Agnes Lamb is your average sixteen-year-old: bored and desperate, majoring in procrastination and a hundred percent done with her current life.
Willing to do anything it takes to simply feel again, Agnes starts to explore the workings of her inner mind - but "anything it takes" is quite the gray area, and Agnes is blissfully unaware that in her struggle for self-improvement, she might very well be destroying everything else.
Constructive criticism and ratings are appreciated!
The Parakeet's Plunge
â€œDude, I told you â€“ no swearing.â€
I gape at the animal in the living room, which is happily wrecking Pebblesâ€™ scratching pole with its teeth. The beast's hairy tail, recently trimmed for the hot summer weather, is almost invisible with speed as it wags back and forth wildly. â€œSince when do you guys have a dog? I thought your parents hated anything but cats â€“ oh my goodness, how did you persuade your dad?â€
Lee has a giant grin slapped onto his face. â€œGrandma couldnâ€™t take care of him anymore and Mom was unable to say no to a dog as charming as Bark Obama.â€
My eyes flit back to the dog, who looked up at the sound of his name. â€œBark Obama?â€ I repeat. â€œYou have got to be kidding me.â€
â€œBefore you ask, I donâ€™t think heâ€™s a Republican,â€ Lee sniggers. â€œDonâ€™t start petting him either â€“ Bark wonâ€™t nip, but Gran says he hates it when strangers touch him.â€
I let a low whistle escape. Bark Obama ignores me. â€œWhat is he, even? Some kind of shepherdâ€™s dog?â€
Lee starts laughing again. â€œAggie, you're not serious, are you?â€
â€œEr, Akita?â€ I guess, half-hopeful. â€œPart-albino German Shepherd or something?
â€œHusky. Bark is a husky, Agnes.â€
â€œWell, good luck with that,â€ I mutter. â€œShe should have picked a black dog.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be so dogcist.â€ He stomps on my foot. â€œGo to your corner.â€
â€œGosh, Lee, why arenâ€™t you a comedian?â€ I shake my head, faking a look of pure bewilderment. â€œYouâ€™re so fricking hilarious.â€
Lee looks down, a vague pull of the mouth signifying the birth of a smile. â€œEnough about the dog. How are you feeling?â€
I donâ€™t reply right away; instead I walk towards the terrible flower-patterned sofa his parents have had since forever and sit down â€“ it sags so much I am almost level with the floor. Itâ€™s warm to the touch, though, and soft as a grandmotherâ€™s embrace. The tell-tale crumbs strewn around only reinforce this image; it feels like home, more than Home feels like home. â€œHow Iâ€™m feelingâ€¦â€ I say slowly, racking my brain for an answer. â€œNormal, I guess.â€
Thereâ€™s a peculiar glint in Leeâ€™s eyes as he sits down next to me: itâ€™s like curiosity and fear, like a deep, black hunger that he just canâ€™t satisfy. His voice is just as greedy as he speaks, rendered to almost nothing. â€œWhat is normal like to you?â€
Something about that sentence makes me uncomfortable. It could be the fear underlying Leeâ€™s voice, or the absolute eagerness in his question that leaves me tingling, or the way his tongue stumbles over the world normal. He is trying so hard, so very hard, toâ€¦ Iâ€™m not sure. To help? Understand?
â€œI meanâ€¦â€ Lee adjusts himself. â€œThis is going to sound weird asâ€”â€
â€œLEE FERN!â€ Wanda shouts from the kitchen. â€œYou were not about to say that word!â€
â€œFuck,â€ he finishes under his breath, before yelling back, â€œSorry, Ma!â€
â€œYou had better be sorry! Thereâ€™s plenty of room in provision closet of ours! I am not kidding!â€
â€œThere once was a boy named Lee,â€ I start to sing softly, â€œDesperate to be aâ€”â€
Lee slaps my arm, cheeks stretched painfully wide to allow his big grin. â€œShh,â€ he urges, barely audible through his withheld laughter. â€œAgnes, quiet!â€
â€œDesperate to be a whatta?â€ Wanda pokes her head around the corner, looking suspicious. â€œWhat are you two talking about?â€
â€œNothing,â€ Lee protests in a muffled tone, hands folded over his mouth. Tears have sprung in his eyes. â€œItâ€™s nothing.â€
â€œDesperate to be aâ€¦â€ I whisper.
â€œAgnes, Iâ€™m begging youâ€”â€
Wandaâ€™s round face goes from perplexed to unimpressed in a brief three seconds. â€œYou two are hopeless,â€ she claims. â€œYour grandmother is right, Lee; you will end up working in some dirty garage.â€
â€œAs a tattoo artist,â€ I say with a straight face. â€œDating a transvestite.â€
â€œA gorgeous transvestite,â€ Lee interjects. â€œAt least get your facts right, Aggie.â€
â€œSorry,â€ I snicker, â€œI was thinking of my future as a Professional Sleeper.â€
Thereâ€™s a dramatic pause as Wanda stares at us, and then slowly disappears back into the kitchen. A loud clanging of pots and pans ensues, followed by the unmistakable smell of saffron and rice as a package is ripped open.
â€œCurry?â€ I guess.
â€œCorrecto-llama.â€ Lee grabs me by the collar of my shirt and hauls me back onto the sofa. â€œSheâ€™s making a giant bowl of it for some group Iâ€™ve forgotten about â€“ itâ€™s either her gardening or literature club, something vague involving a lot of old people... I just really hope she doesnâ€™t kill anyone.â€
â€œAccidentally or purposely?â€ I tease.
â€œBoth,â€ he replies seriously. â€œShe thinks everyone likes spicy food.â€
My eyes drift towards the kitchen. â€œYou do realize weâ€™ve known each other for forever, and Iâ€™ve never had dinner at your place, right?â€
Lee plays with a bread crumb, eventually flicking it away. â€œOr vice versa. Not that I mind. Dinner at your place seems awful.â€
â€œItâ€™s not about the food,â€ I mutter. â€œItâ€™s about us.â€
â€œOh! OH!â€ Lee grabs my shoulders, shaking them slightly. â€œOh, Agnes, that was absolutely perfect. That could have been out of a Rom Com movie!â€
My gaze lingers on his chin, which wobbles as he breaks out into a smile. Leeâ€™s large front teeth are soon exposed; his dark lips curl up in a funny way and his nose crinkles. Itâ€™s hard not to notice his dog-like eyes, which are as black as Ebony Darkâ€™ness Dementia Raven Wayâ€™s hair, except they have this huge orb of light in them that makes me believe that thereâ€™s something like a sun after death. I know people say itâ€™s cheesy when others claim they can drown in someoneâ€™s eyes, just because theyâ€™re beautiful enough to deserve to be looked at forever, but I donâ€™t really think it is. In fact, I could spend eternity looking into anyoneâ€™s eyes - though only drown in Lee's. Thereâ€™s something much more captivating about a friend than a stranger.
â€œSo we tell them Iâ€™m gay,â€ Lee pipes up, interrupting my line of thought. â€œProblem solved.â€
â€œYou would do that?â€ I ask.
â€œWho says itâ€™s not true?â€
I look at him; just look, not stare or examine or gawk or gaze, or anything like that. And I say, â€œI would know.â€
â€œAre you sure, though?â€
Lee leans back against the couch, his cheek flattened by the pressure, and mumbles, â€œIf I were, would it bother you?â€
â€œOf course,â€ I declare. â€œI would gather a group together and torch the house. Then we would tie you up and drag poor humiliated you around town. And as just dessert, I myself would light the match to burn you at the stake.â€
â€œHil - arious,â€ Lee says dryly. â€œYouâ€™re a friend to build on, Agnes.â€
Thereâ€™s a loud chirping as the cuckoo pops out of the clock, scaring the bajeezers out of me. Once, twice, thrice, four, five times it whistles, the birdâ€™s wooden plumage seeming ruffled with haste. As the miniature doors close behind the creature, I turn to Lee and raise my eyebrows. â€œWell, itâ€™s just around dinner time for this friend.â€
Lee gets up, his hands deep in his pockets â€“ is that a new habit? â€œIâ€™ll walk you out.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a first,â€ I remark.
â€œAnd a last,â€ he tells me as we both slouch our way over to the door. Itâ€™s already half-open, showing just the slightest bit of the environment outside. Itâ€™s blindingly golden, kissed by the sunâ€™s evening rays. A single, dark cloud drifts across the sky; thereâ€™s more further along the horizon, promising thunder. I can barely see the tip of Barkâ€™s tail sweeping the veranda.
I worm my way outside first, giving Bark a suspicious look as he looks up at me and wags his tail harder. â€œYouâ€™re out of character,â€ I warn him. â€œMight want to work on that.â€
Thereâ€™s a bang behind me as Lee shuts the door. â€œWhy do people even talk to animals?â€
I turn back to look at him, raising my eyebrows sarcastically. He seems pretty serious to me, but that doesnâ€™t put a damper on the great urge I feel to laugh at his question â€“ not at all. â€œMaybe itâ€™s because they suck at retorts.â€
â€œOr because they donâ€™t judge you,â€ Lee suggests.
I roll my eyes and sit down on the hot wood, worming my way into the flip-flops I left outside. Iâ€™m only half surprised they havenâ€™t melted into a puddle of plastic. â€œNow whoâ€™s being melodramatic?â€
â€œYouâ€™re off by a few years.â€ Getting back up, I mockingly blow him a kiss and wiggle my fingers. â€œOh, and sweetie,â€ I croon, â€œIâ€™ll bring you pie tomorrow. Be a good boy, wonâ€™t you?â€
I grab a handful of dark-skinned cheek between my fingers and squeeze it tightly. â€œYou are a darling. I see a bright future full of gorgeous transvestites ahead of you.â€ When he doesnâ€™t respond, I let go and begin to walk away; itâ€™s only when Iâ€™m standing in front of my half-rotten door that Lee shouts:
â€œAgnes, you be a good girl too!â€
â€œSomeoneâ€™s brain is molten by the sun, huh?â€ I yell back. â€œThat was at least a minute late!â€
But Lee has already moved back inside. The last sight I catch is off his big foot half-stuck between the screen door. Then thereâ€™s a bang and vague shouting from the Fernâ€™s kitchen as Wanda scolds Lee, and Iâ€™m alone outside. Out of habit, my eyes travel to the upper floor of Leeâ€™s house. Mr. Fern is standing in front of his bedroom window, staring at me with narrowed eyes. I slowly raise my hand to wave at him, but by then heâ€™s tugged the lacy curtain shut. Despite Mr. Fernâ€™s apparent disinterest, I can still easily see his silhouette behind the fabric.
Tearing my gaze away, I open up our own door and slip inside, kicking my flip-flops off. One nearly flies into the fan, but thereâ€™s no one home to yell at me for it â€“ thank goodness. Though I actually prefer the company of my parents to the oppressing silence that means being home alone, I donâ€™t mind being by myself. See, thereâ€™s a difference between being anti-social and being introverted. The latter is actually not necessarily a bad thing.
Itâ€™s cool inside the house, shadow leaking from the corners and dripping from the ceiling. The all-white furniture, covered with grey plaids, is a painful contrast to the Fernâ€™s colorful home. A trip to the six foot tall fridge in the kitchen, accompanied by the scuffing of my obligated cotton slippers (house rules), feels like a journey through the Arctic. The paintings on the wall â€“ intended to liven the rooms up â€“ only add to the somberness of my home.
Itâ€™s hard not to tell Dad was the mastermind behind the kitchen. Some of my childhood drawings have been stuck to dark fridge with magnets, pots full of herbs litter the counter and the wine bottles, situated in a dark corner, are filled with dried nosegays. Despite the black-and-white contrast, itâ€™s one of the more pleasant spots of the house. In my opinion, that is. The house architect cried when he visited us some three weeks ago.
A thorough search of the fridgeâ€™s contents reveals that Mom has, once again, only bought things that would suit a rabbitâ€™s daily diet. I shut the door a little too forcefully and trudge up the stairs to my room, where stacks of books â€“ and even more homework â€“ await me. Joy.
I twist in my blankets and pull a pillow over my head. Something is disturbing my sleep, but I canâ€™t put my finger to it. Is it the light? It does not seem not all that bright out â€“ maybe a bit pinkish gray, at best. Five AM.
Birds, then? I canâ€™t hear them. Thereâ€™s no whistling outside, but â€“ I sit up â€“ at the same time there is. Though when I pay more attention to it, I decide it's closer to the blaring of a steam train, as if the Hogwarts express is standing right outside my window. A high, piercing, disquieting sort of noise; a womanâ€™s scream.
Groaning, I get out of bed and pull a sweater over my head. Mom and Dad are already awake; both of them are barreling down the stairs by the sound of itt, exchanging concerned questions. I follow them blindly, my bones still dreaming of a warmer world. What had my imagination conjured up this time? Buns, fresh out of the oven? Lamb stew? I canâ€™t remember.
Dad shrugs on his coat and slippers, his balding head gleaming in the morning sunâ€™s light. â€œAgnes,â€ he barks, â€œstay here.â€
â€œStay here,â€ he repeats as Mom opens the door. A shaft of light streams inside, illuminating the dust particles that float around peacefully. Itâ€™s a sharp contrast to the ongoing screaming outside, and the horror I witness on my parentsâ€™ faces when they step outside. They keep saying, â€œAgnes, stay thereâ€, even after Momâ€™s face goes a deadly pale, even after Dad has to grip the verandaâ€™s fence to keep upright, even after the high-pitched shriek is broken by sobs.
Of course, I do what any other teenager would have done in such a situation: the forbidden.
My previous sleepiness murdered by curiosity, I barge outside and wriggle my way past my parents, who are seemingly too stunned to stop me. The first thing I notice is the sky: itâ€™s gray, as I thought, and carries lighthearted rain with it. Then my eyes circle over the other surroundings: the Fernâ€™s polished porch, the stiff tail of Pebbles as she weaves between Wandaâ€™s legs, Mr. Fernâ€™s arms as he tries to hold his wife back fromâ€”
My brain is malfunctioning, repeating that word over and over and over, because finishing that sentence isnâ€™t possible. Monstrously impossible, too terrible to acknowledge, too horrific to be true. My eyes are deceiving me, my thoughts are liars, my perception is faulty. This is a trick of the mind, an illusion caused by my worst fears.
I trudge down the stairs slowly as the soft rain bursts into a cascade, pelting down on me like whiplashes. The dirt is already soggy under my feet as I approach their front lawn, where Lee lies twisted like a broken doll. Even from this distance, it is clear to all spectators that his chest is not moving. A cacophony of sounds erupts behind me: Wandaâ€™s loud cries as she tries to get to the body, the frantic voice of someone calling the police, the suppressed weeping of Mr. Fern.
Thereâ€™s a slap-slap-slap of slippers hitting the soggy ground as someone approaches me. Strong arms are wrapped around my ribs, pulling and pulling until Iâ€™m back inside and everythingâ€™s back to agonizingly intense lights and dizziness and