Anytime we walk into a store with hats, you put one on me. Not just any hat, but a big, floppy hat with a Saturn-like rim that droops over my eyes, or pushes my bangs into my line of vision. I know they look ridiculous because they feel ridiculous, but they make you laugh. Sometimes I think that’s the only reason I tolerate it.

But today, we weren’t at a store. We were at your parents’ place, pulling out the decorations for your brother’s graduation party. I’d never met your parents before and anticipated the surprise opening of the front door while you rummaged through their hall closet, mumbling that what you were looking for was in there somewhere. While you pushed aside wreaths, plastic eggs, and Styrofoam pumpkins, I glanced from door to clock, preparing myself for a moment I’d never be ready for. The time tensely ticked by, and suddenly your cursing turned to laughter.

“What is it?” I asked, looking at you only long enough to see you rise to your feet. The moment I looked back to the door, you’d put a hat on my head, a lightweight hat that didn’t flop over my eyes.

I reached up to touch it, hoping to identify the type of hat by touch. First you smiled, and then you laughed, and I envisioned a dunce cone or reindeer antlers. The top felt like straw, but as I pulled it off, you protested.

“No, don’t take it off!” You were still chuckling. “It looks cute on you.”

Then you were telling me to wait.

You disappeared for only a minute, returning with your clunky Polaroid camera and telling me to smile. Normally, I would be annoyed—you can’t destroy a Polaroid picture, after all—but you were having such fun, and your smile was contagious.

The flash went off, and while I waited for the spots to clear from my vision, you stuck the print in your pocket to warm. At last the image developed, and right as you pulled it from your pocket, your parents opened the front door.

Story by Christian Peter


Never did get to Nashville.
Momma wanted me to be the next Emmylou, worked extra shifts to get me music lessons.
“I named you Pearl ‘cause you’re a perfect jewel, girl,” she told me.
Sure, other times I was just a regular brat getting into scraps with the neighbours’ kids or sneaking extra victuals onto my plate when I thought Momma wasn’t looking. There was my real self and my dream self.
Dream self was the sweet girl in the hat and the rhinestone studded dress who parroted Stand By Your Man and Jolene at county fair talent shows without really understanding the lyrics. Folks loved me. While my age was still in single figures, anyhow.
When my body started to change and became troublesome, my singing voice warped like a piece of unvarnished timber in a summer storm. I wasn’t holding the notes pure anymore. There was a crack. And not that appealing fracture that Sinead put into Nothing Compares 2 U.
Momma worked hard. I worked hard – needing grades for the possibility of college, seeking out Saturday jobs to keep the wolf from the door.
Then Mylo strode into town. Guitar strapped across his back, an appraising gaze and a smile like dappled sunlight on a creek. The local fathers nervously fingered the safety catches on their hunting rifles. Us girls, though…
He heard me singing as I lugged some groceries back from the store.
“You should turn professional,” he said.
“I lose the longer notes.”
“Autotune will sort that. You got a gift.”
Yes, I got a gift but it was a more intimate one than sweet serenading. Momma must have known. I guess I’m just lucky he didn’t get me a present of another mouth to feed.
Of course, one day he done moved on.
“Come with me,” he said. “We can start with covers of Jackson.”
But I stayed behind. I didn’t believe in myself enough. Or him…
Never got to Nashville. But… there it is again on the radio, that sad ballad of love lost, Mylo and his hit song Cowgirl Pearl.

Story by Allen Ashley

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