“Agatha Burns” by Alison Wells
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week, we meet Agatha. Despite her life, Agatha Burns was determined to fly.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Agatha Burns” by Alison Wells:
Agatha Burns was a space explorer. She trod sand dune planets and looked at the sun when she shouldn’t have, sunspots skittered around her retina. She tied a sheet around her heat blasted shoulders, held each of the ends and leaped from the top of sheds, sailing across the soft lawn, barely a scratch on the self-satisfied disc at all. She shook a fist at it.
Agatha picked the scab on her knee till it bled, ran red, she walked across the top of gateposts ike a gymnast, arms outstretched, feeling the breeze under her elbows, pulling long threads of hair from her mouth as the winds lifted. Where she grew up there were gales. They never lifted her away.
Agatha got top grades, moved to London, worked in the city under the flight paths. Sharp suit, champagne diamond encrusted, she cut a figure in the skyscrapers. She took in the heights from her penthouse apartment. Agatha danced in the club to the songs of an artist who had died too young of a drug overdose. She put on her sunglasses against the white solar glare of Carribean beaches. She flew to the top of her profession and after Black Monday, like the markets, Agatha crashed.
She did not want to go back to the sleepy seaside down that had clipped her wings in youth but – at that moment burnt, bruised – there was no feasible alternative. So she returned, verifying her mother’s long held and snide predictions of a hard landing. With the shards of her business acumen Agatha opened an art and hobby shop. Agatha and her customers created airplanes of balsa. She liked the pressure in her fingertips, the glue’s tenacity.
The shop was where she met Bartholomew. He came for the Spitfire Scale Models. She had to order them in. He was the sort of man she would have pushed past in the city as he stared at primordial Rorschach water creatures from bridges. Bartholomew was tall, his temples grey, his eyes undefinable. He had a stammer in the company of those he didn’t know well. He had a fascination with the weather but in a way that made isobars sound enchanting. He was halting, solid, unflappable. His humility charmed her, a counterpoint to banker arrogance.
It may have made the world of difference to him to have known he had conceived a child, a boy who she named Mark. If given the opportunity he would have made a wonderful father, the kind of father who let his child splash in puddles where rainbows floated. The kind of father who steered not directed. The kind of father who let chinks of light into the heart.
But Bartholomew was the kind of man who, although leaving chinks for others, was the sort who closed his own doors.
Agatha continued to exist. Motherhood was more messy and untameable than any corporate clashes. She had fallen back into the vaccum of her former life, settling near her parents. She worried how the chrysalis of her child might emerge from this underachieving town. She renewed the acquaintance of school friends who had never done the boomerang. At eleven o’ clock one morning on a street full of wheelchairs and pushchairs, she met Emily Fitzgerald, Emily who had always looked as if she might go somewhere. Why hadn’t she? There’d been a boyfriend with a motorbike.
The gloss of Agatha’s lipstick and the sheen of her fake tan protected her from the taint of other’s losses. It transpired that Emily’s mother was now dead, that she had two young girls, that she was newly divorced. Agatha had known Emily’s mother when they were children – she had once put a plaster on Agatha’s knee. Of the rest she wanted to know nothing. She took her leave of Emily. “I have to fly” she said. Back in the shop, she expected Bartholomew daily. Some days were serendipitous, some were not.
As time passed in this sleepy town Agatha burned. She paced by the long ponds of a country house while Mark, now five flew paper airplanes. His grandfather was the epitome of patience, folding and refolding, doing special wings, making the edges sharp to improve the aerodynamics. Nevertheless Agatha paced, agitated.
Stock markets, leaves, lives. Everything was falling.
That winter the boy’s grandfather died in a moment that was sudden, stupid, uncalled for. Her mother was “unable to help Agatha out with the boy” despite the fact that she was always out at something, despite her loss. In the months that followed, Agatha watched Mark fly paper airplanes, determined, into the fire. He did not yet know his father. He did not yet know to ask.
Bartholomew returned to the shop. There was something he could not get anywhere else. She took out her book and her pencil and asked him if she should order it. He said he had seen the boy. He said it in a way that made her feel good. The pencil Agatha was holding remained in the air. She explained about her dream of flying high. He said nothing; perhaps she was singing into the wind.
The next summer at the Flugtag, she had a flying contraption of wood, carefully glued. Before they could stop her, she belted Mark in too. When the time was right, she guided the plane off the pier. Agatha Burns and her boy flew out across the sea, high and free towards the blazing orb of the sun.
Alison Wells is a fiction writer, blogger and mother of four children, living in Wicklow, Ireland
Her short stories have been shortlisted in the Hennessy, Fish, and Bridport Awards and have been featured in Crannóg, The View from Here, and Metazen. Her work has been included in anthologies including the Voices of Angels (from Bridgehouse) and Eighty Nine (in the Literary Mix Tapes series from Emergent Publishing).
Her writing, interviews and articles appear on her blog Random Acts of Optimism and on the writing website Writing.ie. She has completed a short story collection and a sci-fi surburban comedy Housewife with a Half-Life and is working on a literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities. The story Agatha Burns comes from a novel-in-progress of flash fictions Flashes of Sadness and Light.
Tags: alison wells, fiction, metro fiction, short story