, lights the taper candles and sits down to enjoy his soup. He hesitates, the spoon halfway to his waiting mouth. Rising from the table, he retrieves another wine glass from the cupboard. He sets Maggie’s hat atop still damp head.

I was wondering if you were going to pour me a glass.

 Julia Bruce lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, and one-eyed rescue dog. She often writes stories in her head during long runs past the horse farms near her house. Her work has appeared in The New York Times – Tiny Love Stories, HerStry, and 101 Words. 

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