The Man in the Green Hat

by Amanda Pollet 

As often is true, it was the kids in town who spread the story first—the story of the unchanged man. He was real, or must have been, because even adults who considered themselves sane could recall seeing him—always in a queer green hat and often in a dull yellow suit. And as described by the collective, he remains mystically unchanged throughout history. The story of this man is exactly the kind that lends itself to add-ons and speculations. So this version has the flavor of the whole town and all its fears and wonderings. In this way, the man in the green hat is the town.

When the man was a baby, he was forgotten by his mother at a quilting convention where she took home her first quilt and forgot her first child. Some say she was killed by a swarm of angry red-winged blackbirds before returning to him, but most say she simply liked raising quilts more than raising babies. The man (then babe) was found by a stranger, who mistakenly asked a visiting pharmacist,”Is this your child?”

And the pharmacist, who was the sort who thought it might be fun to raise a boy said, “Why yes it is,” and it wasn’t a lie thenceforth.

This pharmacist had many curiosities and scientific revelings. He also had a large house in the countryside with fifteen rooms (and fireplaces in all but three).

The pharmacist (naturally) was desirous to prolong the life of individuals. His concoctions cured ailments and extended old age, and his work was sought out and applied by prominent physicians. But what many did not know of was his unconquerable obsession to eliminate death altogether.

In his lab and library were stores of research and experiments with everything from lore about the Fountain of Youth to ancient recipes for potions giving eternal life. (Few that tell the story inform why the pharmacist would want eternal life when it would essentially put him out of a job, but listeners with a good imagination can enjoy a plethora of possible histories that make perfect sense of his psychological situation).

However, this is not the pharmacist’s story being told.

This is the story of the man in the green hat who was being raised by the pharmacist who was struck with an idea the first night he took the boy home.

“What if,” he said out loud to himself while staring at burning coals in the late evening (as he was the sort to do), “What if this boy never learns of death? What if he grows up never knowing death exists?”

It would be hard to pull off, he admitted. Almost impossible. But what interesting observations he could make while trying.

And so the experiment began. The staff of the house agreed to this concealment, and being paid such generous wages, they had no right to complain—even though it made liars of them all.

“What happened to Fido?”

“He ran away.”

“What is that fly on the windowsill doing?”

“It’s sleeping.”

“Why do plants go away before winter?”

This one stumped the groundskeeper, who after some careful thought replied, “They’re more clever than us and leave for the winter,” which surprisingly prompted no further questions.

Most things, in fact, the boy accepted easily. He (fortunate to the experiment) possessed the opposite nature of his inquisitive father. One subject that seemed to be the exception to his typical indifference was that of aging. Any answer given to “Why do people get old?” was unsatisfactory. But the boy disliked being puzzled, so he grew to evade his own questions.

Perhaps he sensed that there was a very troubling reality lying just outside his realm of understanding that had best be avoided. Or maybe he had a dull, tiny brain. Either way, the non-curious boy eventually grew into non-curious man.

And as things are generally understood, there comes a time in adulthood when humans stop developing and begin to degenerate. It is said that when the boy reached this point in time, it became impossible for him to comprehend death. His brain fully matured, and if death was presented to him his psyche would reject it as unreality.

But what not even the pharmacist predicted is that not only the boy’s mind rejected death, but also his body. He stopped growing, but never began degenerating. Some even say that he no longer needs to eat or drink, but most say that’s utter nonsense—of course he needs to eat.

Our pharmacist, though, grew old and discovered an incurable cancer in his body. He could barely relay this information to himself, let alone the boy who was now a man (whose lack of mental acquisitiveness had begun to greatly disturb the pharmacist), and so one day he announced to the man that he was leaving. Any trouble that the man might have felt over this sudden declaration was outweighed by relief that he would no longer have to behold the sight of the aging, saggy body of his adoptive father (which had begun to greatly disturb him).

After the pharmacist left, so did the money, and so did the servants. The man in the green hat now lives all alone and has for a very, very long time. He is no longer protected from everyday occurrences in which living things meet their demise, but he simply does not apperceive them.

The pharmacist really did leave, and unable to cure his own death, he succumbed to it alone. His highest ambitions were realized, at least in one experiment, and so maybe this story really is his after all. But it is the sighting of the man in the green hat who inspires the telling.

For whether spotted by the young or old—no matter when the sighting took place—when the man in the green hat comes to town, he is the same. He does not age and he does not change. He comes about and leaves, avoiding the ending of anything. 

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