William VanDenBerg



Dark brown Stetson with a bright red band. Smashed, of course, when my drunk brother sat on it. In a stupor, he crumpled the velvet band with his ass. I ask: What would you do with such a brother? I barred him from the hat locker for a week. The locker vast, more of a vault. I commuted his sentence to five days for good behavior. He abstained from drinking the alcohol pools around us.

Gray homburg with a peacock eye. The night we found it, I dreamt of my drunk father. My father not his father. In a word, we’re halves. I don’t begrudge him this. I’m the eldest, the only other. I remember when he came along. Tottering, paler than I. Back before the sun ran off. When he turned eight, I draped him in his father’s suit and sent him out the front door. “You’re a man now,” I told him. “Go and do manly things.” What he did to the neighbor’s cat I can’t say—our mother refused to tell me. He disappeared in an institution for five years. He returned indolent but free.

Cream white pillbox with a Shetland lace trim. Our mother gifted us the bulk of the hats. We find few anymore. This one was in an overturned oven, the lace unscathed. Perhaps the lace was once larger, trimmed back over time. My brother moves the vault. He employs carpet dollies that constantly break down. Split wheels, cracked frames. I kick my brother when he slows because of breakage. I must set a precedent.

Navy cloche with a gold pin, the pin severely tarnished. When I’m sad, my brother puts this on and parades around. He swishes—it’s safe to call the move he makes a swish. The hat was our mother’s. Not only owned but worn as well. To call her dearly departed would be an understatement. There isn’t an atom of her left and we miss her immensely. I laugh at my brother’s dance. He wears a brassiere, the underwire poking out, rusted. I laugh my throat raw.

Black porkpie with a white satin band. Soaked, fouled. I caught my brother ladling alcohol with it. It dribbled out of his mouth, down his stained shirt. The pools are clogged with soot and iron flecks. They’re susceptible to flame. In anger I choked him. His larynx snapped beneath my thumbs. Alcohol spurted from the gaps in his clenched teeth. His face reddened, blued, then paled. I accepted his resignation. I slid his body into the filthy liquid. When I woke the next morning I retrieved him.

Gray ivy-cap. Similar to but not a newsboy. The ivy-cap is more distinguished and lacks a button on top. I used it to waft the air back into my brother’s lungs. Listen. Love is an act of reinflation. The drowning changed him. “My brother,” I said. He stared blankly. His blue tongue puffed between his front teeth, his teeth lodged partway through. A ragged breath escaped him. He shot up. I laughed and slapped his cheek familially.

Ivory boater, several bites taken from the brim. Jagged straw unweaving. I woke the next morning and my brother was crunching it. His forehead had collapsed and the cavern smelled like cheap vodka. Rotgut, a term my father used often. “Good lord,” I said of the awful smell. I plucked stuck straw from between his loosely socketed teeth. He ferally howled. I packed dirt into his caverned head in an attempt to smother the smell. All the while a grin pasted itself across his face. “What are you smiling about?” I asked. He didn’t say a word.

White panama. Classic black band. It left with him, gone in the night. With his legs so rotten. I can’t move the vault myself. I burn the pools as signal flares. I spend most of my days recataloguing our hats, thinking of our parents. His father used to clean them. His father being a kind man. His father whose wrists smelled like vanilla. I do hope my brother comes back. My empty days have softened me. I hope he returns with fresh acquisitions. We lack trilbys, vueltiaos, even the most basic of ball-caps. If he returns, I won’t kick him. I’ll release him to the pools for days. When he sobers up, we’ll sort the hats together. I’ll be grateful and gladly share.


William VanDenBerg is the author of Lake of Earth (Caketrain Press, 2013). He lives with his wife in Denver. “Hats” is part of a series called MILK TEETH. Previous installments have appeared in Alice Blue Review, The Fanzine, and Cheap Pop.