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by Amanda Billings
The paper hat opened its tiny paper eyes and grimaced. It had never had eyes before, and through the magic of divine intervention it now shrank back from the throbbing pain of fluorescent lights forcing its paper pupils to constrict for the first time. It had no arms and legs but found it could wiggle its two bottom corners awkwardly and scoot through the layer of dust upon which it rested. Its eyes had not fully adjusted yet but the paper hat now knew it had a nose, and if it had a knowledge of such things, it would have immediately recognized the scent of a woman’s public restroom. Squinting its eyes open the hat saw that it was up high, sitting on a ledge of some kind in an orange tiled desert. Several feet in front of it was the stinking white oasis, and to its left, the swinging aqua-colored cage door of the stall. The whole oasis, which was the toilet, was the most beautiful thing the hat had ever seen in its short existence. It immediately fell in love and felt thankful that it was privileged enough to gaze upon the toilet’s gleaming curves.
In the night, God had answered the prayers of a sick little girl in the hospital, desperately wishing her stuffed puppy Barker would come to life and comfort her in what were to be her final hours. Were the child more practical, she may have wished to be cured of her disease; were God a better God, he may have had better aim. In any case, God’s force had struck a paper hat that had been perched precariously on top of the tampon dispenser in the handicapped stall of the ER’s women’s room, the restroom that worried mothers and sobbing still-drunk girlfriends used while waiting for updates on loved ones. The hat had been made by a different little girl who was tearing apart waiting room magazines and practicing origami while her mother worried how much her little Billy’s broken arm would cost them. The girl had worn it into the bathroom and the hat had fallen to the floor, a sticky floor the mother could easily imagine being covered with AIDS spores, and the mother had placed the hat out of reach while the girl shrieked and peed a little in her underwear.
It was about four in the morning on a Tuesday when the hat had come to life, a slow time for the handicapped stall. In the absence of company the hat was free to develop a rudimentary understanding of physics, experiment with dust-trail artwork, and even begin a theory of creation and meaning in its smelly, stuffy universe. The hat had a general sense of waking up when it came to life, and as nothing around it seemed to move or blink about in the way that it did, the hat figured it simply needed to wait for its beloved toilet to wake up and help the hat understand why it was here.
Around five-thirty a.m. the hat could hear heavy thuds approaching, and jumped back when it heard the bathroom door creak open and the labored breathing of another creature enter the universe. The thumps came slowly in threes, shaking the tampon dispenser with growing ferocity as they approached. The tremors paused as the woman, leaning forward on her cane, reached out and pulled the handicapped stall door open. The hat recoiled. The woman was obese and elderly with dark circles under her eyes and bits of someone else’s vomit dried to the front of her leopard-print tent-top, almost blending in with the pattern if it weren’t for the telltale smell. The hat stifled a sob as the woman slid down her elastic-waist pants and lowered herself carefully onto the toilet, the toilet which the hat had lovingly traced portraits of in the dust on top of the tampon dispenser while imaging that someday they would be partners together in exploring this universe if only the toilet would open its eyes. The woman emptied her bowels into the toilet’s open mouth and delicate paper tears slid down the hat’s face. As the woman attempted to clean herself properly with one arm clutching the metal safety railing and the other straining to reach her nether regions, the hat understood that the world was a cruel and horrifying place and that it was being punished for some unknown transgression it had committed in the 90-minute span of its conscious life.
As the hat teetered toward the edge of the tampon machine in an attempt to commit suicide, it managed to catch the eye of the elderly woman who decided between grunt-wipes that it might be a fun plaything for her grandson out in the lobby. After an unsuccessful flush which was left to clog and settle, the woman limped forward with unwashed hands outstretched, catching the hat just as it began its fruitless drift toward death on the orange floor. “Gotcha,” the woman said softly, oblivious to the hat’s miraculous sentience, unable to hear the hat’s paper screams because God had also forgotten to give the hat a mouth. The elderly woman pinched the edges of the hat so tightly that all the hat could hope for was the relief that might come with passing out if little paper hats brought to life could pass out. Which, the hat learned, they could not.
Amanda Billings, author of 8-BIT APOCALYPSE, is a writer, cosplayer, and TurboGrafx enthusiast from Fort Collins, CO. You can check out her comic series ARE WE SIBLINGS OR CAN WE FUCK at arewesiblings.tumblr.com.