Pulp.net - Aggie

The Online Home of New Fiction

November 2008

Alex Williams
‘Little starfucker.’


‘Julia Sharp. She’s on her third footballer at the same time as her second rocker.’
Aggie - Alex Williams

‘So she’s catching up with the musicians then? She should use that as an excuse.’

‘Har har... She actually been in anything?’

‘Um... Loose Cannon. She gets shot in the first shot. I think she was one of those stiletto assassins. Arnie breaks her neck in Bad Justice.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Don’t make me look for her on the film sites. You always give me homework.’

‘No, I’m not bothered. How old is she? Twenty six? She’s got a neck like Cliff Richards.’

‘Maybe he’ll be her third rock star.’

‘Little starfucker.’

‘Helen, I’ve really got to do my CV or I’m stuck here.’

‘See you at ciggie break.’ Helen was gone. She was an unpredictable girl, like British weather. Today, she was a mini storm, all fiercely tensed anvil cloud eyebrows and whirling energy. Sometimes, when worse for wear, she was light drizzle, insistent and faintly clammy; permeating a whole room with damp resentment.

Claire started writing. GCSE’s, nine B’s and C’s. Tailed off a bit at A-Levels mainly because Steve said they were just brainwashing techniques. Not that she took a blind bit of notice when Steve had said things like that, but because it gave her an excuse to slack.

Steve was good like that. Anything you didn’t want to do he could justify your exclusion from. Claire is sure he even talked her out of fucking him quite early on in their relationship; she wanted him, but was sadistically amused and even titillated by the sense of him lying fully clothed in bed next to her, pulse hammering; stewing in a misplaced sense of nobility.

He was a bit of a let down in the end. She had the impression he was thinking of someone else till she realised he was just thinking about something else. Everything else probably. That was the trouble with his politics she decided, he never took the human equation into account.

Still... He was tall enough, and he had muscles like knotted silk rope. This went a long way with Claire, who was built like a string model of a willow sapling, and admired physical strength in both men and women. Sometimes she would enjoy his beauty on a purely abstract level, imagining how different lights would fall upon his chest, the tight contours of his shoulders, his long, smooth calves and the dark hair which, at the age of twenty had just started to creep in ringlets up his belly; and which, when the moment called for it she would trace back down slowly to be rewarded with an almost shocked gasp.

Claire supposed that Steve was as surprised with his body as she was; she decided a man like him would have to resent beauty, especially his own.

Thinking about putting off the gym for another day, Claire recalled wondering how on earth he got his Olympian body without playing sports, or exercising in any notable way. But he was always on edge, always explaining something too fast for his lips (or his brain, she thought unkindly) and almost shivering the calories off his wiry frame through shear intensity of thought. He was a foreground person, drawn in sharp charcoal lines over whatever situation he found himself in, even fucking.

A-Levels. Art, History, Chemistry. You can instantly see the battle I had with my parents, she thinks. Kid wants to have fun, parents force a science down her throat (F) and, as a sensible alternative to Media Studies, manage to talk up History (D+). I got my way with Art, she smiles (B); only I hated it, because they don’t let you paint what you want to paint.

But, Claire, she says to herself, you really think they’d just send you off with a brush and let you get on with it? This was school, after all.

Yeah, Claire says back to herself, but I was good. I was better than the teachers. She was right. Claire could draw anything in front of her. She could draw anything you asked her to from imagination. She could even draw words, expressions. If you ever meet her, ask her to draw you something like ‘Heavy Sadness’ or ‘Bad Acid’. You won’t be disappointed.

Look, Claire, there’s no work all morning and this is the only place you can print stuff out. Bloody well write. Yes Claire, I will.

University didn’t happen. This job happened. You know, in between doing things you enjoy like... Drinking, Claire, drinking.

So it’s a short CV. Five years in one job. It’s so easy though, you just look insignificant and you can get away with typing maybe a hundred words in nine hours. OK. Claire thinks. What qualities has this position developed in me? Um... the art of hiding? The pro-active skill of looking like you’re doing something more important than what your boss wants you to do so she doesn’t ask you?

She put down working for deadlines, working under pressure. Well, working under no pressure; that’s pressure of a sort.

Teaching English in China. Local pay. I’ll be poor as shit, she thinks. And I won’t get it because there are so many useless fucks with third class degrees out there who out gun and out rank me. Despite the fact I can speak good conversational Chinese. And I can do some calligraphy.

But if I get it, it’ll get me away from that bloody flat. Sorry, Agnes.

Claire sublet a small flat on the Heygate Estate six months ago. It’s in Elephant and Castle, so it’s pretty central even if the area doesn’t have a great reputation. Claire isn’t one to let the risk of damage to her person get in the way of a low rent. If she gets mugged, she thinks, she’ll just give them half the difference between this price and the price of the first room she looked at, that way she’ll still save money.

So it wasn’t the area. In a way she likes the atmosphere. There’s a crazy woman in the flat below who once accused Claire of psychically raping her, but she calmed down about it and comes for tea sometimes to discuss Goethe.

It’s not that. It’s something that happened a month ago. Well, before that but....

It’s a peeling flat. Like it’s been sunburnt from the inside. Pale flaking paint has been heavily stained with yellow nicotine while the thick red carpet traps dust and debris from lifetimes that hoovers won’t reach. People from the History Channel could excavate that carpet and find geological strata dating generations back. Probably a few skeletons too. No. Not skeletons. Stoppit Claire.

She covered the walls with art posters, Dali, Goethe, Picasso, Monet. There’s a good selection of well kept books on the subject too, covering the last seven hundred years or so. Claire isn’t into conceptual stuff. If she’d done Art History at university as she considered doing, she wouldn’t have anything like the knowledge of the subject that her sense of inadequacy has spurred her to aquire.

Maybe that’s it, Claire. Maybe you’re just seeing pre-Raphaelites in your sleep.

But Agnes isn’t pre-Raphaelite. She’s nineteen thirties. Like my aunt in the picture, but nothing like an old photograph.

At first Claire loved the flat. She was the first of her circle to actually move out of home and pay her way; while her friends drank their parents money in whatever university town had caught their eye. People would come round for days sometimes. The chairs were soft and the huge window took in plenty of sun in the mornings, so hangovers often turned into breakfasts; then, mildly protesting, back again into wine and laughter that evening.

But it isn’t just that it’s a nice flat makes people stay, Claire.... It’s you. You don’t like them to leave. You don’t like being alone here.

If Claire is alone in the 3rd floor flat, after about ten o clock, she gets shivery. Not really in a bad way, or even a scared way, just... like there’s something that keeps being whipped away from her line of sight; like when you’re not sure if there’s a moth in the room, and you don’t want to close your eyes in case it lands on your face.

She grew up in a village so at first she thought maybe it was the street noise she wasn’t used to. Though in fact when she thinks about it the street noise is actually mildly comforting. She even clings onto the hum of traffic late at night as proof of the world outside, like she’s trying to tune a TV into a weak signal operating on the same wavelength as a stronger one.

And then that morning.

But you do have odd dreams. Yes Claire, you do. Remember the one where your leg fell off and left the bone hanging there? But that wasn’t like this.

Claire forgot to set her alarm for work.

She drifts in and out of sleep from six in the morning till eight, unaware of the time.

She feels. No, hears. I don’t want to feel.

She hears breathing. Gentle breathing.

Her eyes stay closed. An icicle slips over her nerve endings.

There’s a hand on my hair. Stroking my hair.

Still closed. Her blood ripples.

She opens her eyes to see a young, dark haired woman bent beside her with a half sad smile on her face. She is wearing a long brown skirt and her hair is unwashed, thick and long and as oily black as her skin is pale. She’s not wearing make up but her eyes are dark too, around and inside like black marbles though not unkind. Claire can feel her breath on her forehead, can feel the tiny droplets of condensation form on her skin. She is completely still. She is amazed.

The girl moves softly away from Claire. She goes into the bathroom.

Claire lies for fifteen minutes staring at the open door. No thoughts go through her head.

At last she sees the clock. Fuck. Gotta get dressed for work. Gotta wash.

Claire tries to be someone waking from a dream, but the dream has stayed.

Who are you kidding, Claire? Go into the bathroom. You know you have to.

So Claire moves slowly, carefully judging her footfalls as if since logic had so easily been suspended a moment ago, anything could now explode at any moment. She brushes her hand on the door frame as she enters, her almost tender touch turning into a clutch for balance as the blood rushes to her head.

Her lipstick is lying next to the sink. On the wide, cracked bathroom mirror, in large letters of spidery red scrawl, someone has written: ‘Agnes’.

This was two months ago. Since then she’s woken up with Agnes four times, but that’s the only physical evidence she has left. It’s ok now really, she doesn’t seem to mean Claire any harm. Still... It is your flat Claire. Does she have the right to be here?

You got the job in China. You won’t really miss the place.

Claire thinks about living with a ghost. Now she’s about to leave it’s the first time she dare put it like that. Before it was just... An anomaly, like a bad smell you hope isn’t drains.

Not that Agnes is a bad smell. I mean, Claire, it’s a shame for her really... She’s going to miss — stoppit!

Life’s for the living.

Goodbye Agnes. Aggie... That’s what I’ll call her when I tell this story to my lover, to my children.

Aggie... I’d have liked her if she wasn’t a ghost.

You like foreground people better, Claire dear. Enough layers in your own mind.

Bye, Aggie... I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.

Tears fall from Claire’s eyes onto the metal windowsill, where they evaporate slowly like breath.

© Alex Williams 2003


Anne Barnsley-Roberts:
Read Aggie — was quite riveted — wonderful description of student life, paricularly vivid description of accomodation! A writer with the capacity to describe pictorially.