Agnes and Death Build a Castle

Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Louise Foerster Published feature in THE Weekly Knob Nov 9 · 

Agnes draped her latest afghan over the back of the couch. Its bright orange looked friendly spread out like that. A person could sit down and wrap themselves up if they were feeling cold. Or they could pull the afghan over their knees while they read Stephen King because its cheerful orange was stronger than fear.

The sunset shone through her picture window. Her afghan glowed like an invitation to sit down for awhile.

Who was she kidding?

No one visited her. All her friends were dead. The new people who came here were old but they’d never be old friends. And old friends were the only people Agnes wanted.

The nurses and social directors kept goading her to get out, make an effort.

They must be on happy pills. This was assisted living. The only goal was to stay in your own apartment as long as you could before being sent down to the care wing. She hoped to lose her mind before that happened to her. She didn’t want to think about waiting to die in a soft nightgown.

Mary would have loved this afghan. She’d tell Agnes it was garish and then she’d wrap it around her while they talked. They’d eat maple oat nut muffins and lick their fingers. Then they’d drink bourbon until it was stupid late.

Mark would have sprawled his huge self with the afghan over his knees. He’d sit in his armchair, loosen up his shirt, and ask how his love bug was doing.

She’d say “I’m making ugly afghans. How do you think I’m doing?” He’d laugh and hold his arms wide open. Agnes blinked away tears.

She didn’t want to ruin her make-up. Tonight’s movie was Casablanca or something else with Humphrey Bogart. Everyone went to the Saturday night movie, even when the movie was black and white like last week’s Death Takes a Holiday.

Alex would be there. If she got to the common room early, she’d save him the best cushioned chair. They’d take nips from the silver flask they didn’t bother to hide.

She filled the flask and wondered about packing a can of cheese. Alex liked to squirt cheese into his mouth straight out of the can like her son used to.

As she tucked provisions into her tote, she heard something at the door. Someone, she corrected herself. Things don’t knock.

She looked at the tote and sighed. She didn’t have time for this — especially when she might forget what she’d been doing. Good manners insisted she answer the door.

She wasn’t expecting anyone. It could be a pirate with an eye patch. He was tall, dark, and handsome with good teeth. Agnes need not fear his lusty swashbuckling. She was a black belt in knocking people down and kicking boards while wearing fancy pajamas.

The man was tall, smooth-skinned with dark brown eyes. He smiled. A charming pirate then, marauder just the same. She smiled back.

“Agnes! Wonderful to see you, my dear!” He took her hand in both his own, tuxedo’d sleeves rising to reveal precise, starched cuffs.

Agnes took back her hand, pointed down the hall. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Agnes Peabody lives three doors down.” Her mind raced. Handsome men did not visit dumpy, dour Agnes Peabody.

He shook his head. “I’m here for you, Agnes Hepworth. Please, may I come in?”

Agnes had forty-five minutes before she could claim the best chairs in the common room. The stranger was so well-dressed and so polite. She swung the door open.

“And you would be?” Agnes hid her dismay at the atrocious manners of the next generation.

“John Doe,” he said in a smooth, resonant baritone.

This man could sing! Agnes smothered a thrill. She knew a natural gift when she heard one.

Agnes closed the door. This was her lucky night; first John Doe and later on, Alex for their private night cap.

John admired the new afghan. “Your handiwork is exceptional.”

Agnes sighed. “Used to be. May I offer you a drink? Tea, seltzer, something a little harder?”

“Iced tea would be….heaven,” said John, settling into Mark’s armchair, caressing its worn velour arms.

Agnes handed him the iced tea. “Now that we’re settled, how about you tell me why you’re here? What can I do for you? It’s movie night and you don’t want to be late for movie night because all the good seats….”

John held up a strong, tanned hand. “No worries. You’ll be there in plenty of time. And you won’t have to worry ever again about getting a good seat. You’ll take whatever seat you want.”

Agnes laughed. “You’ve never been to movie night at Sunny Acres!”

“Ah, but I have. Many times, in fact. Wonderful event. I’ve enjoyed…”

Agnes peered at his face. He did look familiar. He must be one of the skulkers who leaned against the back wall, neither in nor out.

John sipped the iced tea, set it down on a crocheted coaster. “Agnes….” He leaned toward her.

Agnes sipped her iced tea. Get to the point already. I’ve got somewhere I’ve got to be.

John gripped the arms of the chair and attempted to pull it closer to the couch. It didn’t budge.

The chair was perfect where it was. Agnes gazed at the strange man rearranging her living room. He had some nerve — and would get nowhere. Nothing was as solid as reclining chairs from North Carolina.

“Excuse me? John? Why are you here?” Agnes struggled to keep her tone light.

John stood, began to pace. He stalked behind the armchair and gasped. He held up a Lego building kit.

“What is the meaning of this?” His voice shook.

There it was! Agnes and her grandson Mitchell had searched the entire apartment for his birthday present.

Poor kid had lost his present right after he got it. They’d hunted everywhere, including under the armchair. The new cleaning staff wasn’t terrible. Agnes ran a finger across the coffee table. She squinted, but didn’t see any dust. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there, though.

“My grandson and I love Lego. Little guy cannot focus on anything at school, but you give him Lego and you won’t hear from him until his project is built. That’s our castle.”

John sat back down in the armchair. “I didn’t know about this. How is that I didn’t know about this?”

“Lego? You have got to be kidding! You’re what, 40 years old, and you’ve never played with Lego?”

He turned the box in his hands. “Never had the pleasure. And I’m much older than I look. How does it work?”

Agnes waggled her fingers at him. “Give it here. I’ll buy Mitchell another kit.”

In minutes, Agnes had the pieces sorted, the directions smoothed flat on the coffee table.

“So, you follow the directions and put the pieces together in order. See, they snap together like this.” Agnes grinned like her old schoolteacher self.

There was a knock on the door when they were working their way up the ramparts.

Agnes blinked. It was pitch black outside. What time was it? She raced to the door.

Alex looked into her eyes, shuffled his feet. “Um, when you didn’t come down to movie night, I got worried….” He spotted the man on the couch and flinched.

“Sorry to bother you — I can see you have company.”

“He’s no one, just a friend doing a Lego project with me.” Agnes stared up into Alex’s eyes. Had they always been that piercing blue?

John stood up, smoothing his pants over toned thighs. He folded his jacket over his arm and joined them in the doorway.

“Agnes, thank you for your hospitality. I’ll just be on my way. You were right. I did come for Agnes Peabody.”

Alex stepped back into the hall, pointed at Agnes Peabody’s door. “Hey, good to see you again, John. That’s her apartment right there.” He pulled back his shoulders and puffed out his chest.

Agnes smiled at the lovely, aggressive hormones raging over her. This was the best night ever. She couldn’t wait to tell Helen.

“Wait! Take this with you.” Agnes hurried back to the table and swept the loose Lego pieces into the box. She handed them to John along with the castle in progress.

John bowed slightly. “Thank you! I’ll see you another time.” He nodded to them, grinned down at the Lego creation.

Agnes and Alex watched him stride to Agnes Peabody’s door. Soundlessly, the door opened and closed behind him.

“He a friend of yours?” Alex’s voice was sharp.

“Never saw him before. I lost track of the time and now we’ve missed movie night. How about we see what’s good on television?”

They were absorbed in Duck Soup and wrapped close in the orange afghan when the ambulance arrived. Footsteps thundered down the hall. Something large and heavy banged against the walls.

The commotion stopped a few doors down.

Satisfied the episode was under control, Alex snuggled Agnes closer. They repeated the last lines of the movie to each other.

Bixby hollered from the end of the hall. “Damn, damn, damn! Too late again! What are you idiots going to do when it’s a real emergency?”

The EMTs left grumbling about their plummeting rescue stats.

When Alex left her bed because he had to sleep in his own, he picked up the completed Lego castle leaning against the door. Handing it to Agnes, he kissed her goodnight.

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