The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction about
Girl in the Baseball Cap
Square Hotel cars hurtle, roaring.
An August evening light, pink bricks glow pinker. Top-hatted Freds
face glows pink like the bricks.
Bring you one down, sir? Fred asks a hotel guest.
He hoists a gloved, doormans hand and a cabby zooming round
Russell Square on a glorious Friday evening of promised lovely squeezes
later sees Fred beckon and brakes.
Come on, Fred commands him. He points to the kerb in
front of his punter.
your cab, he announces. He opens the vehicles door wide,
trailing discreetly a gently cupped hand.
As Fred brings taxis nosing to his kerb hes daydreaming of passion
lost to the past, of brandy whirling into a tiny glass once in baking
Plaza Dos de Mayo. That was years ago, in Madrid, during Francos
final days, when the streets boiled with rage against the old man. Fred
hung around in the funky Malasaña district with activist friends.
Before rallies they drank brandy in the hot shade, talking dangerous
Sometimes they watched as a gypsy played pungent tunes on a dented trumpet.
The gypsys father kept time with side-drum rhythms of horrible
strength. Before the pair, a stained goat stood unnaturally to attention
atop a tiny podium. It was difficult to tell who was saddest
the father, the son or the hopeless goat.
Fred was a young man then and he noticed things. He would tell himself
that he would always notice things, that he would never stop seeing
the world, never stop seeing the goat.
But he did stop, for years he stopped. Everything went sour when one
of his friends betrayed their group to Francos stooges. The band
evaporated and, rudderless, Fred dropped out of sight. Then, one terrible
night, he rode a dark, bucking drunk to its very limit, whipping his
spinning intellect so hard that he spewed his sad, grey soul into a
Madrid gutter. Some time before five oclock a callous sanitation
lorry hosed his soul down a drain, leaving Fred alone and weeping as
the first, awful day of his mortality dawned.
After that, Fred had just one mate drink. He was already mourning
the death he knew lay ahead.
Getting better took years. But, millimetre upon millimetre, the amount
left in his bottle of whisky at the end of a day rose. The less he drank,
the easier it became to imagine that one day he would notice things
That day did come. He still likes a drink, of course. Who doesnt?
But now he is noticing things again, although what he sees makes him
sentimental where once it made him glad, angry or proud. Still, sentimental
is better than blind.
He has grown another ponytail. It is a greyer ponytail than the one
he had around the time Franco died but it feels good to have it anyway.
He keeps it pinned in a bun when he is working. The hotel management
dont seem to mind. Really, you cant see it when he has his
Fred turns up his face to the sinking sun and closes his eyes.
Oh, what an evening it is of the best London kind, slow and smelling
of dust and traffic and salad.
Hi Mister Fred.
Fred turns and it is the young American girl, the nice one, the one
that talks to him. Shes a model, poor kid. Ever since the spring,
pictures of this girl have peppered the trendier fashion spreads. Fred
is clued-up about this world: for years, hes collected style and
movie magazines, like other men amass records or guns.
Its easy to see why editors are mad for the American girl. She
is beautiful, about fifteen, with wide, sky-coloured eyes, a straight,
adults nose and creamy skin. Her arms and legs fold easily. They
are still girlishly long compared to the rest of her. Even so, she looks
Pink Russell Square light curls in the folds of her plain white t-shirt.
Kind of nice today, huh Fred?
She is so relaxed, so familiar. He, at her age, could not have spoken
to a near-stranger so.
Its beautiful, he says.
Her name is Sarah Stanley. Her mother was a famous model in the seventies.
Fred remembers seeing her pictures in the magazines friends sent to
Still sunny in LA? he asks.
Still sunny. Sun dazzles her and she squints. Her broad
forehead creases. Fred sees the frown and feels sad.
LA sucks, she says.
Los Angeles is tired out, that is what the matter is. Los Angeles is
tired out and Sarah is sick of the place. Someone stretched LA too thin
and then was clumsy and put their finger through it. Everything leaked
out after that.
At least that is how it feels without Top. Top is Sarahs boyfriend.
Okay, hes kind of her boyfriend. He would be if they ever saw
each other. Now she does so much modelling that she hardly ever sees
him. It is kind of sad because Top is real, more real than her Mom and
Dad, more real than the fashion people she is working with all through
this vacation. Some vacation. By the time she gets home again Top will
be in school, back East and gone. Its like a conspiracy.
At Easter, Top took her to the Grand Canyon.
Sarah had never been to the Grand Canyon before. By coincidence, not
long before the trip with Top, some smacked-out actor had offered to
fly her over the Grand Canyon in a private helicopter. She turned him
down. Then Top took her. It was an ordinary excursion to a lookout point,
with plenty of walking. It was the best trip, much better than modelling
or some cheesy chopper ride that only people like her ever got to go
He took her to the top, where the wind is so strong it goes up your
nostrils. He made her hold her breath and close her eyes while he spun
her round until she was good and dizzy. Then he told her to lift up
her head and open her eyes.
When she opened her eyes it was wonderful. All she could see was grey
sky, on and on forever. Top had his arms around her. Her head was filled
Now look down, he said.
She looked down, miles down, down to a tiny thread of river. It was
such a tiny thread. It didnt look big enough to perform whatever
geographical task rivers in canyons were supposed to perform.
But it did. That was the point about the world. It all fitted in.
So whats going on today, Fred? she asks.
Well, Im nearly finished, Sarah, Fred says.
It is a weak reply. He wants to say something clean and true to this
wise-seeming child, something that he would have said in Madrid, before
things went wrong, before he spoiled himself with drink and self-obsession.
She deserves it. So does he. He has waited a long time for his thoughts
to become useful again. Now, in the soft light, with a days work
almost done and the promise of an ordinary, comfortable evening in his
favourite pub before him, Fred wants there to be once again the clean
peal of truth between his ears.
Ive seen your pictures, he says.
Sarah looks surprised.
Yeah, you have? Where?
Fred says the name of an international fashion magazine.
Oh, those, Sarah says. I kind of want to forget about
those. I guess it wasnt such a smart idea to do them, huh?
You werent to know the fuss they would cause.
I guess not. Though those guys are kind of well-known for some
Fred remembers the pictures well. They appeared in a North American
issue of the magazine a few months previously. The photographer, a well-known
but waning figure in Manhattans fashion circles, used Sarah as
his principal model in the magazines main spread.
The theme was an afternoon in Central Park. Sarah, looking wise and
beautiful and wearing a selection of expensive vests, jeans and shorts,
was pictured hanging out in the park with several downmarket, chunky
young men in soiled street apparel. The feature was shot in black and
Sarahs calm, young beauty and the rough and ready nature of her
consorts gave the spread an uneasy sexuality. But this was nothing new,
either for the magazine or for the photographer.
Uneasy sexuality, after all, sells just about anything.
No, what rippled the normally placid waters of American fashions
conscience was Sarahs baseball cap.
She wore it in the shoots centrepiece, a double-page spread based
on the idea of a casual softball game. Sarah was the batter. Her face
scrunched in cod concentration, she half-crouched, bat held at the ready,
wearing cut-off jeans and the thinnest, shortest and most expensive
of the vests she was modelling. About her, their hands improbably cupped
before them ready for a close catch, crouched the stained, troubling
extras. On Sarahs beautiful, wise head was the baseball cap. The
cap bore a legend written in classic baseball team script.
Fuck me Buster, it read.
When the photo came out, Americas media tore into an ecstasy of
self-examination and moral finger-pointing. Fashion editors at rival
magazines ostentatiously declared they would not have run the picture.
Television moralists and phone-in hosts asked audiences to dive deep
into their psyches. Even columnists on the East Coasts most leaden
and smudgy dailies turned away from the Middle East and embarked instead
on bewildering, mapless quests to understand what new American ill lay
behind The Girl In The Baseball Cap.
Sarah hated the fuss that followed. Journalists tried to interview her
but all they wanted to know was whether she had been on coke during
the shoot. It was pathetic and it made Sarah mad. Her Mom said it was
good for her career and told her to hang on in there and check out some
Sarah thought her management sucked. They would not let her speak. They
wanted to keep her mysterious so people would have to pay more if they
wished to book her. Sarah wanted to explain to people that she wasnt
a bad person. She wanted to tell them she had been exploited by a photographer
determined to revive his wilting career.
On Russell Square mild pink sun warms Freds grey doorman coat
and Sarah thinks he looks a neat colour, kind of like a nice elephant
uncle in Disney. Freds being nice makes the photographers
You know what the worst thing was, Fred?
Not having a name. I didnt have a name. I was just The Girl
In The Baseball Cap. That really sucked.
Not having your name is a terrible thing.
You know what its like?
You understand then, Fred. It really is the worst thing. At least
youll never call me The Girl In The Baseball Cap.
That whole scene sucked, she says.
But the pictures werent all bad, Fred says. I
mean, they were well done, werent they? I mean, they were professional.
Sure they were well done, Fred, sure they were professional. But
well done doesnt mean good. You know, Fred, he pretended to me
that it was art. He betrayed me. The world is full of professionals,
Fred. Its full of people who do their jobs just fine and dandy.
But you got to be more than good at what you do. You got to do good.
Top is always telling her stuff like that. His Dad is a high school
Fred feels admiration for Sarah rushing up from his knees. She wants
goodness. She sees things are bad but still she wants goodness.
Youre right, Sarah, he says. Weve all
got to try to do our best.
Sure thing, Fred. Youre one of the good guys. You are.
She holds out her right hand for Fred to shake. They shake. Sarahs
palm feels warm through Freds glove.
So long, Fred. Got to eat. See you tomorrow.
Bye bye, Sarah. See you tomorrow.
Fred watches as Sarah crosses the square. Most evenings the girl is
on her own like this. There was a time when Fred didnt mind being
on his own. Now he prefers company.
Sarah walking to High Holborn as the sun drops at last behind Russell
Squares patient facades wants to do no more crappy fashion shoots.
She wants to learn stuff and be good and do her best like Fred told
her. She wants to go to a place in Mexico where Zapotecs once lived
in the sky. She wants to go to Norway and sing to the fjords. She wants
to talk to real people with real lives. She wants to understand what
it is that makes the world the way it is. And, most of all, she wants
to understand why it is that the things people know always seem to make
them so sad.
Walking later in twilight to the pub Fred knows what it is that he wants.
He wants truth again and a pint of cold lager. He looks down to his
feet. He is still wearing shiny hotel doorman shoes.
In the down-at-heel snug bar used by Bloomsburys drudges and pot-scrubbers,
Geoff is shining bright glasses as Fred enters from the dimming street.
Evening Fred, says Geoff.
Geoffs face tonight is coloured plum. Business is brisk. Warm
evening air is sucking the snugs louche regulars from their tiny
flats. Fred knows these faces. He has gone on drunks with half of them.
Geoff, the snugs regular barman, has drunk with them all.
Good day on the square? Geoff asks as he fills a glass with
cheap, cold lager.
Yes. Yes it was a good day, Fred says. Sarahs having
talked to him has lifted his mood more than he thought. He feels optimistic
as he swallows down lager.
Today was a good day. Today he said something to someone that really
counted. Maybe things are getting better. Ever since it all went wrong
in Madrid nothing has meant anything or made any sense. For months he
has been wondering why he does this old mans job and now he knows.
It is so that he can talk to people like Sarah Stanley and get hopeful
about life again.
It is a man called Robin. He is tall and thin and habitually sour. His
mother is a posh, alcoholic teacher who pretends she hasnt wasted
her life. As far as Fred can work out, Robin shuttles between his little
boys room in his mothers flat and lumpy beds of lost-looking
Yes, I am happy, Fred says. He would not normally pick Robin
for a drinking partner but he feels that tonight no one can destroy
his mood. Besides, he does not want to drink alone.
Are you happy enough to buy me a drink? Robin asks. He is
trying it on. He is always trying it on.
Fred buys Robin a drink and they drink.
Geoffs snug fills up. Pub glow pushes back twilight and men in
worn jackets become bolder with their talk of adventure and horse racing.
Fred feels light as he starts his third pint. Robin is thin and cruel
but you can laugh along at his bitter stories.
So, Fred, how is the doorkeeping? Robin asks.
Its not doorkeeping.
Well, whatever it is.
You meet some famous people, I guess. That must be nice for you.
Robin is probably taking the piss. He usually is.
There arent that many famous people that stay there, actually,
Fred says. He sounds weak again.
Come on. You can tell me. Theyre all tossers anyway. I know
what those places are like.
Fred has learned that Robin is a sort of junior photographer. From time
to time he assists established photographers and meets famous people.
Its clear that the famous fascinate him.
I did meet someone famous today, Fred says, knowing he has
begun some kind of betrayal.
Who? asks Robin, immediately.
Youve probably heard of her. A model, a girl called Sarah
Stanley. Shes American.
Never heard of her.
Yes you have.
No I havent.
You have. Sarah Stanley.
Robins disbelieving face is yellow in the snug-hue.
Youll know who she is if I tell you what shes been
in, Fred suggests.
I will? What? Tell me.
Shes The Girl In The Baseball Cap, Fred says. He takes
a large mouthful of lager. He has done it. He has called her what she
most hates to be called.
Her? You met her? Shes staying in that hotel? I
dont believe you.
She is. She is. Fred swallows more lager. Something is lost,
something that had been with him just a few minutes before.
Prove it, Robin challenges.
How can he?
She showed me the cap, he says, and hope itself collapses
inside his heart.
What, the cap? The "Fuck me" cap?
Yes, that cap. She showed me it.
It is queer but Fred can see somehow Sarah reaching down into one of
those sports bags models always carry and bringing out the cap. It is
as if it really happened. Of course, Sarah would never have kept a thing
like that. She isnt that kind of person.
But Robin believes him now.
Have a drink, he offers, and he is almost nice as he says
it. Geoff, he calls. Draw lager for the friends of
Fred knows he has betrayed Sarah. But now he just wants another drink.
He just wants a good drunk on.
Night unrolls across Russell Square.
Sarah is standing on her balcony, watching the night come. Top sent
her an SMS. They call it a text here forget this dumb modeling. tell
your mom youre sick. I'm back in CA with my uncle and hes
cool. i want to show you big sur. love top. Its cool. It's
nice the way it's written out like that. This is the end of all the
Its a pity theres no one to celebrate with. She should tell
Fred but he went home. Still, theres British beer in the little
ice box and a new Chillis CD in her bag. Hey, things could be worse.
Sarah reaches into her bag for the new CD. In the bag, at the bottom,
under some other stuff, is the cap. She never wears it. She doesnt
know why she kept it. There is something bad about the cap, after all.
But it did kind of fit really neatly. She brings out the cap and puts
it on. There is a rolled-up Whistler poster on the bed. She picks it
up, swings it like a baseball bat and walks towards the full-length
mirror on the closet door.
What the heck. You only live once.
© John Ludlam
John L is an ex - Reuters correspondent now living in SW England
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