Just Agnes

Just Agnes

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!

Chapter 5

The Parakeet's Plunge

“What the actual—”

“Dude, I told you – no swearing.”

I gape at the animal in the living room, which is happily wrecking Pebbles’ 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. “Since when do you guys have a dog? I thought your parents hated anything but cats – oh my goodness, how did you persuade your dad?”

Lee has a giant grin slapped onto his face. “Grandma couldn’t take care of him anymore and Mom was unable to say no to a dog as charming as Bark Obama.”

My eyes flit back to the dog, who looked up at the sound of his name. “Bark Obama?” I repeat. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Before you ask, I don’t think he’s a Republican,” Lee sniggers. “Don’t start petting him either – Bark won’t nip, but Gran says he hates it when strangers touch him.”

I let a low whistle escape. Bark Obama ignores me. “What is he, even? Some kind of shepherd’s dog?”

Lee starts laughing again. “Aggie, you're not serious, are you?”

“Er, Akita?” I guess, half-hopeful. “Part-albino German Shepherd or something?

“Husky. Bark is a husky, Agnes.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I mutter. “She should have picked a black dog.”

“Don’t be so dogcist.” He stomps on my foot. “Go to your corner.”

“Gosh, Lee, why aren’t you a comedian?” I shake my head, faking a look of pure bewilderment. “You’re so fricking hilarious.”

Lee looks down, a vague pull of the mouth signifying the birth of a smile. “Enough about the dog. How are you feeling?”

I don’t reply right away; instead I walk towards the terrible flower-patterned sofa his parents have had since forever and sit down – it sags so much I am almost level with the floor. It’s warm to the touch, though, and soft as a grandmother’s embrace. The tell-tale crumbs strewn around only reinforce this image; it feels like home, more than Home feels like home. “How I’m feeling…” I say slowly, racking my brain for an answer. “Normal, I guess.”

There’s a peculiar glint in Lee’s eyes as he sits down next to me: it’s like curiosity and fear, like a deep, black hunger that he just can’t satisfy. His voice is just as greedy as he speaks, rendered to almost nothing. “What is normal like to you?”

Something about that sentence makes me uncomfortable. It could be the fear underlying Lee’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, to… I’m not sure. To help? Understand?

“I mean…” Lee adjusts himself. “This is going to sound weird as—”

“LEE FERN!” Wanda shouts from the kitchen. “You were not about to say that word!”

“Fuck,” he finishes under his breath, before yelling back, “Sorry, Ma!”

“You had better be sorry! There’s plenty of room in provision closet of ours! I am not kidding!”

“There once was a boy named Lee,” I start to sing softly, “Desperate to be a—”

Lee slaps my arm, cheeks stretched painfully wide to allow his big grin. “Shh,” he urges, barely audible through his withheld laughter. “Agnes, quiet!”

“Desperate to be a whatta?” Wanda pokes her head around the corner, looking suspicious. “What are you two talking about?”

“Nothing,” Lee protests in a muffled tone, hands folded over his mouth. Tears have sprung in his eyes. “It’s nothing.”

“Desperate to be a…” I whisper.

“Agnes, I’m begging you—”

“Nun.”

Wanda’s round face goes from perplexed to unimpressed in a brief three seconds. “You two are hopeless,” she claims. “Your grandmother is right, Lee; you will end up working in some dirty garage.”

“As a tattoo artist,” I say with a straight face. “Dating a transvestite.”

“A gorgeous transvestite,” Lee interjects. “At least get your facts right, Aggie.”

“Sorry,” I snicker, “I was thinking of my future as a Professional Sleeper.”

There’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.

“Curry?” I guess.

“Correcto-llama.” Lee grabs me by the collar of my shirt and hauls me back onto the sofa. “She’s making a giant bowl of it for some group I’ve forgotten about – it’s either her gardening or literature club, something vague involving a lot of old people... I just really hope she doesn’t kill anyone.”

“Accidentally or purposely?” I tease.

“Both,” he replies seriously. “She thinks everyone likes spicy food.”

My eyes drift towards the kitchen. “You do realize we’ve known each other for forever, and I’ve never had dinner at your place, right?”

Lee plays with a bread crumb, eventually flicking it away. “Or vice versa. Not that I mind. Dinner at your place seems awful.”

“It’s not about the food,” I mutter. “It’s about us.”

“Oh! OH!” Lee grabs my shoulders, shaking them slightly. “Oh, Agnes, that was absolutely perfect. That could have been out of a Rom Com movie!”

“I’m serious!”

My gaze lingers on his chin, which wobbles as he breaks out into a smile. Lee’s large front teeth are soon exposed; his dark lips curl up in a funny way and his nose crinkles. It’s hard not to notice his dog-like eyes, which are as black as Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way’s hair, except they have this huge orb of light in them that makes me believe that there’s something like a sun after death. I know people say it’s cheesy when others claim they can drown in someone’s eyes, just because they’re beautiful enough to deserve to be looked at forever, but I don’t really think it is. In fact, I could spend eternity looking into anyone’s eyes - though only drown in Lee's. There’s something much more captivating about a friend than a stranger.

“So we tell them I’m gay,” Lee pipes up, interrupting my line of thought. “Problem solved.”

“You would do that?” I ask.

“Who says it’s not true?”

I look at him; just look, not stare or examine or gawk or gaze, or anything like that. And I say, “I would know.”

“Are you sure, though?”

“I am.”

Lee leans back against the couch, his cheek flattened by the pressure, and mumbles, “If I were, would it bother you?”

“Of course,” I declare. “I 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.”

“Hil - arious,” Lee says dryly. “You’re a friend to build on, Agnes.”

There’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 bird’s wooden plumage seeming ruffled with haste. As the miniature doors close behind the creature, I turn to Lee and raise my eyebrows. “Well, it’s just around dinner time for this friend.”

Lee gets up, his hands deep in his pockets – is that a new habit? “I’ll walk you out.”

“That’s a first,” I remark.

“And a last,” he tells me as we both slouch our way over to the door. It’s already half-open, showing just the slightest bit of the environment outside. It’s blindingly golden, kissed by the sun’s evening rays. A single, dark cloud drifts across the sky; there’s more further along the horizon, promising thunder. I can barely see the tip of Bark’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. “You’re out of character,” I warn him. “Might want to work on that.”

There’s a bang behind me as Lee shuts the door. “Why do people even talk to animals?”

I turn back to look at him, raising my eyebrows sarcastically. He seems pretty serious to me, but that doesn’t put a damper on the great urge I feel to laugh at his question – not at all. “Maybe it’s because they suck at retorts.”

“Or because they don’t judge you,” Lee suggests.

I roll my eyes and sit down on the hot wood, worming my way into the flip-flops I left outside. I’m only half surprised they haven’t melted into a puddle of plastic. “Now who’s being melodramatic?”

“Britney Spears?”

“You’re off by a few years.” Getting back up, I mockingly blow him a kiss and wiggle my fingers. “Oh, and sweetie,” I croon, “I’ll bring you pie tomorrow. Be a good boy, won’t you?”

“Yes, Aggie.”

I grab a handful of dark-skinned cheek between my fingers and squeeze it tightly. “You are a darling. I see a bright future full of gorgeous transvestites ahead of you.” When he doesn’t respond, I let go and begin to walk away; it’s only when I’m standing in front of my half-rotten door that Lee shouts:

“Agnes, you be a good girl too!”

“Someone’s brain is molten by the sun, huh?” I yell back. “That was at least a minute late!”

But Lee has already moved back inside. The last sight I catch is off his big foot half-stuck between the screen door. Then there’s a bang and vague shouting from the Fern’s kitchen as Wanda scolds Lee, and I’m alone outside. Out of habit, my eyes travel to the upper floor of Lee’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 he’s tugged the lacy curtain shut. Despite Mr. Fern’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 there’s no one home to yell at me for it – thank goodness. Though I actually prefer the company of my parents to the oppressing silence that means being home alone, I don’t mind being by myself. See, there’s a difference between being anti-social and being introverted. The latter is actually not necessarily a bad thing.

It’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 Fern’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 – intended to liven the rooms up – only add to the somberness of my home.

It’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, it’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 fridge’s contents reveals that Mom has, once again, only bought things that would suit a rabbit’s daily diet. I shut the door a little too forcefully and trudge up the stairs to my room, where stacks of books – and even more homework – await me. Joy.

*

I twist in my blankets and pull a pillow over my head. Something is disturbing my sleep, but I can’t put my finger to it. Is it the light? It does not seem not all that bright out – maybe a bit pinkish gray, at best. Five AM.

Birds, then? I can’t hear them. There’s no whistling outside, but – I sit up – 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 woman’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 can’t remember.

Dad shrugs on his coat and slippers, his balding head gleaming in the morning sun’s light. “Agnes,” he barks, “stay here.”

“But—”

“Stay here,” he repeats as Mom opens the door. A shaft of light streams inside, illuminating the dust particles that float around peacefully. It’s a sharp contrast to the ongoing screaming outside, and the horror I witness on my parents’ faces when they step outside. They keep saying, “Agnes, stay there”, even after Mom’s face goes a deadly pale, even after Dad has to grip the veranda’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: it’s gray, as I thought, and carries lighthearted rain with it. Then my eyes circle over the other surroundings: the Fern’s polished porch, the stiff tail of Pebbles as she weaves between Wanda’s legs, Mr. Fern’s arms as he tries to hold his wife back from—

From.

From.

From.

From.

My brain is malfunctioning, repeating that word over and over and over, because finishing that sentence isn’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: Wanda’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.

“Lee?”

There’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 I’m back inside and everything’s back to agonizingly intense lights and dizziness and

*

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