Culture | Inkwell: The Education of Agnes

The day was cold and wet, brightened only by the yellow leaves that flew like damp swarming glitter whenever the October wind blew.  It was a day possessing that particular composition of elements that leaves one indifferent to everything, yet fervently desperate to live.  Agnes Bloom, dressed all in black, as was her custom, felt the weight of her own inertia quite keenly as she stood in the light rain under her sombre umbrella.

Her rendezvous with Scarlett had been arranged for a quarter to three, but Agnes did not expect her before three on the nose. According to Scarlett, fifteen minutes late was not late at all.  She was, of course, fully aware of how profoundly irritating most people found her chronic tardiness, but the truth was that she rather enjoyed making others wait.

Agnes had resigned herself to the fact that she would always be waiting for Scarlett, for the simple reason that she was always more anxious to see Scarlett than Scarlett was to see her.

She looked up from her intent study of the pattern made by falling raindrops in a puddle to cast a disparaging glance at the group of youths crowded under a nearby gazebo. Their callous butchery of the English language offended her greatly, but also filled her with a satisfying sense of superiority. Her pretentious gaze lingered on their garishly fluorescent garb, a small smirk touching the corners of her lips, then flitted to the approaching pair walking arm in arm, locked in fervent conversation.She felt a sudden and quite unexpected lurch in her stomach at the sight of the two of them.

Scarlett’s eyes sparked mischievously at Agnes as she stroked Douglas’ arm. “I’m so sorry, did I keep you waiting?’’ she drawled with a sudden grin, as if she had meant to stay dead-pan but couldn’t contain herself. She made a lovely contrast with the weather.

“Of course you did, and don’t say you’re sorry, I know perfectly well that you don’t mean it,’’ Agnes replied in an acidic tone that did not succeed in masking her pleasure.

“You know me much too well,’’ was said with delightful insincerity.

“That’s quite unfortunate, most people who know her too well go insane within a year,’’ Douglas said.

Scarlett brushed the comment off with a wave of her hand, “Well at least it makes their lives more interesting. A mind completely lacking in neuroses is utterly dull. There is nothing I find more intolerable than a perfectly normal person. All they can talk about is the weather. Shall we go somewhere?  It’s quite ghastly out here. I’m absolutely frozen.’’

Douglas gave a moan of protestation. “I’m enjoying the cold! Besides, I don’t feel like being indoors.’’

“You are an odd bird, aren’t you? I’m afraid we can’t indulge your whims, Douglas, dear Agnes and I will catch our death of cold if we do. And we can’t have that, Agnes has not yet written a work of genius. It would be a dreadful waste of talent for her to die at such a young age.’’

“You flatter very nicely, Scarlett.”

“I do my best,” she sighed.

Douglas inquired after the time. “It’s ten after three,” Agnes informed him.

“Ten after three is when I leave you, then. Agnes, am I still meeting you tomorrow for dinner?”

She smiled, “If I remember.”

“You remember everything. I’ll take that as a yes.”

“I’m afraid I have a terrible memory for social engagements.”

“Don’t be coy.  I’ll see you tomorrow. Cheers,” he threw over his shoulder in a carefully nonchalant manner as he set off toward the college doors.

“I didn’t know you knew him!” exclaimed Scarlett as Douglas was swallowed by the monstrous grey building.

“Oh I haven’t known him for long. I thought him a perfect idiot for quite a while, you know, all fancy social artifice with no real intellect.  He’s actually quite fascinating.  He’s delightfully warped.”

“Sounds like me.”

“Yes, exactly like you.”

They started strolling along the path that led across the college grounds. Soggy golden leaves landed on the black umbrella with a satisfying smacking noise. It had stopped raining, but neither of the two young ladies noticed.  The air had the autumnal smell of cold smoke, which they breathed in deeply. Agnes associated the crisp scent with indifference, whereas Scarlett associated it with sin.

“Where are we going, exactly?” Scarlett asked, banishing thoughts of men in black trench coats and unspeakable crimes from her mind.

“I don’t know. There really isn’t anywhere pleasant to go anymore.  I’ve grown tired of all the cafes. Why don’t we walk for a bit?”

“Alright. It’s stopped raining, you know.  You can put down the umbrella.”

Agnes felt much more at liberty without the turgid canopy of the umbrella blocking her view. The sky seemed much vaster to her, yet at the same time much more ominous. It was a dark brooding sky, the kind that made her feel on the brink of some impending tragedy. It was the kind of sky under which she could imagine herself dying some beautiful ghastly death. The dark atmosphere would accentuate her pale cadaverous complexion and add to the glorious mystery of premature death. The thought of her own dead body made her quiver.

It must  be specified that Agnes was not the least bit suicidal. It was merely that she found death quite romantic. When she read of Ophelia drifting down the river, serene and lifeless with water lilies and seaweed tangled in her hair, she, like so many before her, was enchanted. The heady brew of lost potential, melancholic in its beauty, was quite intoxicating to her. Like a budding flower severed just as it is beginning to blossom, it filled her with a regret of wonderful things that could have been, but are now irremediably lost. When nothing is possible, all possibilities exist simultaneously.

“Do you ever envy those who die young?”

Scarlett was only momentarily taken aback by the question. “Of course,” she answered, “people who die at an early age are forever wrapped in mystique.  And eternally young.  It’s the whole going up in flames business.  It never loses its charm.”

Agnes sighed. “I’m quite enamoured by the notion. Which is of course very different from the reality of the matter. I’m much too content, and I lack the strength of character.  If I were to die young it would have to be accidental.  I’d never be able to kill myself.  It frightens me.”

“No, I don’t think I’d be capable of it either.”

“You like yourself much too much to be able to commit suicide,” said Agnes, smiling at her friend.

Scarlett grinned, “Ah, are we back on the topic of my ego again?  You’ve already heard my confession: I’m dangerously self-content.”

“I know, I just like to poke fun at you.  You’re easily tormented.”

Scarlett waved a hand, “It’s all an act, I swear.”


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