The Girl With The Rad Top Hat
To Emma, who has fun with newspapers.
And to Alice. I couldn't have faced my hidden places without you.
This is the story of a girl called Lisbeth Montgomery. She lives, like me, in Newtown. It is the 1st of November 2011. We are newly eighteen, living alone, full up with hope. It is 11:06 on a soft grey Saturday. We are about to meet for the first time. My name is Ont. My real name is Patrick Lee.
I'm walking with a mood the colour of asphalt. I've just read the newspaper, and it occurs to me once again that they only print depression, unless you count the new births right at the back among the ads and deaths. Which I don't. I'm mulling this over in my philosophic mind when I see a top hat, attached to a girl, attached to the same newspaper I have in my right hand. She is looking at it and laughing in an impish, I-just-trashed-your-house sort of way. I walk over.
"Um, hi, I was wondering...since this is a newspaper of extreme depressing...ness...ess, what's so funny?" I blurt. I've never been much good at talking to people.
She looks up at me with eyes like melting chocolate and turns the newspaper over. I grin, seeing that she's drawn over the pictures of models and presidents in Magic Marker, decorating them with outlandish moustaches, nerd glasses, and absurd outfits. Some even have speech bubbles protruding from lip-sticked mouths.
"Looks like you're having fun," I mumble, not really sure what to say in the light of discovering a genius.
"I make comics," she says. "Uh, Lisbeth."
I realise this is her name and introduce myself.
"Hi, Lisbeth, that's a nice name, how'd you come by it, it's very unusual if I may say so, Elizabeth is more common, is it a family name? My name is Ont, but that's not my real name, Patrick Lee is my real name, but only girlfriends and teachers call me that-"
I decide to stop talking. As my dad says, 'when you've worked yourself into a hole, stop digging'. Right now I reckon I'm at least six feet deep. I stare ruefully at her, liking what I see. Her red hair curls crazily round her face, giving her a slightly unhinged look, porcelain skin contrasting with her brown eyes. Her mouth is curved into a puckish smile. Her slim form seems tiny on the wide park bench. She's attired in a black top hat, black jeans and a t-shirt proclaiming in Magic Marker, 'SAVE THE DINOSAURS! IT'S NOT TOO LATE!'. Which makes me laugh, because obviously it is. Suddenly her eyes catch mine. My heart sputters as it tries to remember how to keep beating. Absent-mindedly, I notice my digital watch. 11:11. Make a wish, Lee. I pull my own eyes -blue as birds' eggs, my mother used to say- away and blink rapidly, shoving my hands in my pockets. My innards slowly drift downward towards my feet.
"Coffee?" Lisbeth asks softly, and we smile at each other. Today has brought forth a moment of unexpected friendship.
Storm clouds are gathering outside the window as I nurse my coffee with both hands- protecting you from a world of cold. I recall the line I wrote on my failing laptop last night. I write music without any instrument, nor the skill to play one. I can't sing to save my soul.
"So, now you've seen my crazy imaginings," Lisbeth says. "What do you like to do?"
Be with you. The thought pops into my head from nowhere. Already it feels true.
"I write lyrics," I mumble into my coffee cup, caught up in the twinkling of little blue jewels swaying from her ears.
"Do you play anything?" Her expression is honestly interested.
"No. I work in a music store."
"I work in the antique store across the street."
"Old Otto's Gold?"
She nods, making the simple movement beautiful.
"But he doesn't have any actual gold in there, does he?" I ask.
"All that glitters is not gold," she counters. "It means that not everything that looks precious is precious, but it also means that the most important things don't look like much."
She takes another sip of coffee and groans, catching sight of my watch.
"Look at the time! It ran out for the dinos and it's running out for me!" She stands and adjusts her top hat.
"I'll see you again some time, okay?" Her eyes soften. "You could be the most interesting person I've known since Abraham Lincoln."
The shop bell tinkles and she's gone, taking all the magic with her. All at once, this is just a coffee shop, and the place where she was is just a seat.
What did she mean about Abraham Lincoln? I go in a daze to pay the bill, find she's already paid it, and wander out into pounding rain.