Jason Lawrence Bell
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07-16-19             AUDIO AVAILABLE SOON

Just another day at the beach. Families and friends lounging and swimming and taking their minds off problems in their busy worlds. Henry has just returned from a dip in the ocean and slips under the umbrella into his beach chair. He has spent the summer working on his new book. The ocean air seems to inspire him and the women in tiny swim suits adds a little sexuality to his stories. His environment always influences the nature of his writing.

Henry spent a season in New Orleans and the literary result was about music and its abilities to define race relationships. A year in Canada gave Henry the vision to see the United States from the outside, and his book clarified the difference between how the world sees America, and America sees itself. Henry thought of it as ingesting his surroundings and regurgitating on the page. But the beach wasn’t giving Henry what he wanted. It wasn’t inspiring anything worth keeping. Henry’s iPad had several promising beginnings that led nowhere. Henry needed a new environment.

He picked up his beach equipment and put it in the back of his truck and went for a walk in the small beach town. He saw many outdoor cafes and surf shops. Nothing very interesting. So, he took a side street that had some mom and pop stores. Stores that were run by the owner and usually sold items created by the owner. One store sold long flowing summer dresses. Another sold candle sculptures.

Then he came to the hat store. An elderly man with a full grey beard, round spectacles and a nearly balled head was the only person in the shop. Henry decided to browse because the hats were so unusual. The signed said ‘One of a kind hats, designed for each person individually’. Henry asked the old man how that worked, individual designed. The old man carefully looked Henry over and slowly said, ‘you would be hard to design for because you’re constantly changing. Today’s hat would not fit on you tomorrow.’ Henry thought that was a strange assessment and asked what he meant. The old man simply added, ‘you see yourself as many interchangeable characters. That’s how you create, I guess. Who you truly are is a piece of all of them. You’re a puzzle, that’s never been completely assembled.’

This startled Henry. The old man speaks so matter-of-a-factly. But Henry somehow was in agreement. The old man’s words seem accurate. ‘So how would you design a hat from my personality?’ Asked Henry. ‘You should start with the ‘past life’ hats. That will help you sort it out. In the back of the store with the mirrors.’ The old man pointed to the back corner of the store. Henry tried to ask another question, but the old man stopped him and just pointed to the back. Henry turned and found the area.

There were rows of old hats from different times. There were old caps from past generations, bonnets, military hats from old wars, formal aristocratic hats, lumberjack, carpenters, miners, horseman’s hats. Henry was impressed with the selection. He was drawn to a thick fabric cap. He put it on and walked to a mirror.  There was the cap in the mirror, but the person, the face was not his face. Henry stared in confusion. There was a red-haired freckled man with a thick red beard. He looked like a sturdy working man, but his eyes. His eyes were Henry’s eyes. Henry ears began hearing the story.

The red-haired man’s story. 1723 in Ireland. He’s a wood worker with a long scare on his neck from his time fighting British authorities. Henry stood there for the longest time absorbing every detail of the Irishman. It felt so familiar somehow. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the old man saying the store was closing. Henry would have to come back later.

The next morning when the old man opened his store Henry was waiting. Henry said, ‘I bet you didn’t expect me back so soon.’ The old man replied, ‘you’re no different from the rest. Some even sleep in the door way.’ Henry immediately went back to past life area, but could not find the cap from the day before. Henry asked the old man but he only said, ‘then pick another one.’ Henry’s mind went blank. He only wanted the cap. After a long wait, Henry grabbed the first hat near him.

It was a beret. He placed it on the top of his head. He turned to the mirror. This time he saw a woman with the beret on slightly tilted to the side. This shocked Henry. He didn’t expect a woman. She was petite and looked early twenties. She had a mischievous look on her face that looked familiar to Henry. And her eyes looked like Henry’s. Then he started hearing her story.

She was from a poor Texas family. But she had a flamboyant individualistic personality that would not be suppressed. Henry was really starting to like her until he recognized her. She was Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Henry could see her bloody ending was near.

Henry took off the beret and walked over to the old man. ‘What is happening. Why I am I seeing these people?’ The old man reluctantly responded, ‘only a few specific hats will take you back. Find the hat, find the story. If you believe that there are other realms like heaven or hell, then it’s a short step to believe you have past lives. You decide what you believe of the unknown.’ Then the old man stopped talking, that was all he wanted to say. To Henry that was enough. He spent the next three months in the back of the hat store wearing different hats and writing feverishly. By the ending of summer, he had finished his new book, ‘The lives I have Led.’ Peace