Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

The Hat That Made a Woman Disappear

On the occasion of her 40th birthday, Mary Beth Finley bought a hat that made her invisible. 

She didn’t technically buy it. She didn’t go through the normal buying process. She had to steal it. Sort of.

She walked into the shop after spotting a similar hat in the display window. After searching the shop for the hat, she found an identical one, took it over to a mirror, and tried it on. 

When she placed the hat on her head, she immediately disappeared.

There was no trace of her in the mirror. Not a thread of her clothes or a hair on her head.

She took the hat off and reappeared. She placed the hat back on and disappeared again.

“Oh…my…goodness!” she said to herself. “A hat that makes one disappear! How incredible!"

She wondered how no one else had bought this amazing hat already. She pondered if perhaps it made only her invisible, and no one else.

“I must have this hat. It is too much fun!"

She brought the hat to the register, placed it on the counter, and offered up the $50 to purchase it.

“First we have to make sure it fits,” said the clerk.

“Oh, there’s no need, I know it fits,” said Mary Beth. “I would like to go ahead and buy the hat."

“I’m sorry, but I cannot sell you a hat if I don’t know for a fact that it fits. After all, I have my professional pride to think about."

Not wanting to reveal the hat’s effect on her, she walked back to the rack and made as if to return the hat. When the clerk walked into the back, she placed the hat on her head, placed $50 on the cash register, and walked out of the store, completely unseen.

Being invisible changes the world around you in subtle ways. People no longer look at you. They look through you. Mary Beth had never experienced this before, and it was more than a little unsettling at first. People bumped into her and did not say “Excuse me” even once. She knew they did not see her, but still, you would think the moment you bumped into anyone, seen or unseen, you would pardon your rudeness. 

Mary Beth was uncertain at first what to do with her newfound abilities, so she simply walked around, watching people when they thought they were not being observed and listening in on their conversations.

She slipped into a grocery store and watched a young man steal a candy bar when he thought no one was looking. Shame on him! She would fix that. Mary Beth had never picked anyone’s pocket in her life, so she had difficulty removing the candy bar without the young man noticing, but she managed to do it with some effort, on the third try. She replaced the candy bar where it came from and smiled to herself when imagining the young man’s reaction after realizing the candy bar was no longer in his pocket. 

Then she had a wonderful idea. She decided that she would visit her husband at his office. Oh, what a joy it would be to sneak into his office and surprise him by appearing out of nowhere! Then she would tell him everything, all about the hat and how she bought it, about the conversations she overheard, and also about the candy bar (she would relate that last one with some pride, naturally). 

She was on her way to her husband’s office when she found herself crossing the street at the exact same time as someone she knew — a friend named Caroline, from her gardening club. 

With a certain glee, she decided to follow Caroline. Her little joke on her husband could wait. 

Caroline walked slowly. Much more slowly than the other people on the sidewalk. Mary Beth remembered that she had not seen Caroline for quite some time. Caroline had not been at the gardening club meetings for several months. Mary Beth wondered where she had been. Had she simply decided not to return?

Another friend (this one not from the gardening club) met Caroline on the street. 

“How are you holding up?” she asked Caroline.

“I’m…okay,” replied Caroline. 

Holding up? Mary Beth wondered what this meant. Then she recalled something Caroline had said during a gardening club meeting last year. Caroline’s husband had been sick.

“I’m sure it’s difficult now that he’s gone,” said the other woman.

Caroline nodded her head. “I just never imagined…I never thought I’d be alone,” Caroline said.

“Oh honey, you aren’t alone,” said the other woman. “I mean, I know it isn’t the same. That isn’t what I mean. Of course we can’t replace your husband, but we are all here for you if you need us.” 

“Thank you,” said Caroline, her eyes a little watery. 

Mary Beth felt her face grow red with shame.

This person I called a friend has been in need, and I didn’t even know. Didn’t even know! What kind of friend am I?

Mary Beth wanted to hug Caroline, but she knew it simply wouldn’t do for an invisible person to hug a visible one. There had to be something else she could do. How could she help Caroline? Could she help her at all?

She made up her mind to go see Caroline. Even if she couldn’t help, she could at least be there for her.

There was one thing she needed to do first.

At the shop, she waited until the clerk wasn’t watching and took the hat off, placed it neatly on the rack, and began to walk out of the store. 

“Excuse me, ma’am? Can I help you? Did you want to try the hat again to see if it’s a good fit?"

“Thank you,” said Mary Beth politely. “But it isn’t a good fit. The world doesn’t need any more invisible people.” 

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