It was perfect. Straw, with tiny handmade wicker vegetables tethered to the brim by whispers of yellow ribbon. It had been a vintage store find on the way home from the gym, back when Devon had gone to the gym; when her daughter was young, and her business was booming. Back then she had spent her money freely, acquiring rare and strange treasures - other women’s trash.
Her marriage was withering, her parents were dead, and her daughter wouldn’t need her forever. The hat afforded her a window into the future. Yes! A garden, pruning, weeding, retired then reborn.
“Crazy lady hat,” her daughter, then thirteen, had said when she’d modelled it for her, tiny carrots and cucumbers fringing her view like straw lashes. Devon pulled the hat down low and struck a pose. “It’s hideous. Mom, please promise me you won’t ever wear it in public.”
Devon had tucked the hat it in the back of her closet, where it stayed for a dozen years. She’d told herself she’d wear it to Melanie’s wedding one day, you know, as a joke.
She didn’t of course. Yesterday afternoon, when she’d walked Mel down the aisle at the botanical gardens, she’d worn a pale peach shift and longline coat combo, vintage-inspired but most certainly modern. On her spun sugar Mother-of-the-Bride hair she’d pinned a wide brimmed summer weight hat, with a matching pale peach band.
“You look like Camilla Parker-Bowles,” the makeup artist said, as she blotted her lipstick and the shine from her nose. Devon had smiled weakly, stung by the comparison. She had always pictured herself more of a Diana.
As they stood in the doorway, waiting for the music to begin, Melanie had turned and pulled Devon close, crushing petals, their hearts heavy with love.
There was -of course- the strangeness of modern family photos; the groom’s side with two full sets of parents and 7 children. A complicated counterpoint to the bride’s; Devon, Melanie’s Dad and his new husband, and their luminous daughter.
“Relax,” the wedding-birth-lifestyle photographer had smiled as she pulled Mel from Devon’s side and positioned her between the pillars of fatherhood, “Jesus had two dads, and he turned out all right. Okay? Everybody smile!”
This morning, still shaky from the champagne, Devon made a cup of tea and a piece of toast, the old ladies’ breakfast, she thought and headed back to bed. In the hallway, by the front door, she spied a thick silver envelope. Had someone dropped off a wedding card? She placed her tea and toast on the hall table and picked it up, studying the embossing on the back, The Hecate Foundation. Devon had attended many posh fundraisers but never a Hecate event. She’d heard whispers but had filed them under the category of mostly mythical, like Knights Templar, or the non-surgical facelift.
She opened the envelope. Her presence was requested to mark the Summer Solstice: 3:00 p.m., Saturday, June 21. That’s this afternoon, she thought.
1. Bring a blanket to enjoy a picnic.
2. Wear appropriate footwear for uneven surfaces
3. Discretion is essential.
4. Hats are mandatory.
Devon smiled and prepared for a road trip. Two and a half hours later, she’d arrived. Devon plucked the straw hat from the passenger seat and placed it on her head, pivoting the rear-view mirror for one last look, wondering if the hat was too much. She opened the door and swung her sensibly clad feet to the ground. Devon would normally never attend an event wearing Tevas, but the invitation had been specific. Grabbing her bag, she took a deep breath and headed toward the trailhead, where a handmade sign tied to a larch tree pointed the way.
Devon walked for twenty minutes, seeing no one. When the path choked to a standstill, blocked by thick gorse, she bent down, pushed her bag ahead of her like a shield, and emerged into a sunlight bathed meadow.
Yarrow and foxglove, poppies and buttercups waved in the breeze. Was this the place for a picnic? she wondered.
“So glad you could make it, I love your hat.” The voice was elegant, seductive, strangely familiar.
Devon turned to see Helen Mirren standing behind her, short grey hair, blue eyes, a purple scarf thrown casually over a crisp wide-legged linen pantsuit. Her perfect breasts peeked out from a V neck t-shirt.
“I had a hat like that once! It’s fantastic. I’m Helen, Helen Lydia Mironoff.” She opened her arms gracefully, as if calling in the Universe. “And I’ll be your host.”
Devon shook her surprisingly small hand. “I’m...”
“Curious? Confused? I’m not surprised.” Helen Mirren pointed to a low table set for tea, “shall we?”
They sat cross legged on the long grass, which felt soft on Devon’s bare legs. She had debated wearing shorts, but loved the feeling of the warm sun on her skin.
“You have great legs,” Helen Mirren assured her, and poured from a beautiful silver pot, more a samovar really, into small glasses with ornate silver rims. The tea was hot and strong, slightly bitter. Helen Mirren smiled, “Let’s get started, shall we?”
She stood, took the purple scarf from her strong shoulders and held it up high toward the sky.
The scarf flapped in the breeze like a royal standard.
“Welcome east, south, north and west, of above and below.” Helen Mirren winked. “I know it’s quite dramatic, isn’t it?”
She bent towards her and gently pushed Devon’s shoulders back, so she lay on the ground. Devon adjusted her hat, not wanting to crush the brim.
“Of doorways and gateways, crossroads, and dead ends. What has been left behind? What has been gained? Hecate darling, hear our call. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
Helen Mirren released the scarf and it drifted slowly downward, covering Devon’s face like a shroud.
She felt her body sink into the earth, the thick thumping of her heart, a drum, the pounding of club music. The Westward, Grade 12. John Player Special burned in one hand, a Pilsner in the other. Open mic night, a shot of Alberta Rye for courage, the stink of the house microphone, spit and beer, her best Blondie cover.
One way or another, I’ll getcha I’ll getcha... getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha...
Brad’s guitar, Grant’s drums, racing forward, out of control,
...where I can see it all, find out who you call.
They slam the song hard into the wall. Feedback and cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a curtain. It’s hard to breathe.
Then, something is lifted.
“Better now?” Devon feels a small cool hand on her forehead. The sunshine is so bright she has to blink several times before the world is returned to focus. The sky is as blue as Helen Mirren’s eyes, she thinks. Devon sits up and repositions her vintage lid; the brim of tiny vegetables dance. As she prepares for the long walk back, a feeling of joy washes over her. Devon loves the hat. It suits her.