the short story project


Benjamin Rosenbaum | from:English

Molly and the Red Hat

Illustration: Talia Baer

Molly loved her red hat. It was full and round and bright. It was glorious and unadorned. That hat knew more than it was saying. It could have been a ladybug, it could have been a tomato, or a red red lipstick-red dragon of fire. But it held still and was just a hat, and Molly loved it for that.

Then one day Molly’s mama bought her a little blue hat. It was sly and superficial and it didn’t know any secrets at all. Molly smiled politely and said thank you. She didn’t want her mama or the blue hat to be insulted. She put her red hat on the peg and wore the blue hat that day. But before she went out she pressed her mouth into the red hat and whispered, “I love you and I’ll always want you.”

When her little brother Billy came out into the garden, Molly realized that her mama had bought him a blue hat just like her new blue hat. Molly was polite and didn’t say what she thought about that.

But as Molly’s mama bustled out of the house in a jingle of keys, Billy burst out crying. “Mama come with!” he said.

“Have you been teasing your brother, young lady?” Molly’s mama said sharply, opening her car door.

Molly felt like a playground swing had gotten its chains tangled up and kicked her off onto the ground, wham, dirt up your nose and no air left for breathing. She grabbed the blue hat with both hands and tugged it over her ears, to keep from saying anything mean.

She hadn’t teased Billy, not even once, since her Daddy moved away.

“I’m already late,” said Molly’s mama to Billy, kissing him on the head and removing his hands from her coat. “Molly will walk you, honey. Aren’t your hats darling?” She shut the car door and drove off, vroom, without saying goodbye to Molly.


At kindergarten Molly put away the blue hat in her cubby and went bareheaded. Mrs. Telliveller raised her eyebrows in surprise. Mrs. Telliveller was the youngest in a line of powerful kindergarten teachers stretching back to the days of Morgan le Fay, and she was no fool. Molly blinked twice to let Mrs. Telliveller know that The Hat Would Be Back.

Molly was considerably less powerful without her hat, and the other kids knew it. Devilish Denise drew with purple crayon all over Molly’s drawing of an octopus and Molly let her. Craven Cristoph and Unpleasant Umberto took all the green blocks and wouldn’t let her have any, and Enervating Emily and Spurious Sue cut in line in front of Molly at lunch. None of them would have dared, if Molly weren’t hatless.

So understandably Molly rushed back home, dragging little Billy by the hand so quickly that he fell down twice and started to cry. Molly apologized and sang him “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” and dragged him home a little slower.

But when Molly got to the peg, the Red Hat was gone.

“Where’s my hat?” she said to her mama.

“Your old hat? Honey, it’s too small for you. Don’t you like your new hat?”

“Where – is – it?” Molly said.

Her mama said, “I threw it out.”

Then Molly raged:





And Not O.K.!

Molly threw the blue hat on the ground and kicked it, and her mama took her to her room and left her there.

Oh red hat!

Oh red hat!

Oh red hat!


At dinner Molly still wasn’t happy but her mama said, “I’m sorry I threw your red hat out, honey.” So Molly, who knew how difficult it is for adults to apologize, said, “Okay.”

But it wasn’t okay.

So that night Molly brushed her teeth extra fast and got into her pajamas herself. When her mama was still struggling with Billy’s teeth and toothbrush, Molly bounced on the special place on her bed and flew

out the window

      and onto the pine tree branch

and bounced

      over the roof and onto the top of the telephone pole

           and skated along the wires

           to the forest

                 to visit the Queen of the Owls.

The Queen of the Owls was drinking tea in a metal cup. Her white hair stuck out all over her head. She wore twelve coats and gloves with holes where the fingers poked through, red and bent. She had a fire going in an old paint can, and twelve owls sitting around her in a circle: a snowy owl, a great horned owl, a peat owl, a hoot owl, a screech owl, a nightsky owl, a coriander owl, a tick-tock owl, a can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl, a fight owl, a friendship owl, and an owl-who-isn’t.

Molly was cold but she knew better than to warm herself at the fire of the Queen of the Owls without asking. She planted her bare feet in the snow and said, “I’m looking for my red hat.”

“Mmm, yes,” said the Queen of the Owls, and drank her tea. “Come warm yourself, dearie.”

“Are you sure?” said Molly.

“Oh, yes,” said the Queen of the Owls.

“Can I leave when I want to?” asked Molly.

“Oh, certainly,” said the Queen of the Owls.

“And nothing mean will happen to me?” asked Molly.

“If you insist,” said the Queen of the Owls.

So Molly darted past the tick-tock owl and sat in the lap of the friendship owl, who spread his wings protectively around her.

“Good choice,” said the Queen of the Owls, looking disappointed. The tick-tock owl folded up his claws.

“Thank you,” said Molly. “Now what about my red hat?”

The Queen of the Owls finished her tea and stared into the cup. The fire crackled, the cold night bit Molly’s toes, and the feathers of the friendship owl tickled her cheeks.

“It’s thrown out,” the Queen of the Owls said finally.

“I want it back!” said Molly. “Where is it?”

“It’s in the Outthrown Trashland, of course,” said the Queen of the Owls, “but you’re not brave enough to go there.”

“Yes I am,” said Molly.

“And even if you were, no one is brave enough to take you,” said the Queen of the Owls.

Molly said to the friendship owl, “will you take me?” But he blinked sadly and turned his head all the way around, and looked out into the night in back of him, so she could only see his feathers.

Molly looked at the coriander owl, but he did the same. So did the screech and the hoot and the peat and the great horned owl. So did the snowy and the nightsky and even the brave fight owl. Molly didn’t bother with the tick-tock owl. And the owl-that-isn’t covered her eyes with her wings-that-weren’t.

Then Molly got up from the lap of the friendship owl and ran out into the snow. She faced away from the fire and she closed her eyes tight and she covered them with her hands and she said, “will you take me, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl?”

Molly felt the small claws of the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl grab the shoulders of her pajamas. She heard its little wings beating, and she was lifted into the air.

“Molly!” the Queen of the Owls called, and her voice sounded afraid. “Don’t bring anything but the red hat back!”

Molly and the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl flew for a long time through the cold night. They heard the moaning of the moon and the scraping of the stars in their tracks. The dreams of bumblebees buzzed past them, and they flew through clouds of milk getting ready to rain upon the Doughlands. Molly kept her eyes tight shut.

Finally, Molly smelled trash, lots and lots of trash; and she heard the whispering groans and whimpers of everything lost and abandoned that wanted to find its way back to the world.

Molly’s feet touched the ground. She opened her eyes and saw

– heaps of socks, unpaired

– scarecrows and bell towers

– a few newspapers and many oldspapers

– sundials, spinning jennys, and busts of Lenin

– last year’s dolls and chewing gum

– the certainty that Man is in the center of the Universe

– the tennis shoes and basketballs of disappointed managers of fast-food restaurants in Oklahoma

– faith in Progress

– a billion pages of homework

…and a lot of other things.

Molly jumped through the air over great piles of junk and called: “Red hat! Red hat! It’s Molly! I’m here!”

“Molly!” cried a voice, and Molly landed on the roof of her old house. It was enormous and fuzzy and full of gables and slants. There was a man who looked like Molly’s Daddy, except that he was pale and had a rip through the middle of him stuck together with scotch tape.

“Molly!” he said. “Take me back!”

“You’re not my Daddy!” Molly said. “My Daddy lives in San Francisco.” She ran across the roof towards the chimney.

“I’m your mama’s love for your Daddy!” the man said, running after her. “Take me back!”

“No no no no no no no no! That’s not thrown out, you’re lying! I’m not taking back anything except the red hat!” Molly said, and she jumped down the chimney.

In the living room she crawled out of the fireplace, ran past dolls and wine glasses and her mama’s diploma, and up the stairs, calling “Red hat! Red hat!”

She opened the door to the baby’s room. There was Billy’s old crib and Billy’s old baby self in it — looking just like when he first came from the hospital, new and wrinkly and drooly and red. And there standing next to him, holding the bars of the crib, was an angry little green Molly flickering with fire.

“Hello Molly!” said angry green fiery Molly. “Take me back!”

“No!” said regular Molly and ran to the peg. There was her red hat hanging. Molly snatched it up and put it on her head. Then she jumped out the window and onto the roof of the house across the street. She faced away from her old house and closed her eyes and put her hands over them and called, “Will you take me home, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl?”

Molly felt the small claws of the can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl grab the shoulders of her pajamas. She heard its little wings beating, and she was lifted into the air.

But just then angry little fiery green Molly jumped out the window, bounced off the roof across the street, and grabbed hold of Molly’s ankle in her fiery green hand!

Regular Molly couldn’t open her eyes. Her ankle burned and tickled. She kicked around with her feet, but little green Molly hung on tight. And so, that way, the three of them flew through the marshes of the night sky, and over the now baking Doughlands that filled the air with cookie smells, and heard the chuckling of the comets, and the muttering of the dawn gnomes sorting colors for the next day’s dawn.

Finally Molly’s feet touched the pine tree branch outside her bedroom window. The can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl let go of her shoulders and fiery green Molly let go of her foot.

“Thank you, can’t-see-it-when-you’re-looking owl,” Molly said, “and thank the Queen of the Owls for me.” She opened her eyes and saw little angry green Molly slipping and sliding down the tree. Regular Molly pulled the red hat down tighter over her ears and jumped through her bedroom window and onto her bed.

She slipped her bare feet under the covers, because they had gotten quite cold.

Just then her mama came in, carrying Billy and his toothbrush. She stopped and stared at Molly’s red hat.

“I found it,” Molly said.

“How strange,” said Molly’s mama. “I thought I threw it out. It’s still too small for you.”

“Mama, please!” said Molly.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Molly’s mama said. She put Billy in the other bed and kissed him on the head. Then she turned off the light and went out.

Molly reached under her red hat and rubbed the place on her head that her mama hadn’t kissed.

When she looked over at Billy again, flickering green fiery Molly was in bed with him.

“You don’t remember how it was, do you?” said angry green Molly. “That’s the only thing I can think of to explain your behavior.”

“What are you talking about?” regular Molly said, sitting up.

“Molly,” said Billy, pointing at angry green Molly.

“We had Mama and Daddy all to ourselves,” said angry green Molly. “All the hugs, all the kisses. All the stories, all the songs. All the tickles, all the laughs. And then this thing came.”

“Molly — and — Molly!” said Billy, and laughed.

“And then all of a sudden, Mama could only ever hold this thing. It was always in her arms. It sucked her strength like a vampire. It drove Daddy away,” said angry green Molly, and she put her hands over Billy’s mouth and nose and shook him. Billy choked and struggled.

Molly leaped out of bed and pulled angry green Molly away from Billy. Billy gasped and started crying.

“You shut up!” Molly shouted. Her hands burned and tingled where she held angry green Molly. “You shut up or I’ll pound you into jelly!”

“Fine,” said little angry green Molly, slithering out of regular Molly’s grasp. “Then I’ll go make friends with the crows.” And she jumped out the window.

The door banged open and Molly’s mama came in. “What did you say, young lady?” she shouted. Billy kept crying and Molly’s mama picked him up.

“What?” Molly said, standing in the middle of the room.

“I distinctly heard you threaten your little brother, and I am very surprised at you.”

“No,” Molly said, “I didn’t –“

“Are you going to make it worse now by lying?” Molly’s mama asked.

Molly shut her mouth.

Molly’s mama shut the window and locked it. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” she said. “Shh, Billy, it’s okay, you can sleep in bed with mama.”

“No!” Billy snuffled. “Sleep — wif — Molly.”

Molly’s mama paused and frowned. Then she put Billy back in his bed. “Do you see how much trust your little brother has in you, young lady?” she said. “I hope you try and earn it from now on.”

Then she went out.

Molly put the red hat on the windowsill to protect her and Billy, and she put Babar and Celeste and Rumpelstilskin by the door. It was about all she could do. Then she got in bed and closed her eyes. Billy was already asleep.


The next day at breakfast, Molly’s mama looked tired and didn’t remember to argue with Molly about the red hat, so Molly wore it.

She walked slowly and carefully with Billy to preschool-kindergarten and sang “It Takes A Workin’ Man” to him and let him break icicles from under mailboxes and suck on them. She was having such a good time that she didn’t see angry green Molly run up and snatch the red hat from her head.

“You give that back!” Molly shouted and ran after her.

Little angry green Molly laughed and ran, but Molly had longer legs and caught up with her. She pushed little angry green Molly to the ground and sat on her, and she got her red hat back.

Little green fiery Molly kept laughing, though, and that gave regular Molly a very creepy feeling.

She looked back down the road and saw a huge flock of crows flying up into the air with Billy.

“Billy!” Molly shouted and jumped into the air. She jumped as high as the chimneys, but it wasn’t high enough to reach the crows. So she jumped onto the nearest chimney and then off the chimney into the flock of crows. She punched one crow as she flew by and it let go of Billy’s arm, but some other crows grabbed it again. Molly fell down onto a snowy roof and slid off it in a small avalanche. When she pushed her way out of it, the crows were even higher. Billy looked like an ant.

Molly pulled the red hat from her head and held it in both hands. “Red hat, red hat, I know you just like being a hat, but if there’s anything you can do, do it now!” and she threw the hat up in the air.

The red hat quavered and

      paused and then

shook and

      billowed and

           unfolded and


a red red lipstick-red dragon of fine red silk.

It flew up into the flock of crows and it smacked them with its tail. Pow! Pang! Zow! Zang! The crows went flying off. The hat-dragon caught Billy in its tail and flew him gently down. But as it flew down those crows came after it. They dodged its head and they tore at it with their beaks. Rip! And Strip! And Tear! And Shred! Finally the hat-dragon set Billy in a snowbank and fought back with its tail.

Molly raced for the snowbank and so did little green fiery Molly. Little green fiery Molly got there first. She grabbed Billy’s hand and tugged him to the road and without even looking both ways she pushed him out into it —

but Molly pulled him back.

Then she grabbed little green fiery Molly and lifted her into the air.

“You can’t win, Molly!” little green fiery Molly said. “You brought me back! I’m yours! I’m here to stay!”

“You’re right,” said Molly, and she put her mouth onto the forehead of little green fiery Molly and took a deep, deep breath, as if she was about to blow out the candles of a birthday cake the size of the moon. Little green fiery Molly only had time to say “Help!” once before Molly breathed her in and swallowed her.

Then she pulled Billy out of the snowbank, brushed the snow out of his face, and keeping tight hold of his hand, ran for the red hat.

The crows were gone, and all that was left of the red hat were a few shreds of red red lipstick-red fine red silk.

Molly sat down and started to cry, and Billy sat down next to her and cried too.

Mrs. Telliveller had a good idea what sort of thing might have happened when Molly didn’t show up, and came out looking. She sat down on the curb next to Molly, and she rooted around in her purse for some Kleenex and a cell phone, and she called Molly’s mama at work right then. She explained a lot of things, gently, in terms that Molly’s mama could understand.

Molly’s mama took the day off work and took Molly and Billy home. She left Billy playing with some blocks on the floor and she took Molly onto her lap on the couch and let her cry for a long, long time.

And when Molly finally fell asleep, still holding the shreds of red silk, Molly’s mama pressed her mouth into Molly’s hair and whispered, “I love you and I’ll always want you.”

After that, sometimes Molly wore the blue hat to school. Sometimes she did tease Billy and fight with him. Sometimes she felt sick to her stomach, and then she could feel the other Molly crawling around in there. Sometimes, when she was very angry, you could see the other Molly looking out of her eyes.

But every night, when she went to bed, her mama kissed her goodnight. Molly’s mama never forgot again. And all night long, Molly could feel that kiss on her forehead, warm and soft, keeping her safe.

The End

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