keywords: haberdasher bowler key
The Man in the Bowler Hat
Hattie May watched out the window as her husband trudged away down the street, leaning into the frigid February wind. It was snowing sideways, whirling and eddying into doorways. John May was trying to get in some extra work to help them pay the rent, but it was going to be a close thing. This was definitely not the time of year to get evicted, she was thinking. She watched him as he rounded the corner, hair blowing, clutching his thin coat tightly about himself to hold out the wind.
She sighed, then went back to the cranky old stove to try to coax some more heat from the few remaining cinders and clinkers. That was another worrisome expense, but if the coal ran out maybe they could find some crates to break up. Fruit crates were best, when you could find them. Right now, they were close to being out of anything to feed the stove. She heard the baby coughing again in the other room. She feared what might happen if the cough worsened; how could they pay the doctor?
John finally made it to the old warehouse and fought the wind to get inside. Someone inside gave the door a tug to help him. He smiled gratefully, then said, “What a day to be out. I’d rather wait to do this job, but Acey said Mr. Moran was counting on having this truck running today, so here I am, freezing my wrenches off! Now, if I can get that ignition switch replaced, maybe things will go smoothly and I can get out of here.”
Hattie sat at the kitchen table, holding and trying to soothe the sick little boy. He was resting a little better now, maybe he’d go back to sleep. She smiled to herself, thinking of better days. Was it only a year ago she’d gotten married? And, what a fine man she found in John May, gentle and loving. And, he had a trade, a mechanic, no less.
She had seen a bowler hat in the window of the haberdasher shop down the street, she’d love to get it for him so he wouldn’t have to go out bareheaded in this bitterly cold Chicago weather. She wondered how she might get the 75 cents to pay for it. This was 1929, and times were hard.
Back at the warehouse, John finished cutting the new key, and was under the truck to check the ignition wires. He didn’t pay too much attention to the commotion at the door; none of his business.
Suddenly there was shouting, “All you men, get over against that wall! Get that guy from under that truck, get him over here!” The policemen were carrying rifles or maybe shotguns, waving them around. Someone was pulling on his legs, so he came out to see what was happening. They hustled him over to join the other men who were lined up facing the wall, hands in the air. He heard the ominous sounds of cocking guns.
Hattie was standing there, looking down into the shallow grave. Snow was falling faster now and was starting to collect on the bowler hat she had placed on his coffin.
She stifled her sobs and turned away.