The Magic Hat

The first time Allison found the magical hat, she was six. She had clambered up to the attic when her mother wasn’t looking, and she climbed over boxes and ducked under old furniture until she happened upon it. It was hanging off the edge of the cabinet that had hidden in the attic from before they bought the house, and it was beautiful. Fuchsia, wide-brimmed and velvety, with a profusion of fake flowers and a spray of feathers.

Allison tugged on it and set it squarely upon her head. She was most surprised when she looked down and she had disappeared. She tested it – walked downstairs, where her mother was cooking dinner, and outside. She only stopped herself from walking across the street, since the cars probably wouldn’t stop for an invisible girl. After an hour of watching quietly as her mother diced, chopped, stirred and leaned on the counter watching television, she took the hat upstairs and laid it gently back on the cabinet corner.

She used the magic hat sparingly. Perhaps she already sensed somehow that she had to keep from using up all the magic in it. When Allison was eight, she remembered it was there and she spent a half hour rearranging the desk and ten minutes moving her mother’s coffee mug around the kitchen. She carried a pen past her father and watched him crinkle his forehead and stare at the patch of air where a pen had just floated merrily by.

When she was ten, she walked into the kitchen and listened for twenty minutes to her parents having a conversations she was sure she wasn’t meant to hear. When she was eleven, she hid an entire package of cookies in her room. Just after she turned thirteen, she learned to juggle and watched the mirror in fascination as little plastic balls flung themselves into the air to bob up again. At fourteen Allison snuck out of the house, hid the hat under the rhododendron book, and slipped into a waiting car. When she was fifteen, she walked downstairs and her mother said, “Hey, sweetie. Where did you find that ridiculous hat?”

The magic of the hat was over, she concluded. She put it under her bed, but she remembered it when she moved. Allison kept the magic hat – just in case, she thought.


A Passover Seder (according to a nine-year-old)

English: Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIX...

English: Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIXth century. Русский: Празднование Песаха. Лубок XIX века. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It seemed to stretch on forever. They were all moving now, leaning forward and swinging a little finger from glass to plate in a hypnotic, swaying motion. Hannah dabbed her finger on her plate and then put it in her mouth, sucking off the grape juice and holding the tart sweet flavor on her tongue. She was sweeping her pinky back across the surface of her juice when she caught a sharp look from her mother, and hastily poked the purple drops onto the plate instead.

It wasn’t even her turn to read for another few paragraphs, so she read on. Uncle Teddy was still droning about the babies in the reeds and all the dead little Jewish boys and the Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses’ sneaky sister. Hannah was bored. She knew the story already, so she skimmed the whole rest of the page, and then the next. Moses grew up, he killed someone, he herded sheep and saved the slaves, God made Pharaoh mean and then killed a whole bunch of kids, they all end up even. She knew it already, and she (quietly, so nobody would notice) flipped over another page so that she could read more.

The words of “Dayenu” were lovely and familiar. If God had brought them out of Egypt, but nothing more, it would have been enough. If he had done the plagues, but nothing more, it would have been enough. If he had killed the Egyptian firstborn, but nothing more, it would have been enough – Hannah thought that she actually might have preferred the rescue without the deaths of so many children, but God wasn’t as nice as she was.

Her mother was looking at her again – the whole table was looking at her. “Joey’s younger!” she said. He was only six, and she hadn’t been supposed to sing the Four Questions for years now.

“No,” her mom said patiently. “Your turn, sweetie. To read, it’s page eighteen and the third paragraph down.”

“Oh.” She flushed and shuffled pages, and read. Her paragraph was short, and then Joey read. His piping voice was so annoying, thought Hannah, and he definitely didn’t really lisp anymore. He only did because he knew it was cute. She never did stupid stuff like that when she was little, and she was almost ten now so she was too old to be cute anyway.

She turned pages again, giving the rows of text a bitter stare. They hadn’t even gotten to the wise and wicked children, which was her favorite part. It was going to be forever before they got to eat.


A Goldfish

The shrill song of a child’s voice cuts through the air, but only for a moment. It’s lost in the muddle of screams and yells, punctuated with electronic beeps and trills. The fairground is busy in late afternoon when the sunlight sweeps across the crowd, and there are people pushing and dragging one another in a jumble of elbows and shouting mouths. The child is still pointing, tugging at her father’s pant leg. There’s a game with the prizes swimming out front, in a tank with a stack of plastic bags draped over the side.

It’s one of those games where the player has to toss rings so that they land around the neck of the bottle, catching onto it and whirling like a dancer swinging in circles until they settle peacefully against the glass. Her father still isn’t paying attention, because her mother is speaking. But they are talking about boring grown-up parent things, and she wants a goldfish now. She raises her voice as high as it will go, and shouts for a long breath. Her father turns and his face is angry, and she quiets and looks contrite at once.

He glares for only a second, and then turns back to the mother. They talk for another minute, while the girl sulks by their knees, alternating longing glances at the fish and deadly narrowed-eyes gazes upward to her parents’ faces. Finally they turn to her, and her father says, “Okay, sweetie, what is it? You need to not shout, it’s loud enough here as it is.”

English: An image of a Common goldfish

Photo credit: Wikipedia

She pulls a frown over her face and snaps at him, “Daddy, I want a fishy. Get me a fishy!”

He sighs, throws a glance at the mother, and crouches next to her to follow her pointing finger, dutifully raised again now that they were looking. He walks over to the booth, casting a baleful look at the girl and her mother as they hang back by the cotton candy – No, she’s heard already. No more sugar. Absolutely not.

He doesn’t get it the first time, but at the threat of a wail he uncrumples another dollar and hurls out the plastic rings again. Once more, and he wins, but the prize – the booth owner is oblivious – the prize is a stuffed animal. Does she want a turtle or an aardvark?

She shouts. She wants a fish. Her father is explaining now, shamefaced, to the man running the game, who peers over at the girl. She gives him her best big-eyed frowny-face until he relents, his shoulders slumping in defeat. The grown-ups are simply powerless against the frowny-face.

Finally the day is over. Her parents are stifling yawns against the backs of their hands, clutching the empty soda cans and cotton candy cones. She’s holding onto the plastic bag so tightly that there will be creases in her pudgy fingers when she lets go. The bag bulges around the water in it, cradling the fish. It’s a beautiful golden creature, flipping its tail as it turns and staring out with big black eyes. She promptly names it Goldie and grins, pleased with her ingenuity.

She doesn’t notice, swinging the bag to bounce against her leg, that the plastic is split. The water dribbles down the taut surface, over the gleam to dangle as one pendulous drop until it lets go and splashes against the concrete. The bag is shriveling slowly, and by the time they reach the car it’s only leaking halfheartedly. It droops from her hand, and she flings it to her mother without looking.

When they get home, the fish is swathed in a plastic shroud, flapping feebly and gasping, tiny gills flaring. Both parents huddle to confer, and the father ushers the girl off to bed. In the morning, the mother makes an early-morning errand to the pet store, and the substitute goldfish is swimming in its bowl as if it has always belonged there by the time the girl gets to her bowl of cereal.