Black Hat

by Rita Leydon ©1996
 

Once upon a time, many years ago, there lived a royal Princess who loved a common Laborer. Her Lithe Laborer’s after hours passion was dancing in the company of his good friends. The Princess was enchanted with the joyous melodies, rhythms and colors that the earthy common folk enjoyed together. The dignified royal lifestyle she was accustomed to offered nothing like it. She had a special fondness for a feisty gnome, Black Hat, who always came along for the dancing. Papa King put his foot into the works when he saw how inappropriately happy his daughter was in this obviously uncensored company. She was his Princess and she must, after all, fulfill his dreams as she couldn't possibly have any suitable dreams of her own.

The Princess obeyed Papa King because she was still young and inexperienced. She put the Lithe Laborer and the joyous dancing into a safe and secure corner of her troubled heart. Papa King was relieved to have averted domestic disaster in his Kingdom.

The Princess occupied herself with painting beautiful pictures. She painted sweet memories of fiddlers, dancers and celebration in the countryside. When she wasn’t painting, she gazed out her window and pondered the blue sky.

One day she heard a new sound. It was an airplane! A beautiful red and white biplane was putting on an aerobatics show outside the window. The Princess saw freedom and adventure. She had to meet the Dashing Pilot who flew so beautifully. Hopping on her bicycle, she flew over to Kingdom Aerodrome in search of the red and white plane she had seen. There she found both plane and the Dashing Pilot who soon became her confidant and teacher. The Princess yearned to learn to fly such a plane herself and she quickly mastered the art. She relished the control and freedom she felt high in the sky. She discovered that she had inner resources of courage, strength and fearlessness. This delighted her. Her delight extended to the Dashing Pilot who became her lover. It was a lovely and happy time. Then one day ominous storm clouds gathered on the horizon, rolled in and claimed her Dashing Pilot. In an instant, everything changed forever.

Once again, the Princess occupied herself with painting beautiful pictures. She painted skyscapes and personal interpretations of the mosaic landscape she had observed during her many flights of freedom. Her landscapes honored no arbitrary physical divisions or borders. The Princess felt a delicious sense of ownership in her budding convictions. She was becoming stronger and finding her own way. She was acquiring a sense of unity and solidarity with others. She was gaining experiences. This was her legacy from the Dashing Pilot who now winked at her from the heavens.Her observations and convictions clashed with Papa King’s claims and rantings. Papa King saw things differently. She said nothing, simply placed her convictions safely in her heart.

When she wasn’t painting, she gazed out her window and pondered the clear blue sky. The Princess felt very alone. She looked and listened for clues to find who she was and what her place in this confusing Kingdom might be. Papa King’s countenance loomed overhead ready to correct her if she strayed too far afield from his unspoken expectations. She feared him and yet was devoted to him. Princess was emotionally empty. Sweet childhood had been simpler and happier. Papa King’s hand in her every action had felt right then, but now she felt differently. Now the hand seemed intrusive and oppressive. The germ of her female self had been quickened and stirred. Her mind enjoyed many its hours of free ponderings. Her creative juices flowed in gushing torrents and her paintings were beautiful and haunting. She felt on the verge of something big.

But it wasn’t time yet. Papa King’s hold was still too strong. Being desirous of harmony and peace, the Princess felt there must be a way to appease both herself and Papa King. Her heart ached for the sweet companionship of a Lover. She had discovered that with a Lover by her side, all things seemed possible and the future was an exciting and inviting place. She had tasted this wondrous sweet wine twice, yet she was still alone.

One day she heard a new sound. Rushing to her window, she saw great clouds of dust rising from the lane that ran along the castle and on to the sea beyond. Just ahead of that whirling dust was a moving machine making a most great racket as it meandered stutteringly forward and disappeared from view. Instantly alert, Princess grabbed her bicycle and raced off in pursuit of this decidedly delectable intrusion which had disturbed her peace and contemplation. She was a racy Princess who liked fast action and first hand experiences. Down by the rocky shore she came upon a lovely piercing blue racing automobile. A lusty thoroughbred—it was a rhythmic assemblage of spoked wheels, taut louvered skin, lacing wire by the yard and gleaming brass details. A rustic and angular fellow in cowboy boots sat nearby inhaling a sandwich. He appeared to be contemplating as the grey sea smashed itself to bits upon the slippery black rocks below.

“What is that?” she gasped.

“My Bugatti,” came the dry reply “isn’t she sweet?”

Cowboy Boots hailed from New Mexico in America. He looked like Mister Perfect. Cute upper lip, lean and brilliant. His passion was sporty and fast automobiles and his credentials said “engineer.” Papa King approved and Princess was soon married off to Boots. Papa’s expectations for his Princess thus apparently and appropriately fulfilled. At the time of the nuptial festivities, neither Princess nor Boots were mature enough for their hasty union, however they didn’t know this yet. About that same time, a minuscule wisp of a cloud began to form on the distant horizon. That cloud grew and drifted imperceptibly toward the happy couple for a full score years before its heavy shadow eventually delivered a burden to Boots and Princess.

Princess thought she was happy. She painted beautiful pictures and gazed at her constant blue sky. Boots thought he was happy. He worked hard to please his young bride and to become a great success. Day followed day and after enough days two sons had been born to the couple. Princess was fully occupied mothering, diapering and hanging planets from the ceiling with thumbtacks. Cowboy Boots had all he could handle with automotive handholding and mechanical misdemeanors. He was forever knee deep in parts and loose pieces from various Bugattis, elegant tulipwood Hispano Suissas with splinter problems, or this or that boat tail racer in need of a tweaking. Boots’ skill and knowledge was in such demand that before long he had no time for himself or his family and they felt him slip away as his brilliant career consumed him. It happened gradually and the boys had grown into fine young men by that time.

Princess, once again, felt terribly lonely. Boots had become an empty shell and she didn’t feel much love for him any more. He was visible, but he wasn’t present. Princess was older, and life had dealt her many experiences. She didn’t paint beautiful pictures any more, for the creative part of her had dried up. But she did gaze out her window and ponder the blue sky.

One day she felt a new sensation. It was a tug from deep inside her heart. Looking within, she recognized old memories hidden for a long time. Seeing her sweet remnants illumined thus by the light of day caused her to wonder how life might have been different. What if she had felt ownership of her own destiny all those years ago when these remnants were not yet memories. Princess wondered if she had ownership of her personal destiny now? How old did she have to become to be allowed to decide for herself without worry about the opinions others might have? To be free of fear and reprisals or condemnation? These were not easy questions. Princess knew that she was unhappy and she knew that Boots was unhappy. Boots couldn’t reach the heart of his Princess any more. The distance between them had become so great that they could only suffer in silence side by side.

One of the remnants that Princess found in her heart was the joy she had felt while dancing to the lovely melodies, rhythms and colors so long ago. She wanted to return to that joy, be immersed once again in that magic. Cowboy Boots knew nothing of this long guarded desire of his Princess and was a bit confused. But he was an easy going fellow, eager for a challenge and some foot stomping fun with his gal. He also loved her and wanted to please her. So they found out where there was dancing and they went. Again and again. Boots and Princess danced up a storm, as if life itself depended upon it. They danced every chance they had and became very skilled—but this was all they did together. Other parts of their “perfect” life didn’t exist any more. Princess lost her way as a great sad darkness settled over their household. From horizon to horizon, an oppressive and persistent dark cloud fully obscured the blue sky.

One fine day Princess gathered all her courage and did something extraordinary. She listened deeply to her heart and acted on the song she heard. The song said she needed to be away from all the people who owned a piece of her, all the people who loved her. She needed to be away and on her own for a while. It was time for Princess to discover who she was and what her purpose was. She knew she was milked dry, fully empty with nothing left to give. All her years had gone by as this one’s daughter, that one’s lover, someone’s friend, another’s wife and lastly a twosome’s mother. Never a time to know and tend to herself. Never a chance to decide that which affected her own destiny. A great and passionate protest swelled in Princess. “Enough!” she declared. She thoughtfully hatched a plan of rebellion against all that which oppressed her, and all that which claimed her.

Calmly she set up in a small cottage by the sea, close enough so that her family could visit, but far enough so she would feel unencumbered by expectations. Papa King tried to exert his influence on her “disappointing behavior.” “Get lost,” she told him. She tried to remember what happiness felt like, but couldn’t quite grasp it. She puttered around in her cottage. She tried painting a bit, but mostly she pondered the clear blue sky suspended over the somber grey Baltic Sea that was her front yard. She flew with the seagulls high above and felt she understood their secrets.

One day she heard a new sound. Rushing to the door and peeking out expectantly she saw a lonesome figure slowly approaching. Melodious tones wafted through the morning mist. As the figure came closer, she noted that it was a somewhat rotund older gentleman attired in a style from another era. He wore blue stockings, big buckled black shoes, yellow leather knee britches with red stocking bands flapping at the knees, and a billowing white sleeved shirt under a trim black vest delicately edged in crimson. Mournful strains fell to the ground from a mouth organ under the big broad brimmed black hat. Black Hat! The gait, that attire, those smiling eyes, the rotund belly, this lovely sad music! Could this be the very same feisty gnome Princess had been so fond of in another time many years gone by? The two exchanged pleasantries and she realized that this was indeed the very same Black Hat. But, oh, how old, stooped and burdened he had become. Princess felt tenderness in her heart and extended a hand in welcome. “Please come in and have some soup. Rest your bones for a while.”

Black Hat was confused by her kindness. His shoulders bore a weighty burden of accumulated sadness and disappointment. Princess sensed that not much human kindness had been wasted on Black Hat. As Black Hat relaxed he got a good look at his kind hostess. He noticed her warmth and radiant beauty. She was the age a daughter would be if he had been so fortunate. Black Hat felt that he knew this stranger and when Princess showed him a few of her treasured memories which she kept in her heart, he knew who she was and felt at home.

With his belly full of good warm soup, Black Hat fell asleep in the cottage by the sea. When he awoke and looked on the woman who had taken him in he knew that he would stay for a while. He felt something else, something utterly wonderful—he felt needed. He wasn’t sure just why, but he had learned to trust his gut feelings. Black Hat was a damaged and sad soul, to be sure, but he had a big heart longing for a chance to love and nurture a fellow human soul just once before his time was up. His heart told him that Princess needed him. And his heart was right.

They lived day by day, these two, giving each other strength and support. Black Hat and Princess were an odd couple, but they were happy together and thrived. You might think Cowboy Boots was wild with rage at the knowledge that his Princess slept in the warm arms of Black Hat these days. But he was not. Boots saw Princess start to come back to life and he was thankful that Black Hat was taking good care of his Princess. In fact the three of them—Princess, Black Hat and Cowboy Boots—regularly stepped out together and kicked up their heels in dance.

Boots still loved Princess, of course, and did wish she’d come home. Sorrow had caused him much discomfort and demand that he grow. Boots knew that his love for Princess was true-blue pure and therefore he had to let her be. Had to let her find her own way. Had to be supportive of her and be her friend, no matter how much it hurt at the moment. And this is what he did.

What about Black Hat? What was his past? What had transpired in the years since Princess had known him at gay and festive country dances? Black Hat had been a seaman and lived with Haughty Hagny, a manipulative and possessive vixen. Hagny had sucked every drop of human dignity and self esteem that had been his; also snatched his independence. The day that brought this sad self wandering past Princess’ cottage had begun with Hagny screaming at Hat once too many times “Get Out! Get Out!” and ended with a friendly smile and good warm soup from a lovely Princess who needed what Black Hat had to give—love, companionship and understanding.

So he stayed. For a while.

And what did they do together, these two lost souls? They focused entirely on each other because each was so parched and starved for affection. They took walks. They listened to opera and read poetry. They danced. They ate popcorn in front of the fire. They cried and laughed together. They got up in the middle of the night and made hot chocolate. They fought and quarreled and kissed and made up. They explored deep recesses of their beings and tried to make sense of life as it had been served to them. She, a privileged Princess and he, an Old Salt of the sea. They tried to learn acceptance and forgiveness of that which is and that which hurts. These two became so close and so intertwined in their needs and support of each other that they sadly realized they must separate or risk burning each other to a crisp. So intense was their time by the sea.

After 120 days and 120 nights, Black Hat told Princess it was time for him to take his leave. He declared that he felt sufficiently feisty, refreshed and replenished to go home and deal with Haughty Hagny. Princess knew Black Hat was filled with righteous anger for the many injustices heaped upon him by Hagny, knew that he needed to vent and forgive.

Not surprisingly, Cowboy Boots and Black Hat had developed a great respect and love for each other during this period. They both loved Princess very much and wanted what was best for her. She knew this. “Princess, you make a new home with Boots, he loves you,” and with that, Black Hat was gone from her.

Once again Princess was alone. She was comfortable in her cottage by the sea and this time the loneliness seemed more like a friend and comforter than a hole needing to be filled. She was much older now and felt herself enveloped in a tranquil calm. Princess had always known that love is the most powerful force in the many Kingdoms of existence. She had loved plenty, always with her full heart, each time with some expectation of happiness that never quite materialized. During her whole life, Princess had searched for happiness through others, thinking she would find it with a Lover or Companion by her side. It never played out that way and she was always disappointed.

Now she was alone, with much to ponder as she gazed out toward the horizon where a turbulent grey sea tirelessly attempted to kiss the turbulent grey sky. She was not yet ready to go anywhere. “Could it be that happiness is something that wells up inside yourself if given a chance?” she thought. “Could it be that I need to love, accept and nourish my very own inner self to feel true happiness?” she wondered. This felt right and true. She realized that heretofore she had nourished only others. Was this what she had felt on the verge of understanding so long ago after she lost her Dashing Pilot? Was this the message of the cloud that silently stalked her and Boots in their old life? It seemed such a simple idea—that happiness comes from tending and nourishing your own soul. This was something big.

Cowboy Boots came to her cottage often. He and Princess talked more than they ever did before and in talking they felt very close. Boots was a new person and felt very good about himself. He had grown and stretched so much that he was almost splitting at the seams! This new and improved Boots looked pretty good to Princess and she began to feel something like love for him again.

Not one to be left behind, Princess had grown by leaps and bounds as well. She had learned to listen to and trust her own heart and its convictions. Learned that happiness comes from your own center and is not dependent on others. She could finally claim ownership of herself. Princess was free to love and reach out to her friends and family from a position of strength rather than from her old position of guilty expectations. She was painting again and every now and then a lovely feeling of happiness popped into her consciousness. Gradually Princess and Boots figured out that they really would like to merge their lives again—but they agreed that it had to be in a new place. It was not simply a matter of Princess “going home,” for there no longer existed a place called home. They had to be patient and wait because it wasn’t time yet.

They heard from Black Hat that Haughty Hagny and he were battling it out. He was actually starting to get some respect from the old bag. She was, after all, his woman and he had feelings for her as you do for someone you are used to. Hagny had been lonely and confused when Hat was gone from her. She was so used to being ugly to Hat that she had no memory of anything unusual having happened. She wasn’t smart enough to figure out that Hat simply needed time to lick his many wounds. Once Hat returned, Hagny focused a vengeful jealousy on Princess which is sure last till the end of time. As for Black Hat, his sojourn with Princess in the cottage by the sea is forevermore simply a sweet memory tucked safely into the tender recesses of an old man’s heart. He and Princess are the only ones who know the full measure of truth and beauty that was theirs for a time.

Princess and Cowboy Boots will probably find a fine new togetherness. They are no longer too young and immature for the union of souls which began when they married an eternity and a half ago.

Will they live happily ever after? Don’t be silly, of course they won’t, but they’ll probably get through whatever comes along with grace because they know themselves and each other so much better these days. They also dance beautifully together—with or without music.

 

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