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two accoutrements, both alike in dignity

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In 1958, an unaccompanied teenager steps warily into a knife store in Switzerland. He spends hours picking out the blade that balances best in his hand and a genuine leather holster. He immediately sits the knife in its holster around at his hip, like a baby carrier. The knife peeks through the holes to gaze at its new owner, his blonde hair, sharp jaw, young dark eyes that glitter with intelligence.

Hello, says the hat, scrappy and a little bit scuffed from another life, to the knife, gleaming.

The knife asks, Why do you speak with an Australian accent?

The hat grumbles at its disdainful tone, Goodness! What an arrogant prick. But to the knife, it says, Same reason you speak with a Swiss one. I’m an Akubra.

The knife asks, Ah, did you ever come from Australia?

With a sigh, the hat says, A long time ago. But it doesn’t matter now.

How long have you been with this boy? The knife asks curiously.

Five years. He bought me from a pawn shop, a block from his apartment. He buys most of his stuff from pawn shops; his friends say it’s an ironic thing since he plays chess. The hat says, stiff as its brim. His name is Benny, by the way.

The knife doesn’t reply, retreating back into the shadows of the holster, and the hat would roll its eyes if it had them as if to say, Why do I even bother?

As Benny saunters out of the store, knife knocking lightly at his hip, the hat thinks, at least his ego will take a hit once he sees the apartment.

And that’s how this begins.

Benny attends tournaments and photo shoots and more tournaments and more photo shoots. The hat and the knife feature prominently in at least one photo still every time a camera is in the room.

Although the hat still thinks the knife is stuck up, a little big for its metaphorical britches even in Benny’s cellar basement home, it’s since come to respect the dignity that knife carries, the comfort it brings Benny when he’s walking through the city to poker games late at night. And he does take good care of them, ensuring the knife rests easily in the closet next to the hat.

They travel around the US and around the world, sight-seeing more than most people in a lifetime. Together, they’re a fascinating duo for the photographers and journalists (and occasionally, people hitting on Benny in the bar), who inquire the reasons behind the chess player’s costume. Why would a chess player wear such a hat and wield such a knife? Benny changes the story every time.

One night, after Benny is redressing then slipping out of some girl’s apartment in the early hours of morning, the knife turns to the hat and asks, so, how did you enjoy being cast as Clint Eastwood’s very hat from A Fistful of Dollars?

The hat can’t help but laugh in spite of its attempt to remain aloof. Being a movie star’s costume would be so glamorous. I don’t know why he doesn’t correct them when they ask about a “cowboy hat.” It’s ridiculous.

The knife laughs along, too. They’re Americans. They don’t know any better. It’s okay, I don’t think she believed him. She was in it for the hair.

The hat responds, Did you enjoy your role? You got three movie sets, right?

Grumbling now, the knife says, I could barely keep from scoffing. I wish he’d use me for more than sharpening pencils. The most action I get is when he’s showing off.

The hat replies soothingly, I know, you’re made for much more than this.

The knife stares, a funny look on its belly. Thank you. You’re a fine hat, too. Benny’s lucky to have you. And I’m glad you welcomed me here, to him.

The hat is taken aback but accepts the compliment nonetheless.

And so, they become friends.

It’s the 1963 U.S. Open in Las Vegas. Benny had played through a week of games, including two adjournments and one draw. He’s ultimately Co-Champion, but the knife doesn’t get a good look at the other winner.

Hey, Hat, who won? The knife asks as the cameras blind Benny.

Benny. Beat some teenager. Red hair. The hat sounds both thick and parched.

Hat, are you okay? The knife’s tone becomes more worried.

Yeah. He was just...sweating bullets through this whole game. I’m all sticky inside and can’t really talk. The hat tries to clear its throat, shake off the embarrassment of being so droopy and out of shape.

He plays better with you on, the knife says softly.

The heat that rises to the dent of the hat’s crown and its pinches has nothing to do with Las Vegas.

They gossip about the leather coat and the silver chain necklaces that throng under it, twittering, flashing vacant smiles under the dim bulb of the apartment for attention. In the apartment, the coat is hung from a hook.

I hear the coat’s a hand-me-down, some coat his dad used to wear, the hat sniffs. It’s too bad it’s definitely dripping in sweat.

The knife says wryly, That explains his attitude. Entitled as any present from daddy would be. There were plenty of those folks back in my department store. They were unbearable.

The hat laughs, then says back, thoughtfully, I used to think that about you, you know.

If a knife can be surprised, this knife is. It says, Why would you think that?

Fancy European store, how could I not? The hat says jokingly, but it’s clear each word has been selected with care, practiced repeatedly in the hat’s head, as if to not offend. You seemed so smug about my low-class accent.

Well, you were gravely mistaken, because I think your accent is cute, says the knife, never one to beat around the bush so much as slice through it. The knife’s words are blunt and to the point. It’s come to be one of the hat’s favorite things about the knife.

The hat hesitates for a moment before saying, I think yours is cute, too.

Well, if a knife can’t be surprised, it can surely beam, and it catches the last ray of sunshine from Benny’s window to gleam in a way that takes the hat’s breath away.

When another knife arrives at the apartment, wrapped in a fabric case with a bow, the hat feels like something’s amiss.

Benny’s knife stares curiously at the visitor. The visitor stares back. If Benny’s knife was expensive, this knife must be royalty. Its tang, connecting the blade to the bejeweled handle, is ivory. It must be the most expensive thing Benny has ever purchased (well, besides his phone bill since that Moscow phone call).

Painfully aware that at their unflinching gazes, the hat feels something inside it seize up. Oh, how far it’s come from its easy dismissal of the knife as some elitist accoutrement.

Knife...Knife, wait. The hat tries to say.

Is everything okay, Hat? The knife turns, worried.

The hat can’t figure out how to say things like No or Please don’t go.

The hat had always imagined the hat and knife together, meant to be together, never apart. Benny never has his hat without his knife, nor his knife without his hat. But now there’s another knife in the picture. The hat’s not sure what to do with this feeling - what do hats do when they’re all tight like this? Tanned like some animal hide, cured into a pelt? The hat had existed long before the knife had, in some factory in another hemisphere, but it hadn’t truly felt alive until it had joined Benny’s ensemble, his motley sartorial gang, all those years ago. The hat can’t imagine going back, can’t imagine being stuck with the stupid leather jacket and those insipid necklaces for the rest of time. Or worse, being left behind, back in a pawn shop or a donation box it can barely remember anymore. As much as it complains about the state of the apartment, the apartment is home.

The hat needn’t have worried. To the hat’s relief, the other knife departs from the apartment, from Benny’s knife’s view. It turns out this knife was a gift from their owner to a visitor, a pretty girl with auburn hair and white pajamas. She’d been here for weeks, then she'd left, but now she keeps coming back. Benny tends to be a bundle of nervous, excited energy right before she comes and then very occupied with her once she arrives.

The hat wishes it could grasp the knife’s hilt, look into its beautiful rivets. But it has to settle for that night, when they talk. Once it's sure there are no eavesdroppers, the hat asks, We’re friends, right?

The knife’s tone is neutral, I suppose we’re friends.

The hat struggles for words. What do you think makes two things compatible? Would you be friends with any other hat that comes by? Would you get along this well with a baseball cap? A straw fedora?

The knife is staring. Still, since it’s an inanimate object lacking the ability for locomotion on its own, a slave to inertia.

The hat tries again, If there were another knife...would you rather be friends with that knife instead?

The knife peers at the hat with the tip facing it, Hat, are you...jealous?

The hat curls around the word, jealous, because that’s exactly what it is, but it doesn’t feel good to admit it. I’m sorry, forget I said anything. The hat thinks helplessly to itself, It was a really pretty knife. And the way you looked at it...

The knife interrupts him, saying Hat, Benny Watts was born so that he could buy you in a pawn shop and me in Switzerland. The universe aligned so that we could meet at a specific time, in a specific place, in this dingy excuse of an apartment, through this messy excuse of a person. And I’m not going to interrupt the will of the universe. I’m not going anywhere.

The hat is speechless, but the knife continues.

We were always compatible, it’s in every fiber of your body and every particle of my blade.  But like all other objects, we're fated not just by compatibility but by circumstance.  I was always meant to meet you this way, you were meant to meet me. I was not meant to meet anything like I’ve met you. 

The knife ends his speech, pleased. The hat feels a warmth, some kind of luminescence that’s so unlike the hair that usually tickles it or the wind that hurts it. The knife’s gaze is twice as powerful on the hat as it was on that other knife. The knife’s curiosity earlier is nothing compared to the knife’s intensity now.

And there they sit, in each other’s orbit, just close enough to talk but not close enough to touch.

For the knife and the hat, the nights become more precious, for it’s their special time to spend with each other, with only the accompaniment of the quiet dust of wooden floors, their owner’s heavier breathing, and the moon.

They try to stretch their finite moments into eternity. They’re alone here. The necklaces stay around Benny’s neck while he sleeps. The leather jacket, they’re pretty sure, doesn’t speak, and even if so, would have zero interest in talking to them anyway.

So, they play verbal chess, as they’ve picked up from all of Benny’s speeches over the years (or at least, their version of it). They laugh until the hat is shaking and the knife’s bolster hurts, and their accents are still strong after all these years.

The hat hangs from a hook, across from a mirror. It’s never been insecure before, but now the feelings creep around its band. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve got someone to impress. Someone who’s so rarely used it’s in basically pristine condition, used solely for sharpening pencils that are only occasionally used, so it’s still shiny, shrouded from sun damage, and dust-free when it sits all day in a belt.

When their conversations dwindle into silence, the hat stares for hours at its reflection, a little sad, poking at every imperfection. It becomes a nightly routine.

One night, the hat hears a whisper, like a confession, if a comforting touch were put to words, one accessory to another.

I like your trim, Hat.

Something swells inside the hat, and every scuff mark, blemish, stain, and discoloration stops mattering.

You’re my best friend, Knife.

The years have long since blurred together. The hat and the knife continue to talk for hours into the night, but they have also learned a comfortable silence, observations tossed casually.

Our boy's shirts are getting nicer, have you noticed?

Yeah, I’ve seen a silk one lying about. Has that girl been getting him things?

Well, they say opposites attract. Especially opposite sartorial choices.

Especially opposites like us.

The knife’s hilt may be black, and the hat may be a long-faded brown, but oh, how they are engulfed with color.

One day, Benny carelessly drops his knife and his jacket to the floor; he’s reuniting with the girl after some time apart, a frenzied moment of passion in their long-distance relationship. The hat is knocked off and falls to the floor, like a leaf from a tree, to join the knife. This is the first time they've ever touched.

Hello, says the knife to the hat, like it’s their first time meeting again.

So, this is what a knife feels like, says the hat. Your rivets still look amazing after all these years.

Your underbrim is really nice, the knife replies. Though I bet you’d look better with the liner off.

The hat giggles, Well, despite all that whining about not being sharpened, you haven’t lost your edge, have you?

This handle was made for loving, the knife says slyly. After all these years.

The moment feels too precious to break; they don’t know how this happened, they don’t know whether this can ever happen again.

The hat takes a deep breath and swallows as a only a hat can, Hey, Knife. Do you still like my trim?