She would tell me about her parents, and how they told her she was no good for anything; about school, and how she did well there, but the other kids called her a swot. And she told me about him, the boy with the hat. How she wished she had discovered his name, swapped phone numbers, something, anything that they might keep in touch and – oh, hope upon hope – she would see him again, see him often. She would call herself stupid for this failure, would ask me if I thought her stupid. But I could not reply. I didn't think her stupid. I thought she was lovely, wonderful to spend time like this with me.
When she had to leave, there were always tears on her face, sad eyes. But a kiss for me, and she might tilt my hat one way or the other, put it on her own head in an attempt to find something to laugh at. I laughed, but she didn't notice. And she would stride off into the misty distance with a determination which I hoped was her resolve to find this boy, and to
make him hers.
I saw her often. And we both loved those times together. The goat left one day. Didn't return. I didn't miss it. It was no company at all.
There came a time, though, when she didn't come. Days and days passed, weeks maybe, and I was anxious that she had come to some harm. Been kept in by angry parents, hurt by bullies at school. Fallen off a kerb and broken bones, perhaps. I couldn't settle without her. And the days dragged on.
I had other visitors, people strolling across the fields, walking their dogs maybe, or scavenging the hedgerows for fruits. But they didn't even look my way, cared nothing for my concerns, saw no fun in the jaunty angle of my hat, as she had left it. She had said it made me look like him, and I smiled.
Autumn moved on into the edge of winter, and the wind whipped at my goat-chewed jacket, blustered my hat away until it caught on the fence. Then she came.
And she was not alone. I saw the two figures some way off, though the evening was dull and darkening. I hoped it was her, of course, but I could not tell. They were walking slowly, no excited spring in their step as there had been in hers. But as they emerged from the gloom, she was there. A smile on her face, a softness I had missed. And he was with her. It had to be him. He had a hat, unusual for one of his age, and he was holding her hand. He had a smile, too. He was happy to be with her, I could see.
And when they were not far away, she looked away from his face, turned to me, let go of his hand, and ran to me, shouting. “Scarecrow! You're still here!” Missing the hat she expected to see on my head, she looked around, ran and picked it up, and set it back on my head, bending to kiss my cheek as she did so.
“Scarecrow, I want you to meet Tim! He's the one I told you about.” She turned to Tim. “Tim, come and meet Scarecrow!”, and she beckoned him, and he came running, took off his hat and bowed low to me. “Mr Scarecrow, Emma's told me so much about you!”
They sat in front of me where she used to sit. He put his arm around her, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, and they sat in silence for some time, looking at me. And when they started to talk together, I felt like an intruder, one who shouldn't be party to their jokes, their memories, their intimacies. But they stayed there until it was nearly dark.
Jumping up and brushing the grass off their clothes, they held each other tight for a moment, and kissed. And I felt tears in my eyes. Then Emma turned away from Tim and came over to me. She bent and kissed my cheek, pulled my hat down tighter over my head, and whispered to me. “Thank you, Scarecrow. Thank you for being here always, and for listening to me. I have Tim, just as I wanted. And you wanted that for me, too, didn't you? Thank you, Scarecrow.” She straightened, and stood in front of me for a few more moments, smiling that beautiful smile, then turned and walked back to Tim, holding out her hand to take his.
Tim took his eyes off her and looked over to me. He tugged gently on Emma's arm, and walked over to me. “It's been a pleasure to meet you, Mr Scarecrow. Thank you for looking after my Emma.” Then he paused a moment before taking my hat off and throwing it down. Slowly, he removed his own hat and placed it carefully on my head, standing back to consider how it looked. “Excellent!” he declared, and Emma clapped, laughing.
They left. Before disappearing from view, they stopped and waved, then, hand in hand, they slipped away into the darkness. There was silence.
The silence was disturbed some time later. The goat rustled along out of the dark, stopping from time to time to pull at grass or thistles. And chewed away happily at my old hat, discarded on the ground.