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Agatha and Ned

Agatha was the kind of girl who liked things orderly. Order reigned supreme in her small world. She had next to no social life, no real friends, and only an aged and senile mother for family, who, for the past ten years had been deposited in a nursing home for the old and helpless.

Agatha had never known her father.  Her mother had always told her she was lucky because of that. Agatha spent five days a week, from eight in the morning until five in the evening, stamping official documents in a small government office. Her clothes were nondescript and drab, colorless, boring, lacking personality or flair. What clothes she did possess however, were in excellent condition, and hung with extreme and precise order in her closet. Color coded and organized according to fashion and season.

Meals and meal-times were the same, always the same, without fail. Planned always the day before, she stuck to a strict menu that did not vary from week to week...ever. Fish on Monday, beef on Tuesday, just salad greens on Wednesday, and so on and so on until Monday came around again, bringing the plain inexpensive filet of fish along with it. She never veered from this routine. To do so was unthinkable, unimaginable.

Saturday and Sunday being the two days she did not work, her stringent and repetitive rules only deepened, becoming nearly obsessive in execution. Saturday was laundry, housework, grocery shopping, and one small glass of apple cider at exactly eight in the evening, just one, and always at eight o'clock, and always on Saturday. After which she put on a pair of pale blue pyjama’s, tops and bottoms, brushed her teeth very carefully, creamed her face, and went up the six stairs leading to bed. She read a carefully chosen novel, with no profanity, for thirty minutes only, turned out the light and fell asleep immediately. Sunday began with long and complicated prayers, by her bed, on her knees. Shower next and then preparation of the Sunday meal, chicken, with mashed potatoes and peas. After lunch, she took a short walk. Always the same walk, in the same direction and at the same time. Sundays she retired early. By seven o'clock on the button, on Sundays, she'd be in bed. She read the same book again, but for one hour this time, and at the stroke of eight, put it down, turned out the light, and fell instantly to sleep. In the morning, Monday morning, it all started again. Like last week, and the week before and the week before that...and on and on. She had lived in this manner, precisely, for ten years to the day. But...things for Agatha were about to change, strange and bad things. But like a totally blind person, she never saw them coming, until it was too late... much too late...

For the past two Sundays, on her usual walk, she had met someone, a memorable event in Agatha’s life. At 34 she had never had a boyfriend or gone on a date. Never. Men were a strange and alien breed in her opinion, and should be avoided. And she did avoid them. But one Sunday, two weeks ago, as she passed the local cinema like she did every Sunday, she heard someone say, "Excuse me, miss". "Excuse me please". At first she didn’t even halt her stride, so absolutely used to never being spoken to. But this time, she heard her name. "Agatha isn't it?" That stopped her on the spot. Slowly she turned in the direction of her name, and the person who had spoken it.

Her pale blue eyes fell upon a man. Standing slouched against the door leading into the cinema. He was dressed casually in jeans and a brown corduroy jacket. Blonde curly hair and bright green eyes greeted her. And from one corner of his mouth a burning cigarette hung. When she turned to look at him, he smiled. Just a smile, nothing special, but something happened inside of Agatha then. A simple smile, directed at her. A smile that did something ten years alone had not done. She felt a stirring of something that could only be described as desire. She didn't know that's what it was. All Agatha knew was that an odd and pleasant warm feeling rushed through her at the sight of his smile, a stranger’s smile. It was like a shock really. A mild electric shock, but a shock none the less. And he said it again. "Agatha?" "Is that your name?" "Hello there", "I'm Ned". "Ned Bollust". "What's wrong?" "You look like you just saw the bogyman!" "And I can tell you, I'm not the bogyman, Oh no, not at all!!"

Agatha just stood there and gawked. Mouth open, eyes wide, and said nothing. What could she say? He was probably the very first person, outside of her job, who had spoken her name aloud in ten years. And she could not get her brain to function enough to enquire how he knew her name in the first place. Not to worry. The next thing he said explained everything. "You don't remember me luv?" "I'm not surprised". "I only met you once, at the office Christmas party." "Two months ago". "I'm the janitor in the building you work." "I've only been there for a little over a year, and it's the first time I've gone to a party there". "You were at the party for just a little while, and I remember you!"

He said it as though he were very, very clever to remember things like office Christmas parties, and girls he met at them. Agatha still could not speak. But she did begin to have a slight memory of seeing this stranger once before. Not that he had ever spoken to her. She certainly knew that! And now she remembered completely. Her boss, Ms. Crabtree, had insisted she attend the party last Christmas because she was a huge busy-body in Agatha’s opinion, and had told her if she didn't show up at the party, she'd come round and drag her there. "Agatha, you're not so old!" "You need to get out more!” Ms. Crabtree had said. "And I'm going to make sure you do!" And because Agatha was petrified that maybe she meant it, and would show up at her house to drag her to the party, she had gone. She had hated it. But, it had kept her boss away from her home and had ultimately shut her up. Till next Christmas, Agatha had thought grimly. And so, she began to remember....Ms. Crabtree, Christmas party...and...Ned.

That was the first time he spoke to her. The first time she felt that strange and disturbing fluttering deep in her stomach. So intense was that fluttering, she had brought her hand up and clutched it to her belly, out of instinct only. She'd never had a feeling like that in her stomach, and thought for a second she was about to be ill. But she wasn't. However, the topsy-turvy feeling didn't go away. It got worse. "Now do you remember me?" he said. "Don't be frightened", "I'm harmless and I don't bite, unless you want me to!” And he chuckled. "Bite me?" Agatha said...before she knew what she was doing. "Bite me?" she repeated....The sexual implications totally lost on someone who had actually never had sex. "Do you always go around telling people you want to bite them?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I don't", he replied, still with a smile on his face. "Only when I meet a pretty girl and can't control myself"! Agatha quickly looked behind her, to the side and then the other side to see who he meant. Where was the pretty girl? At that precise moment it dawned on her that he was talking about her! He had called her pretty. The warm, mushy feeling in the pit of her stomach immediately intensified. And she brought her fist up this time and pressed it hard against her middle. In all of her lifetime, from her first struggles for breath at birth, throughout her childhood, teen hood and finally adult hood, no one had ever, ever called her pretty. She just accepted she was not, and got on with things. Actually she was not really bad looking, but not what most people would consider "pretty", at least not by today’s modern standards. She had short, very black hair, worn in no particular style, medium size, pale blue eyes, small nose and wide thin lips. She was neither fat nor thin. Somewhere in between, but most people wouldn't be able to describe her figure because of the big, baggy clothes she took to wearing most of the time. Appearance was not something that Agatha spent a lot of time on. She was always clean, neat and presentable. That's where it ended. She looked in the mirror twice a day. Once in the morning to brush her teeth, and once at night to do the same thing, and to slather her face in cream. She really didn't know that such a thing as "make up", or "doing one's face" existed. Her orderly life didn't include any of that. Agatha most likely didn't even know the color of her own eyes or shape of her mouth. She never gave it a thought. But now, here was this man calling her pretty, and saying he might or might not... bite her!! It was too much. She fled.

"Hey...come back", Ned yelled. “I was going to ask you to go to the cinema with me!" "Hey....!" But Agatha was scurrying away as fast as her legs would go. She was so overwrought with emotion and bewilderment; she took a wrong turn, and finished her walk by coming home via a strange route, but didn't even notice. All she could think about was..."He called me pretty, he called me pretty...”. "He said my name, and he called me pretty". Poor Agatha, what to another woman would have been nothing but a harmless and enjoyable compliment, was to her a life changing event. And she was having a lot of trouble sorting it all out. But...that exhilarating, pleasing, warm and fluttery feeling persisted....all the way home. She had no idea what it was she was feeling. But...she liked it. Yes, she liked it and whether she’d admit it or not, she wanted more of it. As she took off her coat, and prepared for her seven o'clock retirement, she was already wondering if she would see Ned again.... next Sunday. Without knowing it....Agatha had felt the first stirrings of....love. Something she hadn't ever felt before. For Agatha it would spell disaster. For Ned it would mean something worse, much worse.

The week passed. Agatha went to work each day, prepared her meals each day, according to her menu, never wavering. Fish on Monday, beef on Tuesday...salad greens on Wednesday, chops on Thursday...and on and on, until Sunday dawned again. All week, if she were to be honest, she had shyly looked up from her small desk as people passed by the tiny cubby hole she called her office, looking for...? What? Looking for Ned? She couldn't say why she was looking for him. All she knew is that somewhere, deep inside, she wanted to see him. She had never really "wanted" to see another human being in her whole life. People were just there, at her job, at the grocery store, at the dry cleaners...everywhere. They meant nothing to her. She expected them to be at these places, and they were. That's all there was to it. She didn't really notice that on some days, workers changed shifts, and other people took over.  Why would she notice? None of them gave her the time of day. Looked right through her they did. And in a way, a strange way, she liked that. It made things easier and more orderly. But Ned had changed all of that. Simply by speaking her name and commenting that she was pretty. And now Sunday was here again. For the first time in ten years, Agatha forgot to bend to her knees and say her Sunday prayers. She simply forgot. Forgot because her thoughts were on the walk she would take later that afternoon, and on Ned.  All her thoughts were on Ned. So engrossed were her thoughts that she didn't realize she skipped her morning prayers. Ten long years of praying, every Sunday morning, and she forgot. Instead she decided to begin her walk a half hour early. Things were beginning to change for Agatha. But like a harsh, biting wind that replaces a warm, balmy breeze, the change was definitely not for the better.

So, a half hour before schedule, Agatha left her immaculately tidy little house, and began her walk. This Sunday however, she had something else on her mind besides that night’s dinner and book and bed after. She was hoping, really hoping to see Ned again. If pressed, she could not say why she wanted to see him, but would probably say it was because he called her pretty. Really, it was a lot more complicated than that. But Agatha had no experience with the opposite sex, and thus did not recognize the roots of a teenage "crush" beginning to grow. Yes, a teenage crush in a woman of 34, a woman who had been alone and celibate for all of her life. She was akin to a clean white canvas, before an artist begins his work. But most artists paint pleasing and happy pictures. Agatha’s picture would be anything but pleasing and happy, as Ned was very soon to find out.

As she neared the cinema on that second Sunday after meeting Ned the previous one, Agatha was puzzled to feel that strange fluttering in her stomach begin again. Still, she did not know what it meant, or even what it was. She didn't or couldn't make the connection with seeing Ned last Sunday and having the same butterflies this Sunday. That was beyond Agatha’s consciousness, having never felt it before. Indigestion is what she put it down to, and tried to ignore it. Rounding the corner which would take her right pass the cinema, she spotted a lonely figure, slumped up against the main doors leading inside the theatre. This time her heart did something funny after she saw him there. It kind of flopped wildly inside her chest. Indigestion again, she thought, and tried to remember if she still had some antacid in her bathroom cabinet. Slowly she made her way towards Ned and the cinema. Just as she was over-right both, still charging ahead, she heard him call her name. Heart flip flopping dangerously now, she stopped.
"Well...look who we have here". "Agatha....Agatha from the Christmas party". "Still worrying I'm going to bite you ducks?” "You took off like I was the devil himself last Sunday". "And here I am just a-wanting to take a pretty girl to the movies." Agatha was gawking again, blatantly. "He said it again", she thought, flabbergasted. "He called me pretty". "That’s twice now". And her stomach threatened to fall straight through her legs and out onto the pavement. Both hands flew like lightning to her middle where she held them close to herself as if to keep everything intact, for a few minutes at least.

"So...what’d you say?” "Want to mosey inside and catch a flick together?" "It's a good one today". "It's got everything...men from Mars, spaceships, laser guns and plenty of action". He spoke to her like he had known her for a lifetime.  "So...want to?” And he continued to look straight in her direction, with that same smile from last Sunday spread across his face. Agatha had never been to a movie. Her routine did not allow for it, and besides, she wasn't interested. Too much unnecessary swearing and nudity; Disgusting! She had heard her co-workers raving over this movie or that movie, and vowed never to put herself in the midst of such evil. She spoke one word. And she hadn't even known she was going to. "Yes". Her voice came out hoarse and scratchy, just one word... Agatha talked very little. She hadn’t occasion to talk at all really. No one spoke to her, or asked her questions. As a result her vocal cords had weakened. "Oh, you have a sore throat", Ned replied sympathetically. "A good science fiction thriller is just what you need"..... And that's how it began...the obsession... the madness, just by saying one simple, innocent little word. ”Yes" Nothing would ever be the same again.

A bona fide miracle really, a miracle in its truest and most pronounced form took place. Agatha fell in love, completely, helplessly, hopelessly, unavoidably in love. 34 years of loneliness and ordinariness went straight out the window like it had only been ten minutes rather than ten years. From the very minute she took Ned’s arm and let herself be led inside to the movie, bad things began to manifest. Ned, poor confused fool that he was, only wanted a bit of female companionship. He had no trouble what so ever getting girls, and Agatha was more or less just a cruel kind of experiment. But if he had known what his experimenting was about to cause, he would have surely re-considered. He led Agatha inside the cinema, stood in line for popcorn and cokes, and then escorted her to a seat in the warm, dark cavern of the theater. All this time, Agatha was battling the strange thoughts and emotions that were taking over...inside her. She had never been inside a cinema, much less inside one with a man! To her it was a magical dream with no set ending, or at least a dream that could only end in one specific way. And it most certainly included Ned.

They settled into their seats just as the feature film began, which of course meant nothing to Agatha. But Ned seemed to be quite involved in what was happening up there on the large screen. Agatha just turned her head and stared at him. This is the man who thought she was pretty, who knew her name. He must be a God. She continued to look at him for two whole hours, the entire length of the film. Not once did he glance in her direction. When the film came to an end, he looked over at her and grinned. "Thank you, Agatha", "for being my movie companion". "I like you". "What are you doing later this evening?”

‘Later this evening’, Agatha thought. Why on earth would he want to know that? Didn't she do the same thing every evening? "Why?” she said.

 "Because, I thought, if you had no plans, I might drop by and pay you a visit", he said. And he flashed a most adorable smile as he said so. Agatha’s stomach continued its highs and lows, and she brought her hand up against herself once again. "I'm just going to cook myself dinner", "that's all", she replied stiffly. "Oh, sounds good", Ned said excitedly. "How would you like to have some company?" "I happen to be a very good cook myself". Agatha found her mouth hanging open again, but this time she answered quite clearly, "Thank you, I would like that".

After the movie Agatha and Ned parted ways, with an agreement that he would arrive at her house around six, for dinner, and maybe to "help" with dinner. Agatha was experiencing a curious mix of unexplainable feelings with a wild, uncontrollable panic amongst them. In all of her years at this address, within this little house, no man had ever entered! And now within a matter of hours she was expecting one. She was at terrible odds...with everything. Her orderly, obsessive routine had gone completely out the window. And strangest of all, she didn't even know it. 34 years of loneliness and 34 years devoid of male companionship had taken its toll. She was a mad woman, insane. Ned, Ned, Ned....is all that she heard, saw, thought, or considered. And Ned would suffer tragically for that.

Thirty minutes later, Ned knocked on Agatha’s door.

Just because a man, an attractive man, had began to seek Agathas attention, did not mean she would miraculously change into an ordinary, mentally and socially adept citizen overnight. To the rest of the population Agatha was a complete eccentric, harmless maybe, but very weird, very different. After all, she never socialized or made friends, but instead stayed at home, year in and year out. Most people, on the average, are quite willing to accept someone like that, pay them no mind and go about the business of living. Ned was the exception. A new comer to Agatha’s town, he was blissfully unaware of Agatha’s reputation. He was about to find out though, he should have gotten to know her a tad better. It may have saved his life. But of course, all of that is hindsight or foresight or even second-sight maybe, and most importantly of all... water under the bridge.

Agatha opened her front door to see Ned standing there, grinning widely and clutching the biggest and prettiest bunch of cut flowers she had ever seen. Really, she had never seen "any" flowers apart from the dandelion weeds that grew in the ditches along her Sunday walk. "Here you go", Ned said, “Pretty flowers for a pretty lady". Agatha stared, again, speechless. What's this now, she thought. Three times he'd called her pretty causing her butterfly’s to multiply by leaps and bounds. She timidly reached out a boney, un-manicured hand, and took them. "Please, come on in", she croaked, in her unused voice. Ned stepped inside, closing the door behind him. Agatha sprinted to the kitchen with the flowers and promptly threw them in the sink. She simply did not know the protocol for dealing with live, cut flowers. She decided to deal with them later, unaware that in the interim, they would most likely die. After that, she raced back to the living room where Ned was removing his coat. She stood in the middle of the room, legs apart, and arms at her sides, black hair askew and stared and stared. Ned was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Any normal, female would have recognized Ned’s signs of distress, and looked for a solution to end it. Casual chatter maybe, or offers of drinks. Not so with Agatha. She continued to stare, shamefully. Finally, Ned could stand no more and gestured for her to join him on the sofa. Very, very slowly Agatha made her way over to him. Picking a spot towards the very end, she gingerly sat. Putting her head deep into her hands, she sat awaiting her fate. Her stomach continued its annoying highs and lows, and by now she had put two and two together and began to associate those pleasurable fluctuations with Ned himself. Little solace was gained by that thought, as she still couldn’t understand exactly why her body was betraying her like this.

At precisely about this time Ned put a nervous arm around Agathas shoulder and began, in a way, to seduce her. But Agatha was having none of that, knowing nothing at all about what he was actually doing. She reacted, violently. "Oh....rape, rape, rape!!"....is all she could think of, which is the exact reason she'd avoided men in the first place. For ten years, Agatha had shunned men and hated them because of rape. That's all they meant to her, evil, vile beings that went around tearing women’s clothes off and doing horrid things to them. For just a few seconds she forgot how much she liked Ned, and how badly she had wanted to see him again. Ned withdrew his arm like it had come into contact with a lethal snake. "I think it's time I left", he tells Agatha. "I thought we'd just snuggle a bit before eating luv, but you've turned a bit wild on me, haven't you??"
At first, what he's saying does not really have any meaning what so ever for Agatha. But when he reaches for his coat and boots, it most certainly does. "What have I done", she thinks crazily. "He's going". "Does that mean I'm not pretty anymore?"

"Please....Ned, please. Don’t go", Agatha pleads in a croaky high pitched whine, but Ned has seen enough. He thinks there’s something not quite right here.....with Agatha. But since he's a nice and decent guy, he doesn't want to tell her the truth. Tell her she's a little too weird for his taste. Instead he agrees to her suggestion to stay....for a drink maybe, to stay for a second chance. Who knows? All that matters is that he’s made the tragic decision to stay a little longer, the fatal decision to trust Agatha.

Agatha has a plan, a plan to keep this special man to herself forever. This special man who called her name and told her she was pretty. Surely he wants to stay with her forever? Why would he compliment her like that if he did not? Why would he ask her to a movie and to dinner afterwards if he didn't want to be with her for the rest of his life? These were simply logical questions to Agatha. Logical questions that she could easily and willingly answer. He really did want her. He really did love her. And he really, really, truly thought she was very pretty. So, there was only one thing to be done. Keep him with her, forever. It was for Ned’s own good. He had made the first move by noticing her. Now it was up to Agatha to make sure he stayed with her, loved her, and worshiped her...like he was supposed to. She had a very serious agenda to keep, saving Ned, to keep him for her-self....forever. And Agatha knows how to do that, yes, she knows very well how to do that.

Ned comes around to Agathas again the next Sunday, for a reason of course. He’s come to set Agatha straight once and for all. He’s come to tell her the relationship is over, finished. He's ready to move on to greener pastures. To find someone more suited to him. Really, as far as Ned is concerned, this little experiment has gone on quite long enough, and he's more than ready to be rid of Ms. Crack-Pot Aggie. Agatha opens her front door, and says...."Ned, come in!” Trying to speak in a normal, calm manner minus her trademark croakiness...she continues... “I know why you're here, and I'm very sure we can work everything out". "Please, will you take a cup of tea while we talk?" And because Ned drinks gallons and gallons of tea, he says "yes”, 'Of course I'd enjoy a cup of tea". Agatha retreats quickly to the kitchen where she puts the kettle on the boil. At the same time she gets a large mug from her cupboard. Throwing in the teabag, and taking great care that the string holding the little packet of tea is hanging over the side, pours the rapidly boiling water over the whole thing. But, as she does all this, she has a secretive, malevolent grin across her face. The last thing she does is reach down inside her blouse, all the way down inside her bra as well, and brings out a tiny capsule. For just a second she stares intently at it, then closing her eyes, seemingly in a daydream, a pleasant daydream, she pictures idyllic scenes spent on tropical islands, scenes that include her, her and Ned, her and Ned together....alone. And like a smug, conniving alley cat, she holds the capsule over the steaming mug of tea and shakes the contents very deliberately into the brown murky liquid. She picks up the mug of steaming hot tea and carries it into the living room. Ned is sitting there, absent-minded, watching some program on TV. "Here you are", Agatha croons lovingly, “A nice, soothing, hot, cup of tea". "Now let’s talk everything over"...."OK?” While at the same time, she's contemplating how long it will take before she recognizes the first symptoms of "poisoning" listed on the box of rat killer capsules she's just added to Ned’s cup of tea. The first ones to watch for are uncontrollable spasms....she sits and waits, and watches as Ned drinks his tea. Oh...now he's hers. Forever..... Yes, forever, she thinks, as the first spasms begin to rip through Ned’s body.....

                                                    THE END

Copyrighted and Written by Elizabeth Earle

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