Down in the Valley

Aunt Edith tapped the steering wheel.

“Jeremy, would you roll down the window?”

Five minutes later

“Jeremy, would you roll up the window?”

Would Jeremy roll the entire car down the mountainside? Why would he not?

They stopped at a convenience store, a tidy faux-brick structure from the ’70s, and bought bags of grease and salt, bottles of colored sugar water. Maeve and Lucy inhaled the “food” and “drink” and belched, their midriffs oozing over miniskirts that barely covered their overabundant rumps. Humans should be fully clothed or nude, thought Jeremy.

“Jeremy, would you please get me those batteries from the top shelf?” Aunt Edith pointed pointedly, something in her stance indicating that Jeremy could not recognize a battery on his own. How minuscule did she see herself that she could not grasp an item no more than five feet from the floor?

The van had waited patiently in the five-car mini lot. It had not zoomed off and left them like any halfway self-respecting vehicle would.

Jeremy, would you –

And Jeremy always would, without comment or visible reaction, because Jeremy had always been that sort.

Would always be?

Lucy and Maeve, slouching in the back seat, resented the countryside and the absence of their electronic games, which they had uncharacteristically left on the living room table. Their cell phones found no consistent reception in the undulating, wooded hills. There was nothing for them to do but look and think. They could not accomplish both at once and the second only on occasion.

Jeremy loved the woods and the wild, the wilder the better. Sharing it with Aunt Edith and her grand nieces was as enjoyable as being poked in the eye with a stick. Though separated by two generations, the three women shared an insular self-indulgence that excluded the natural world.

On occasion, Jeremy could admit to himself that he was as nasty, bitter and solipsistic as the girls, and more virulent than Aunt Edith, who simply settled into herself and ventured out only to seek inconsequential assistance.

As they exited the spectacular beauty of one of the last remaining old-growth stands in the Northeast, Jeremy carefully plotted the murder of his three companions, rejecting any detail that veered from the narrow path leading to the perfect crime.

Guns were out. They could usually be traced and seldom disposed of effectively, and he had never held, much less fired, a gun.

A knife would hardly be effective against three people, even sleeping; at least one was sure to awaken and make a hideous racket.

Driving the car over a precipice would involve first incapacitating the three occupants, then somehow contriving to shoo the car forward under its own volition – he had no desire to commit suicide. And a plunge down the mountainside might not obliterate them all. The news daily carried stories of “miraculous” escapes.

The best he could do, at the moment, in a tiny soupcon of revolt, was turn the radio to the classical music station which, with occasional drifts and sputters, reached the heart of the woodland.

One, two, three….

“Jeremy, would you mind turning that down just a tad?”

Jeremy flicked the volume control full clockwise, filling the van with St. Seans’ organ symphony to the point of threatening the windows, then quickly revolved the knob in the opposite direction.

“Sorry, wrong way.” The wondrous thrum of organist E. Power Biggs (was ever a human more sublimely christened for his occupation?) barely grunted from the speakers.

“Where are we?” asked Lucy.

In the heart of darkest Africa, where lions devour indolent teens with lip-smacking delight.

“Thirty miles from Morgantown.”

“That where we’re goin’?”

“No, we are simply driving along to enjoy the scenery.”

“Jeez,” said Maeve.

“Now, children,” oozed Aunt Edith in mild remonstration, “the scenery holds endless possibilities.”

It did indeed. In his scheming mind, Jeremy poked beneath the mold of his internal forest floor, spread the venereal openings of its hollow trees, nibbled at the numerous fungi that infested his musings. For this lonely, sequestered man was happiest in his internal wilds that others could never reach.

Yet, if they were to reach them…?

Once the St. Seans had rumbled to its conclusion, Jeremy played idly with the radio dial, which brought him an unending cascade of shrieking commercials, one leaping onto the back of another. At last he stumbled across a nostalgia station, piping doo-wop and mellow R&B from the ’50s.

“What’s that?” wheeped Lucy, her spine tortured into the lower reaches of the back seat.

“Music, my dear. The human voice in harmonic and melodic variety.” He turned the volume up slightly.

“I guess.”

“Where do you propose we eat your lunch?” Aunt Edith placed only the mildest emphasis on “your,” to register her suspicion of the picnic that Jeremy had packed. Sitting on the lap of Mother Earth for repast might impart stains to both her clothing and her assumptions.

“I had thought a mossy stream bank,” he suggested.

Maeve made the sound of a cat under pressure.

Jeremy glanced in the rear view mirror. “Or a large outcropping of volcanic lava.”

“You mustn’t tease, dear,” admonished Aunt Edith.

Mustn’t I?

“I recall a spot,” he mused, only half aloud, “a somewhat unusual spot…” A surge of recollection, a glowing light, a sunrise of the mind, spread across his internal horizon. He maneuvered the radio dial to a rock station that blared even at low decibels and turned the volume to an ear-splitting blast. 

“Hey!” said Maeve.

“Awright!” said Lucy.

Jeremy laughed aloud and began to jive and shimmy in his seat. “Oh yes,” he shouted above the shattering sound, “this is definitely the enjoyable life, the very epitome of cool.” Almost imperceptibly, he pressed his foot with increasing firmness against the accelerator. The van took the snaking curves at 45, 50, 55 mph. 

At 60, Aunt Edith queried, “Jeremy, would you mind slowing down?”

“What?” he bellowed as he increased the volume. “I can’t hear you over this marvelous music.”

“I said – “


“Jeremy, please?”

Without warning, he swerved the van to the side of the road and jolted to a stop that slammed the unseatbelted girls against the front seats.

“Here we are!” he whooped.

“Jeremy, really –”

He switched off the engine.

“Oh frabjous day! Come along, everyone out, come, come, come, time to evacuate, so to speak, ha ha.”

“Where are we?” ventured Maeve, spilling out the right-hand door like a dessert gone bad.

“Who is your favorite rock ‘n’ roll star?” asked Jeremy, bouncing on his toes.

“We like hip-hop the most,” said Lucy.

“Hip-hop paddy-wop, give your dog a bone.” Jeremy swiveled from side to side, alternating feet. “Which hip-hop artist would you most, most just love to meet?”

“50 Cent,” said Maeve, with something close to attention.

“50 Cent! Just as I thought! Right there at the airport I looked upon the two of you, and I said to myself, ‘These two must surely be aficionados of Mr. 50 Cent.'”

“What’s an aficionado?” asked Lucy.

“Ha ha! Silly little geese. Such a sense of humor.”

Aunt Edith touched Jeremy’s arm, a moth-like contact. “Are you perfectly all right, Jeremy?”

“Perfectly! Without defect! A complete and utterly unblemished adherent to the world of 40 Cent.”

“It’s 50 Cent,” said Maeve, working up almost enough effort to sneer.

“Of course! Even this dreadful economy could not devalue such a stellar artist of hippity hop. Now pay close attention! We are the beneficiaries, so to speak, of exquisite fate, for Mr. Cent has a cabin below, in this very valley. Come along, we must truly join him.” 

Aunt Edith glanced back at the van. “Should we take the picnic?”

“Oh, pshaw, we will dine on our return.” He squatted twice at the roadside, hands on knees, then pumped his arms. “First, we must work up an appetite.”

The girls looked down the steep incline that slashed and skewed to accommodate the concrete and blacktop rubble of a recent road repair.

“Why’d 50 Cent wanna be out here? He doesn’t rhyme about trees.”

“Oh, but he does. He rhymes ‘oak’ with ‘broke,’ and ‘hemlock’ with ‘ham hock.’ He once rhymed ‘maple’ with ‘staple’ – or it may have been ‘may pole.’ No one dared do that before 60 Cent.”

“50 Cent.”

“Let us not quibble over differential denominations, ha ha.” Jeremy strode forward, over the lip of the raw hillside, and lurched down the scree, holding Aunt Edith’s hand, pulling her across roots and boulderettes that tripped her. Behind them, Maeve and Lucy levered hand over pudgy hand from sapling to ruined sapling.

“Down in the val-ley, the val-ley so lo-o-w,” warbled Jeremy, “hang your head o-ver, hear the wind blow-wo-wo-wo.”

“I don’t like this,” said Maeve as she picked herself up from a spill that scraped her knees and abraded her $60 designer miniskirt, dyed black as the dark matter behind stars.

“But you like Mr. Cent, don’t you?” yawped Jeremy over his shoulder, “you want to meet Mr. Cent, don’t you?”

“I don’t think he’s down there,” wailed Lucy as she slammed into a scarred hemlock that ripped her face. “We oughta go back.”

“Go back, and miss the chance of a lifetime? Mr. Cent is up to 70 now, he’ll be 80 before you can say ‘Shazam.'”

Aunt Edith had slipped from Jeremy’s grasp and dropped behind as they plummeted through ferns, undergrowth and spindly saplings. They had passed beyond the roadway rubble and into farmland reverting to its ancestral woods. Who could ever have farmed these precipitous hillsides? Yet someone had.

The soft, sensual trickle of a stream on the valley floor would have exhilarated travelers less untested than Lucy and Maeve. Jeremy felt reborn, bursting with possibility. “Gather to me, children – you too, Aunt Edith,” he megaphoned up the hill to the laboring lady. “This is the” – he leaned forward and whispered behind his hand – “Garden of Eden.”

“That’s not real, it’s a story,” said Lucy.

“Jeez,” said Maeve. “Where’s 50 Cent?”

“I’m sorry. I’d totally forgotten. Mr. Cent had a previous engagement.”

“But you said—”

“Perhaps I lied.” Jeremy whooped with laughter. “Perhaps your uncle lied. You know, I have no idea of my true kinship to you. Are we cross cousins, uncrossed cousins, mildly exasperated second cousins forcibly removed? I may be a grandsire of exceptional insight and fortitude. Or – I may be completely mistaken.”

Maeve leaned against a paper birch, which she could not have identified if her life depended on it. “You’re a nut case.”

“I am a case of nuts! And here is your great aunt, stranded against a tree root and wondrously confused. What do you suppose exalts an aunt enough to make her ‘great’? Might you be a great niece instead of a grand niece? Do you feel great or the least bit grand? Aunt Edith, it’s so good to see you here.”

“I’m exhausted.”

“Of course you are. Have some tea.”

Aunt Edith swiveled her head, though her body barely moved. “I don’t see any tea.”

“Exactly! So we must forge ahead until the tea presents itself.”

As they forged, the spindly growth became more robust, the landscape more solemn, the creek more assertive. No one had spoken for five minutes when Lucy suddenly plopped on the ground like a sack tossed from a peddler’s shoulder.

“I’m not going any more.”

“I see that,” said Jeremy. “Your locomotion has gone loco. You may have snapped a tie-rod. Or whatever those things are. Well, that puts us in a fix.” He turned to Aunt Edith, who puffed to a stop. “We can go no farther. We must pull up here and, I suppose – rot.”

“Jeremy, I’m concerned.”

“As am I! Rot is very bad for one’s bearings. We wouldn’t want to lose our bearings, would we?”

“I don’t think 50 Cent was ever down in this dirty place,” said Lucy from her own segment of dirt.

“50 – if I may be so familiar – is actually much attracted to loam and forest detritus. You might not expect it, no, but he is a man of the woods, like the orangutan.”

“50 Cent’s not a monkey.”

“Nor is the orangutan.”

“What are we doing here?” asked Aunt Edith.

“Very little,” admitted Jeremy, “so I would suggest – strongly suggest – that we all arise and DO SOMETHING.” The sudden explosion of his voice staggered Maeve against a fungally diseased beech, tipped Lucy into a bed of moss, and inflated Aunt Edith’s face as though she were attached to a cylinder of helium. Jeremy’s own face had taken on a frightening tincture of decayed animation. The three lined up behind him to follow without further complaint.

The valley trail branched. The left fork rose away from the creek bank in a gentle, unassuming incline. Jeremy took this, and the group’s continuing silence seemed to expand into the outer world. Their feet made little sound on the hard-packed earth. The canopy of trees grew increasingly dense, absorbing the sunlight high in the branches of majestic oak, ash, and occasional hemlock. The land held a serenity edged with unease.

“I don’t want to be here,” whined Lucy.

“Good fortune awaits,” said Jeremy, pointing to a small clearing where a tiny plank house, a cabin at best, sagged and wept at the lost history of its youth. “Mr. Cent’s hideaway,” he exclaimed.

“You said he wasn’t around,” growled Maeve.

“At the moment, no, but his great-grand-friend, his thrice-removed and twice-worthy mentor, Johnny Dollar, should certainly be at home.”

Jeremy led the troop along a worn stretch, no longer quite a path. He rapped a neat rat-a-tat on the plank door, its skewed Z of cross-supports lifting away from what they were meant to tie together. For a moment there was no sound, then a vague shuffling and the padding of animal feet.

The door was opened by a tall, scrawny, mustached man in a battered city Stetson and the remnants of a pinstripe suit. His face sported a half-week’s growth of sad whiskers. In his right hand he held a chipped glass of dirty brown liquid. Two forgettable mutts framed him.

“My dear Johnny,” enthused Jeremy.

“Jeremy,” sighed the disheveled figure.

“I have brought some friends. Relatives, actually.”

“Everything’s relative,” mumbled Dollar, stepping aside. Jeremy bounded through the doorway, followed by the sullen footfalls of the two girls and Aunt Edith’s reticence.

“I’m thirsty,” hazarded Maeve.

“To be sure,” said Jeremy. “All this long, long walk without a sip of bottled water! Johnny, dear friend, might you have something to ease the dryness of these shy young things? And Aunt Edith – oh my, I have not introduced you all. Johnny Dollar, please meet Maeve, Lucy and, as I just exclaimed, Aunt Edith, who has along the way expressed the desire for a cup of – no? – a glass of ice tea.”

“Yeah.” Dollar drifted behind a scarred, chrome-edged mini-bar and leaned down to rummage. “Cokes?” He held up a small glass bottle with an inflated bust and slimmed waist. “Nah, no tea.”

“A Coke would serve admirably,” admitted Aunt Edith. The girls reached out like organ-grinder’s monkeys, standing well away from the mini-bar. Dollar church-keyed the caps from three bottles and walked around to hand them out. Lucy looked at hers as though it were an archaeological find. “We wanted to see 50 Cent,” she whined.

Dollar made a dismissive gesture. “He went off to fish.”

“What’s he doin’ with fish?” asked Maeve, her petulance threatening to dismember her face. One of the mutts sniffed her abraded knee and she kicked at it, feebly.

“For dinner,” explained Dollar.

Fish,” snarked Lucy.

“50 Cent loves fish,” he added.

“Trout!” exclaimed Jeremy. “Mackerel! Pike! Sturgeon! Albacore!”

“Have a seat, ladies.” Dollar waved a long-boned hand toward a wall of caned furniture half lost against the cabin’s water-stained planking. Aunt Edith sank into the nearest chair, which complained and then split, wedging her posterior between the cross members. The girls walked aimlessly and attempted to peer out the filth-encrusted window.

“A fish fry,” continued Jeremy, “with french fries and tartar sauce and vinegar and perhaps macaroni and cheese. Yams? Not likely. But pickles? Definitely.”

Dollar scratched one of the dogs behind its ears. The claws of the animal’s right hind leg clattered on the floor in response. “Me, I’m sick of fish,” he grumped. “Used to be I could wolf a T-bone every couple weeks. Now….” He shrugged at the memory, ambled to the battered round table in the center of the room, and fell into the wreckage of a bentwood chair. His elbows rested momentarily on the tabletop, then slid back until he transferred his slim weight to his forearms. 

Jeremy eyed the cobwebs that hung deep as thoughts of despair in the corners, and at the aged, cracked floorboards. Someone had carved “SCREW BATMAN” into the unfinished wood of the table. “Business bad, eh?” he queried Johnny.

“It stinks. The big outfits get the real grab. Met Life, AIG. I’m just a two-bit insurance dick. Who needs ’em these days? All I get’s half-assed divorce cases, and two out of three, they don’t fork over when I bring ’em the goods. Everybody’s a chiseler.”

Johnny pushed upright, then retraced the few feet to the mini-bar, where he rattled and clanked in the back and drew out a tall, smeared bottle. He filled his glass, shot a third of the liquid down his throat, then studied the contents and grimaced. 

Jeremy pointed to the bottle. “Could you spare me a bit of the same?” 

Dollar rummaged for another glass, filled it half way and handed it over. Jeremy sipped, delicately. “I have a proposition.”

Dollar shrugged. “So did Loeb. Ended his sentence with a proposition.” He started to laugh but choked on his recent intake of liquor. He swiveled his shoulders against the internal grating of a rusted hinge.

“Not that sort of proposition. I have a case to offer you, a business transaction with a strictly monetary recompense.”

Across the room, the girls, trim in knee-length dresses, studied a small floral tatting framed near the misted window. Aunt Edith smiled in her padded rocker, fingers tapping its arms to an unheard rhythm.

Dollar brushed cracker crumbs from the smooth surface of the table and held his hand out to the Doberman by his side. The dog’s long tongue scoured the crumbs from his palm. Johnny smiled broadly. “Now, that’s the kind of transaction I go for. Shoot.” He propelled the remaining liquid from his glass and sucked it down with head thrown back.

“Oh, no shooting. Not a bit of it. I have,” Jeremy announced in conspiratorial tones, “uncovered a case of fraud at least, I would think, fifteen years in the making.”

Johnny’s hawk-like face showed interest. “Goes a back a ways, hmm?”

“It does. And” – Jeremy blasted a similar quantity of the smooth liquid down his own throat – “without your help, I fear it could continue into the indefinite future.”

Maeve and Lucy, side by side on the horsehair love seat, released a seeping sadness. Their hands rested in their laps and their knit shawls hung in limp folds. Behind Jeremy, Aunt Edith asked, quietly, “Jeremy, would you –”

“I would not!” His venomous blast pulsed the corners of the cabin.

“I was only going to ask for another… drink. Is that so awful, Mr. J?”

Jeremy turned in his chair. A simmering smile spread across Edith’s face, a suggestion of…

“But of course. Please excuse my inattention.” Jeremy signaled to Johnny, who whipped a fresh Coke from under the gleaming counter. He strode across the room and held it out it to Edith, then, bowing, offered her his hand. She arose from her brocade armchair with fluid grace to join them at the table, where she tipped a small measure of whiskey into a glass and added a splash of Coke.

Dollar leaned toward Jeremy. “So OK, what’s the scuff?”

“I have two, umm, packages, that I would like you to take under your watch.”

“Are they hot?”

Jeremy choked on a chortle. “Some might think so, but you must judge for yourself.”

“How’s this mesh with your fraud?”

“The fraud is inherent. It happened long ago, but it continues, personified. Only you can prevent it from proliferating.”

One elbow resting on the lustrous tabletop, Edith released a light spurt of laughter. She tapped her high heels on the floor and pointed a questioning finger at Dollar’s half-full bottle. Johnny stood and poured her an ample measure.

“Mind if I ask for a retainer?” he addressed Jeremy. The relaxed grin fit well with the knife-edge crease of his trousers.

“Naturally.” Jeremy withdrew his wallet, bulging with bills. He fingered half a dozen from the wad and handed them across to Dollar, who folded them into his pocket without counting.

“Looks like we’re yakking the same lingo. OK, these packages, where do I pick them up?”

“I have them with me, by Jehovah.” Jeremy waved an exuberant hand toward the two almost matronly figures standing in the sunlight streaming through the unobscured window. Their skin lay lax; their expressions, though vacant, held a suggestion of experience that might, perhaps, have earned the vacancy.

“Huh,” grunted Dollar. “How long you need me to hold onto ’em?”


“‘At’s a long time.”

“And a day.”

Dollar stood and considered, his hand fondling the bills in his pocket. “I dunno.”

“What would the Fat Man do in such a case, or Barry Craig, or the Falcon?”

Dollar looked at the dowdy maidens, at the fresh saw cuts in the wall planking , at the table’s bent-iron chairs. “Why not? A job’s a job.”

Edith rose and smoothed the taffeta covering her slim hips.

“What’s happening?” asked Maeve in a flickering whisper.

“Oh , dear me,” tsked Jeremy, “I didn’t properly explain. Mea culpa. You see, my dear, Mr. Dollar will be taking care of you and your sister from now on.”

Maeve’s eyes spread open like a map unfolding. Tears rolled down Lucy’s flaccid face, but her hands gripped each other in tight embrace, a mating of garter snakes.

“With Mr. Cent’s help, of course,” Jeremy amended.

“Unless,” snapped Johnny Dollar, his snap-brim angled above his sharp-boned face, “he doesn’t make it back for a bit. Sometimes he just kind of… meanders off.” He drew his hand across his mustache and smoothly downed the remainder of his drink.

Jeremy raised his own glass high. “To Mr. Dollar, who can be trusted, believe you me, to make your stay not only comfortable, but I dare say, extraordinary.”

“But we were going to…” began Lucy, her hands twisting in the ghost-gray dress that reached halfway to her ankles. She could not say quite what it was that they were going to.

Edith sidled up to Dollar and held out her now-empty glass. Dollar reached behind the polished bar to fetch a narrow-necked bottle and three aluminum tumblers, snugged into nappy cloth holders. Into each tumbler he splashed an ample dollop of the amber liquid. Jeremy joined Edith and Johnny in a celebration of Four Roses, as they once grew in the vivid neon of Times Square. The merry-makers clunked tumblers and smiled like three old friends.

Jeremy spread his arms wide and twirled, a dancer. He stopped to face the two girls who huddled in resignation. “My dears, my dear dears.” He reached, as if to swoop them into his arms, but they backed away, unblinking deer in a headlight.

By the bright blue front door, Jeremy and Edith bid adieu to handsome Johnny and his frisking Weimaraner, then stepped across the welcome mat with its jolly family of bears. They retraced the trail from the ancient wood into the regeneration of the once-ruined valley. Jeremy whistled “Canadian Sunset” while Edith slapped her hand against a succession of saplings.

Back in the car, after their rugged but exhilarating ascent of the embankment, Edith placed her arms behind her head, a Cheshire Cat smile enveloping her face. “I can’t believe I’d forgotten what a pain in the ass those two could be.” She closed one eye and squinted at Jeremy. “You think they’ll be OK?”

Jeremy stretched his arms and flexed his fingers, relaxing the often-frozen contours of his mouth. “Have no fear. Johnny Dollar is a renowned – an exquisitely renowned – investigator and righter of all conceivable wrongs. He knows the ropes, as they say. All will be for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.”

Edith slid closer in the seat and nudged him with her elbow. “You’re OK. Sorry I gave you all that grief. You know, I’m not exactly sure I’m your aunt. Maybe… I might be a… somewhat closer relative.”

Everything is relative,” said Jeremy. As he turned the key in the ignition, he found Edith’s hand on his.

On the day of their return to the valley, Jeremy’s step had lost something of its old spring. He slithered and slid down the incline, now slicked smooth, the road debris absorbed by moss- and weed-encrusted earth. Edith skipped nimbly, finding easy footing on the occasional tree root or snag of rocky outcropping.

At the bottom, they turned slightly left, toward the cabin, marching along what remained of the trail, stopping short before the abandoned shack, its sides bowed and leaning, its roof gone ignorant of its function. The door hung, precarious, by one hinge. It threatened to complete its dissolution as Jeremy carefully shifted it open.

The inside reeked of mold and darker possibilities. Most of the scant furniture was gone or lying in shards. When had anyone last inhabited this repellant space?

Jeremy shuffled through the clutter and splinters without clear intention. Edith scanned the walls.

“Look,” she said, pointing.

Two mid-calf dresses drooped from rusted hangers resting on nails. Both had incipient flower patterns that would never bloom. When Edith reached out to the one on the right, the fabric pulled apart at her touch, as though it had been an illusion. 

“Where can they be?” She asked, waving her hand at the emptiness. “You said he could be trusted.”

“They must have moved. Maybe he got his business back together.”

“He really had a detective business?”

“I told you. Yeah, he can be trusted if anyone can.”

“And he never called you about them?”

“He never called me before or after. We weren’t that way with each other.”

He peered into the space beneath what remained of the bar. Inside, a bottle, half full, of Johnny Walker Red. “Here we go.”

A piece of lined notebook paper hung from a nail on the wall across from the dresses. Edith reached for it but held back. It could well crumble to dust. The handwriting was ill-formed, so elementary that she could make nothing of it, except the closing salutation, “Yours Truly,” and below that… a dollar sign?

She shook her hand in consternation, then shook her head. “I think we should leave.”

“Guess so. Not much to do. Here. For sure.”

Turning, Jeremy spied something on the floor where the table had stood. It  must have been there when they entered; why hadn’t he noticed it then? He picked up the fedora, caressed its gentle brim and smart top fold, both dust-free. He placed it on his head at what he took to be a rakish angle and beckoned to Edith. 

They did not reset the failing door as they left. The elements had claimed the rest of the structure, let them have this last, barely resistant bit. Had the same elements, or some elementals, also claimed the inhabitants? No way to know, so why question?

As they traversed the half-erased path to their climb, Edith took Jeremy’s hand. Jeremy, in his found fedora, pictured himself a gallant figure.

He was not. It takes a fluid grace, an expansive sense of self, to earn the promise of command offered by a fedora.

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