The Man in the Fedora
by Mike Florian
Peter drove to the airport and into the overseas parking lot. He looked around for a luggage cart, but none were close. He usually travelled lightly but this time he had his own stuff as well as the display booth.
He drove the car, a late model German import, around the lot. Almost all of the parking spots were occupied. Kitty-corner from the entrance to the overhead walkway leading into the airport, he saw a cart in the distance. He drove over, stopped beside the cart and with his left hand outstretched he pulled it alongside, albeit slowly, back to the one spot he thought he saw close to the entrance.
A middle-aged woman was walking out into the same lot and slowed, looking at the scene. She smiled. As white-haired Peter cruised by with the luggage cart clattering beside him, she said in a loud voice, “You must have been a difficult child for your mother.” And she kept walking, shaking her head.
* * *
Young Peter, along with his brother Rudi, and a few other boys were playing ball hockey in the street. It was a hot summer day in Montreal. Champagneur Street, in the Outremont area of the city, was on the wrong side of ritzy Mount Royal. A lot of immigrants settled there in the early nineteen-fifties. The area was known for its duplexes and wrought iron staircases, but Peter’s family lived in a triplex, the middle apartment.
Peter was nine years old and Rudi was twelve. Saul, Abe, and Chaim were Rudi’s friends. They tolerated Peter. They let him play goalie. Peter didn’t mind. He liked Saul and his two cousins. They played ball hockey together in the back lane whenever they could. They attended different schools but played together on weekends.
On that hot Saturday, only as hot and muggy as Montreal can get, Peter was taking on a lot of shots. He couldn’t make any saves, and the boys kept coming and coming. Suddenly, he stood up straight and quit playing.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Rudi running up to him.
“OK, go get us some Fudgsicles,” Rudi ordered. “Let’s all chip in,” he yelled to the rest of the boys.
Peter was okay with that. He walked towards the corner, made a right on Van Horne and entered the small grocery store. He bought six of the Fudgsicles. He had a few cents of his own left from his biweekly allowance.
His stepfather, Stefan, gave him $2.50 every two weeks, but only if Peter and Rudi signed a receipt from a receipt book Stefan bought for them earlier. Rudi received $4.50. Peter assumed it was because of the age difference.
Quite often Rudi had to remind Peter about the receipt. If the boys did not have the receipts ready on allowance day, there was no money. Stefan never gave a second chance.
Peter walked back with the Fudgsicles, three in each hand. The flat sticks were fine to hold but the chocolate ice cream was melting fast. By the time he got back to the hockey layout, everything was dripping. Peter gave out the ice creams and held on to one.
“Why didn’t you come back faster?” asked Rudi.
“Yeah,” said Saul. “Mine’s almost gone.”
“Yeah,” said Abe.
With that last “Yeah” Peter had had enough. He was tired of Saul and Abe and Chaim and their weird looking side-curls, he was tired of playing goalie and never having a chance to score, he was tired of Rudi, he was tired of the heat, he was tired of always having to fetch KiK colas and Fudgsicles and he was tired of writing receipts.
He stood up straight and with a great wind up, threw his ice cream at Rudi, holding on to the stick. The melting Fudgicle made a direct trajectory towards his brother’s head. Rudi saw it easily because he knew Peter’s snapping point and ducked. The ice cream kept flying in the air.
A man with a fedora was walking by. He had on a nicely pressed suit, light-coloured. In the heat, his jacket was slung over one forearm and in the other hand he carried a heavy briefcase. Maybe it was full of pamphlets or books but he, too, had enough. He was selling encyclopaedias to a bunch of immigrants and it wasn’t going well. He didn’t know why head office gave him this territory. Today he hadn’t sold one set and he had begun way too early in the morning.
The melting chocolate hit him just right. The dark blob managed to touch the jacket and land on the white shirt above his belt. It also touched his tie. The man was stunned into immobility. The ice cream ran over his belt, down the front of his pants and dripped onto his oxblood-coloured leather shoes.
Rudi started running. The rest of the boys scattered like marbles. Peter turned on his heel and made for their home, just behind Rudi. The man in the fedora came to his senses, dropped his bag and lunged at Peter. He missed the first time but a couple of quick steps and he had him by the arm.
“Where do you live?” he yelled, giving Peter a good shake.
Peter didn’t say a word and turned to see Rudi running up the stairs towards the apartment. The man in the fedora held on to the boy and watched Rudi.
Rudi was yelling, “Ma, don’t kill him. Don’t kill Peter.” The man, now with his clothing and day ruined by the imp in his grasp, quickly followed Rudi up the stairs. Somebody’s gonna pay, he thought.
“Don’t hit him, Ma,” Rudi yelled one more time as he opened the door. “It wasn’t his fault. There’s a guy coming up—”
The man in the ice cream suit lost his fedora as he barged into the apartment. He looked about. Rudi stood beside his mother. The man continued to hold on to nine-year old Peter. The woman, quite beautiful, stood by a couch in the middle of the room.
Glancing to the side, the man could see into a bedroom. There were large, empty wooden orange crates standing up by each side of the bed serving as night stands. A Persian rug lay in the middle of the floor, worn and tattered.
The woman was in the middle of scrubbing the couch. She worked all week cleaning and painting fingers and toes at a beauty shop, and Saturdays were spent cleaning the apartment.
The mother, Edith, loved the couch. She gave up a diamond ring for it, having naively bought it from some friends when the family first arrived. They told her it was the going rate for a second-hand couch. Edith was determined to make it last.
The kitchen was just off the living room. A small pull-down table top was up against the wall. Four wooden chairs sat in the corner. Nothing was cooking on the stove. Everything looked tidy and clean. The man let go of Peter. The boy stood there.
Edith looked up, her brow wet with perspiration, her hands red and soapy. “I’ll pay for the cleaning,” she said with a heavy accent. “I’m sorry.”
The man looked about one more time. “Ah, never mind,” he said. “Forget it.” Disgusted, he picked his fedora up off the floor and walked away, down the stairs.
Edith gave Peter a nasty look. There’s going to be hell to pay, he thought, when Stefan gets home from work tonight.
* * *
Peter smiled at the woman in the parking lot. He didn’t have a comeback. When he finally wanted to claim his innocence, she was gone.
Copyright © 2015 by Mike Florian