The Ponytail

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There are many mysteries in life. Large and small, they appear to us all the time, misty dawns of recognition that our experience is tilted a degree or two out of true. Some of us are lucky enough to unravel a few, but most of us travel to our grave with a heaping portion that we never figured out.

I often ponder the big ones. What’s my purpose in life? Why are some people so cruel? What does it feel like to take your last breath? Who reads this blog, and more puzzling, why do they? However, the most intriguing mysteries are the small, inexplicable things. I like the ones beginning with a queer observation and leading to the luscious meat of a story – unknowable, yet pregnant with possibilities. The suddenness of these mysteries are delicious and the answers not nearly as important as the mental journeys that breath life into them.

The Weirdness Begins

One very early morning I stopped at an ATM. It was drizzling and the streets reflected tail lights and street lights with their asphalt sheen. The windshield wipers tapped a womblike heartbeat and I could just make out my breath in the cool, moist air. My mind was on other things.

I navigated the ATM’s boops and beeps of technology and the robot inside spit some cash into my hand. I began to wonder about the money machine. What did it look like inside? How much cash did it hold? What did its ever-vigilant camera see each day?

I stuffed the cash into my wallet and returned to my car. Along the way, I looked down and saw something straight out of the Twilight Zone. A short, 12-foot walk gave my stock of mysteries a new one I still remember, with pleasure, to this day.

On the sidewalk, next to a deco-urban tree, lay a long, brunette pony tail with a red rubber band still attached. Next to the hair was a gleaming fresh pair of scissors alongside its torn packaging.

I don’t know about you, but this seemed a rather odd occurrence. The discovery slipped my moorings to the mundane mysteries and made me wonder.

What’s Up With That?

The stuff lay directly in the ATM camera’s view. Did someone routinely view the tape and discover the explanation for the emergency barbering? Had it been a robber slicing off his hair as a quick identity change after a bank heist? Perhaps a girlfriend on her way home from the close-by bar, was infuriated with a boyfriend who’d always loved the pony tail – maybe a little too much? Maybe the answer was a Britneyesque breakdown just one step short of a fully shaved head.

My mind struggled to grasp the possible explanations. I thought about the find for several more days, playing out each plot line and thinking to myself that a ponytail laid out on the sidewalk would make a great start for a novel or short story, even if the story went no farther than the ponytail itself.

Taking It to the Grave

So, it remains one of those mysteries I’ll take to my grave. I suppose it’s possible the find had a plausible and reasonable explanation, though I could never think of one. But the oddest thing about the Day of the Ponytail is that I’ve never told it to anyone until now.

I didn’t hide it, at least not in the way people hide UFO reports for fear of ridicule. I just decided to keep it to myself and pull it out occasionally to play with like an old, familiar toy. I’ve often thought about a short story centering on it, but I’ve never written one. It has remained just a personal mystery for nearly 12 years, a landmark on the road to my last breath. I find myself wondering if it will come to me in that split second before I depart this earth, but knowing that even if it does, it’ll remain a mystery I will never have the pleasure of solving.

So, I bequeath this mystery to you. Use it wisely. Take it out in moments of boredom and think of all the possibilities.

Personally, I think it’s a mystery worth knowing, but not ripe for solving.


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