The Guy in the Hat

gray dolphin on body of water

Photo by Guillaume Hankenne on Pexels.com

One of the things Mike loved most about the internet was the vast amount of information, on almost any subject, that was just a few clicks away. Browsing Twitter one afternoon, something he found himself doing more frequently these days, Mike found a paper about dolphins’ brains. It wasn’t that he had ever been especially interested in dolphins or their brains, but something made him follow a series of comments and links. With all the time in the world now he was retired and an increasing interest in, well anything that took his fancy, he loved soaking up knowledge on new subjects.

A few minutes later, he found himself staring at a photo of a woman, a Dr Kelly Johnson who was reputed to be one of the world’s experts on these creatures. There was something vaguely familiar about the face that seemed to be smiling directly at him from the screen. She was somewhere in her late forties to early fifties, lightly tanned, with crinkle lines around her eyes. Hair that had once been blond was now greying gracefully and that smile and the tilt of her head, seemed to say ‘Don’t care about problems, life is here to be enjoyed.’ The reading glasses hanging on the gold chain around her neck, clinched the overall effect of a learned and altogether lovely lady.

Where had he seen her before? From the research paper, it was clear that she was American. Mike had not been to the States for years and he couldn’t imagine British waters bringing US academics flocking here to study dolphins. She just looked…so familiar…so attractive. Taking a gulp of coffee, Mike found it was now cold.

His phone buzzed and he was soon distracted by a call about car insurance.

It was months later, searching for an old sweater that caused Mike to find the leak. He hadn’t noticed it at first, as it was in the spare bedroom that rarely got used these days. A trip into the loft quickly revealed the source of the leak and a call to the local plumber had a visit promised for later that same day.

But the biggest surprise came, not from finding the leak (these things are always happening in old houses) but the neatly taped up box he tripped over amongst the rubbish and general junk that had been accumulating up there for years.

Now, settled down in the lounge with the box on the coffee table, he was thrilled to discover it was full of old photos. Most of those Mike had taken over the years he had placed in albums (well, the best ones, anyway) and James and Becky had raided many others. Here were hundreds he had forgotten about. Many of them were of Nicola, before they were married and when James and Becky were young. Wiping a tear from his eye, he gazed at what must have been one of the last photos of Nicola before she died so tragically.

 He was now going to need some more albums! These camera phones were convenient (he used his all the time) but how would all these treasures backed up ‘in the cloud’ survive for the generations to come (let alone the copyright issues). Digging down in the box, he was delighted to find some photos of the trip he, James and Becky had taken the year after Nicola’s death. He hadn’t taken many photos at the time, he was trying to ‘live in the moment’, an uneasy balance between the constant memories of Nicola and the battle of adjusting to life without her. With so many memories of her everywhere in their daily life, a year later, he had decided to take James and Becky to Florida. He had wanted to give them time together before they started that challenging journey through their teenage years. Losing track of the photos had caused him to forget so much of that holiday.

There were a couple taken in Disney World. He recalled James had loved the big rides but Becky had been terrified. A couple of shots of deserted beaches that must have been the ones taken on Sanibel or Captiva islands, & one of Becky pointing to an alligator that was barely visible in the Everglades. There was one of a very crowded Miami Beach which they’d all decided they hated. One photo a waitress had taken of the three of them in a garish diner, showed Becky digging deep into a ginormous ice cream Sunday. Then, a couple of photos of long bridges. ‘Of course!’ Mike remembered, now; they had decided to drive down the Keys.

The last shot was of attractive young lady in a bathing suit, holding out a hoop while a dolphin leapt through.

Mike stared at the photo. It was her! The woman from the internet article. He got up, went into his study, booted up his pc and a few clicks on Google brought up the article he had seen months before. He held his photo next to the screen and compared the two images. They must have been taken at least twenty-five years apart (it was thirty years since their trip). He stared into those laughter-crinkled eyes and then noticed the slender hand, the one touching the reading glasses, her left hand. There was no ring.

Now, a month later, Mike sat in the rented Mustang, parked outside the Dolphin Wildlife Centre. He had remembered every detail of their trip thirty years ago and meeting Kelly Johnson that day. Kelly had looked after James and Becky during their visit and their time in the pool. There had been much laughter over Mike’s hat. Just as they had parked up at Heathrow, the heavens had opened and he had crammed on the beaten up old brown trilby he kept in the car for just such eventualities. So, the trilby travelled with them and steadfastly refusing to buy anything more fashionable, Mike had argued that the trilby made the most perfect sun hat. During their visit to the Centre, Becky & James had enlisted Kelly’s assistance in making endless jokes about Mike’s inappropriate headgear.

Since Nicola’s death, Mike had never remarried. Sure, he’d had flings over the years but there was never anyone he’d met who he could have thought of loving, or living with, let alone marriage. Now, sat outside in the car, Mike wondered about his visit. He’d decided on the spur of the moment to jet off to Florida. Well, he’d not had a proper holiday for years and, hell, he could afford it. As he had done all those years before, he had toured around first. He had revisited some of the places they had spent time at (decided Disney World was worth a miss). However, he had known that he was only delaying the trip down the Keys.

Now, here he was. He’d spent more time on Google and found that Dr Kelly Johnson was a member of the senior team at DWC. He didn’t even know if she worked at this site or if she was away travelling. He had no idea if she would remember him or think him mad, which he was definitely feeling at that moment.

‘Oh, well,’ he reasoned with himself, ‘whenever have you been afraid of making a prat of yourself?’

He left the car, paid his entrance fee and went inside. He thought of asking someone on the staff if Kelly was in that day but decided a coffee was the more urgent need. He knew he was just delaying things. He sat where he could see across to the pool where dolphins frolicked and what he thought was the administration block. A half hour went by and no sign of life came from the office building. Then, a small group of people came out of the door and he could see what appeared to be Kelly, shaking hands and seeing the group off. As she was waving them goodbye, she glanced around, her eyes stopping on Mike for a moment before resuming conversation with the last of the group who had lingered. She then looked across again and he saw she was holding his gaze.

She sauntered across.

‘I remember you!’ Kelly suddenly burst out, ‘Jeez! You’re the guy in the hat!’

As she came nearer, Mike could see a broad smile spreading across her face.

Author: Tony

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