Wells Pond, or, The Magical World Of Agnes Gagnew

Wells Pond, or, The Magical World Of Agnes Gagnew

A Story by Francis Danger

What lies beneath? Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to leave everything you have ever known to find out, even if only for the chance that it might finally be the unexpected you have come to expect.

  She closed her eyes, if just for a moment, and she could almost reach out and touch the snow that she knew could not really be there.
  "Oh, yeah, for sure, hon'. It's.... 1:30. Ish."
  And with that, Agnes Gagnew was quite literally running late.
  Her eyes fired open, hammer cocked. She dropped all the change she was counting onto the counter and shot out of the boutique like a blond bullet from a poorly-lit, neon gun, trigger pulled. After spending almost two full hours plastered to the hot pink, linoleum seats of Laurie's Boutique, breathing in the factory smoke of Laurie's two-pack-a-day habit, she could not waste a single second. She grabbed the nearest, cleanest-looking People magazine to cover her new hairstyle and burst into the rain outside.
  She did not look left. 
  She did not look right.
  Agnes, or Aggy as everyone eventually called her, ran across the parking lot to the soundtrack of the falling rain on the warm asphalt. As a younger, smaller version of herself, she remembered the times she would sit and watch the mist rise from the black-top with Sean as the rain would hit. The two would sit and say nothing, waiting for their parents to get done shopping/ talking/ drinking-before-noon and they would just sit and watch the play they saw before them. Whole conversations would go by without either saying a word. 
  It was exactly that kind of summer day that she found herself caught up in again now, so many years later. It always rained on the 4th of July in her hometown, every single year. Sometimes the local weatherman would call for a beautiful, sunny day. Sometimes the next year he would joke about how he was wrong about last year, but, don't worry, it was definitely not going to rain on this weekend, this July 4th. It always did. That was, she wouldn't admit to anyone, one of the reasons she would come out to Well's Pond every year on this date. It never changed. That was part of what Agnes thought of as its magic. The other reason she came, she would never admit to herself, was because of Sean.
  Agnes threw herself off the curb and ran across the parking lot to her car, leaping over two separate puddles in the way. 
  The first she missed.
  The second she did not.
  The tip of her expensive but obviously worn-out sandal sunk in past the ankle and threatened to stangle her shin. The cold, dirty water seeped in between her toes.
  "DAMMN it. Really? Damn. Damn. DAMN."
  "Oh, wow. Ouch. Are you ok?"
  She was, she realized, suddenly caught up in one of those moments, those traps, where you just did something you considered to be hugely embarrassing and forgot to hope that no one had seen. 
  Agnes looked up immediately to see a set of strong, blue eyes looking down at her seconds before she hid her gaze. 
  "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry! I didn't know anyone was... I.. Oh my gosh..."
  The man laughed heartily. He stumbled his way through a string of apologies in turn and asked if maybe she needed a ride, to get home dry in the torrents coming down. He got about 3/4's of the way through the offer before he paused for a solid two seconds, only to ask, mid-way,: "Aggy? Aggy Gagnew, is that you?"
  S**t. S**t. S**t. S**t.
  "Yep. I mean, yes, yes it is. It's... Marc, right? Marcus? From Yorktown High?"
  "Marcob! But just Marc for short. With a C! I knew I knew you! Oh, man, it's been years. How are you?? What are you doing back in York?"
  Marc with a C was a giant of a man and one of the most popular football players in their high school graduating class, with an emphasis on the "was." She looked up, more confidently this time, from under the damp image of Kim Kardashian that shielded her eyes to see him fully. He was still large, larger than life, but not quite as large. His voice still boomed. His hands still dwarfed hers when he held out his to shake hers, even there in the pouring rain that made everything look small. Yet his shoulders sunk. His hair was thin. His huge gait seemed to be little more than a shuffle. His shirt ws big on him. 
  And, she painfully remembered, he definitely remembered Luca.
  "Yeah, I just, I mean, no, no I don't need a ride, but yeah, I'm just back in town actually, you know, for a thing."
  "Oh, really? How long have you been in for?"
  "Uhm. About 3 years."
  She wanted this to be over.
  She knew it was coming. She wished, right then and there, she would suffer a heart attack, a stroke, anything. She wished that she was swimming in an ocean and a gigantic shark would rip out of the great Market Street Square Parking Lot Sea and swallow her whole. She wished she could disappear.
  "You sure you don't need a ride? It's pouring! Hey, where's Luca? Heh, ha ha! He not sending one of his boys in a Benz to come pick you up? That guy, huh? That guy has more people on his salary than the President! You couldn't have done better than Luca Thomas as a husband, huh? That's for sure!"
  Every word was like a long knife stuck into her. Every pause for punctuation was like someone taking that knife out of her just long enough for the wound to open, for blood to start pouring out, for the hot, wet summer air to start to sting like fire before jamming the blade back in. 
  She was tired. She did not have time to explain. She did not want to be described as pleasant anymore. She was no longer that same 17 year old.
  "We divorced actually Marc. Yeah, he, he cheated on me with his legal intern. She was 18 when I was the ripe, old age of 25. So when I found out, I cheated on him. Yeah... so, now I'm back here and, honestly? I don't think I really mind the rain anymore."
  She put the magazine down from over her hair and walked past him to her car. She used to do so many things differently, she remembered. She used to live in a different world.  At one point, Agnes used to drive a Mercedes Benz as well. That was all everyone who Luca owned would drive. He drove one. His assistants drove one. He made damn sure his wife drove one, though, she could pick the color. Now, she drove a 2000 Ford Taurus. She didn't care enough to be proud.
  The giant then seemed to shrink further before her as she pushed past his hulking frame. He called out as she left, his voice ringing loud against the storm.  
  "Sorry. I'm sorry, Aggy...hey, Stay Brave, ya hear!" 
  Stay Brave. 
  "Stay Brave!" they would chant, game after game. 
  They were legends back then. The Yorktown Knights. From ages 13-18, they were heroes. 30-35 boys trying to look like men acting like boys, each untouchable in their paladin's armor, on the football field and off. "Stay Brave" was more than just their war cry during games and pep rallies. Year after year, it was their class motto. It was handwritten on every year book. It was who they pretended they really were.
  She did not feel very brave. She felt impossibly courageous back then, she knew, when she walked out of the lion's den for the last time. She turned heel and left him with his jaw on the floor and his eye black and swollen. She felt less and less brave with each visit to the lawyer's office. The assistant moved in maybe three days after she moved out. She could physically feel his new lover's eyes pour over her every time she showed up to sign more documents or pay legal fees. She wouldn't dress up to go out anymore but she wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything but her best skirts and both necklaces when she showed up for court appearances. Luca eventually stopped coming, just sending the New Girl in to sign for him, one jab after another into scars she got too tired to bandage anymore. 
  Agnes was not looking for brave today. She just wanted comfortable. And while the rain did dampen the curl of her formerly flame-bright locks, it did comfort her. As did Independence Day. As did Sean.
  As did the memory of a magical place that existed just beyond her reason, just past Fellow's Ave in downtown York. She used to hope for the first few years, when she first started to keep her promise to Sean, that it would happen again. She was sure of it for the first couple weeks after The Day. She had hope for the next few years. She stopped hoping but still came for the 5 after that. She didn't know if she still hoped that she would somehow see it again or if she just remembered how that hope felt, and imagined the rest. With each year that came and went her guarantees of what really did or did not happen That Day had waned. Yet as she turned the engine over again, three times each time to start the beast, she knew she was going to Well's Pond to be there at 2 pm, just like she did for the past 12 years.
  She closed her eyes again as her car performed it's raucous, start-up ritual. The revving engine quieted down and as she sat listening to the wind lash at her from inside
she could almost smell the dark, blue plains that stretched on forever. She could swear she could almost hear the birds sing their impossible tune in the cold winter breeze that could not exist.
   The ride was comfortable at least, even if the past few years being back wasn't. After the hearings and fees and publicity all died down, she was left with nothing. Marrying your high school sweetheart meant a lot of things, and one of those things to her was that she put all of her proverbial eggs in that one, poorly-made, proverbial basket. She always saw herself with Luca. That's the kind of mistakes young girls and boys in love make. There is no future. The past was just yesterday and today was happening in the next couple hours. Yet when the young falls out and you're left with just girls and boys, when the fairy tale ends and the reader gets up and gets back to life past the last page,  you're left to figure out who you really are. You're now aware that you are your own person, with your own, individual feelings and wants and desires, many years after you had a chance to act on them. So, with the marriage over, with the car and house gone, she came home. Or, at least, she came to the last place in the world she wanted to when she had to use the word "home" literally. 
  She came back to her mom's in Yorktown.
  She was not proud.
  The streets were familiar, the people all the exact same. Each shop that was open had been closed only to become the exact same kind of shop with new paint and a new name. 
Yet, her actual living situation left much to be desired. She knew coming back to her family's house on the end of the block would be a more cramped, less private life than she was used to but she didn't remember exactly how much so. For the past several months, however, she was reminded. Her mother showed her trademark kindness by letting her eldest daughter move back in, she was the picture of the doting mom that the television shows advertised, week after week. However, with two other sisters living under the same small roof was the kind of adjustment that Agnes was not in any way prepared for.
  And then she saw him. He was right where he always was.  
  He was there early, of course. Year after year he was there early, never making her wait, never forgetting or calling with excuses as to the number of important things he forgot he had to do. As she pulled in to a stop before the ancient, green park bench that hung below the water's edge like a signature, she saw him smile. He was always smiling.
  Sean Reilly, or more accurately, The Last Sean Reilly, positively beamed as he saw her car turn in. The unique name he wore like a badge came from their graduating class, like every identifiable characteristic of every person who grew up in Yorktown did. The miniature city was a quick-rise coal town back when that used to mean something and was a boom with early Irish settlers. Young, accented immigrants came in droves, all breaking ground to plant the tradition of young people getting paid entirely too little for working too hard there in the valley. There were four Sean Reilly's in their class alone. Year after year, in annual class pictures or newspaper events and for no actual discernible reason, he was always the very last Sean Reilly. And with that, the name stuck.
  She always just called him Sean. 
  She was, as she would say, "unfortunately blessed" with the name Agnes back in 1985, when most new born girls were blessed with the more modern "Sarahs" and "Nicoles." She owned the name however, she insisted upon using it until eventually everyone stopped making fun of the high spirited, beautiful young girl and gave in to her much more pleasing moniker. 
  He always just called her Aggs.
  "Hey! Aggs! It's great to see you! Wasn't sure you were going to make it this year. Wow, you look... you look literally stunning! I am literally stunned."
  He always said the same, comfortable thing, each time they saw each other. Sometimes the words were in different order. Yet each one came from the same beaming, crooked smile. 
  The Last Sean Reilly was not classically handsome and had never been. He wasn't thin like a child, but far too skinny for a man. His face was not too long or too wide, save for his crooked smile it was all just average. He was a musician, or at least that was what he told everyone he was despite what work he was actually paid to do at the time. His music, she was always far too afraid to tell him, was just as forgettable as his features were. He put so much effort and work into each chord and chorus, only to have them somehow wash away from you the moment they had passed by. Each song was a memory, the kind you have when you've drank too much, each lyric was a dream you just woke up from. They left their impression and then, just as quickly as you heard them, they were gone from your memory entirely. 
 He, too, had his shining moment. It wasn't marriage to a rich, tried-too-hard-too-be-Italian smug jerk right out high school, however. No. The Last Sean Reilly had Prom Night. She would always remember it, exactly like it was and they would talk about it for hours.
  "Yeah, I had some running around to do, you know how it is. Stopped and did some shopping for my mom and then had to swing by the office right before I came here, that was all. But, I wouldn't miss this for the world. You look great, too, Sean."
  The rain stopped as his smile widened. The angles were all wrong when he was happy, but she rarely noticed anymore. She only saw the quiet contentment he carried with him no matter what he did. She would always tell him that she could read his face like a favorite book. The pages weren't in the right order and some stuck out, even when it was closed, but she kept on reading, time after time.
  She then asked the next question. It came next, that was why it was the next question.
  "Do you think we'll see it today?"
  His smile softened.
  "I don't know," he answered, like always. "I hope so!"
  The two immediately set themselves free. Like small, old dogs bought from the kennel at the same time by the same owner, they let themselves go. Everything was safe. Everything was comfortable.
  "What have you been up to, Aggs? How IS the office going?"
  "Oh, you know. The Dr. is, honestly, still, a terrible, terrible old man. He's that kind of old man where he can say the most cheeky things and get totally away with it. If I wasn't just waiting to get an internship at St. Margaret's in the next few years, I would get straight up and tell his wife. 'Donna,' I would say, 'your husband, my dear, is not the pervert you married.' Gah, ha ha. So, tell me how the music is coming, Sean, you've got to!"
  "Eh, you know, it's what it is, Aggs. After... after the, the, you know, after everything, we just never found our audience. I swear, I write most of these songs just for you, ha ha. You're the only person who buys our stuff, you know that? You, and maybe Maddie's family, I think. And they probably only pick our stuff up because you ask them to behind my back! Ha."
  The two laughed honest laughter. It sounded like hands being held, when the fingers know exactly where to go.
  They wandered and the conversation wandered with them. They talked of their jobs and their hobbies, internet sites where pictures of cats were crudely edited to look like characters of popular TV shows, the places they would rather be. Eventually, like it always did, it came down to the night of the school's prom. 
  Agnes knew the ins and outs of Sean better than maybe anyone, than maybe even himself, She knew on that one night he became the person he always wanted to be but never would. He put aside his fears, he put to rest his anxieties and He took the stage. He smiled his crooked smile, he played his forgetful songs, draped in the perfect moon light from the auditorium's skylight.Everyone danced. Everyone sang along even though no one knew the words. They carried him out on rented-suit shoulders. The prom was one week before their first big show down at Darby's on 34th st. That night was 7 days exactly before the giant fire from a careless cigarette tossed by Sean's brother, the band's drummer, roared to life. The pyre climbed the walls in moments and when all that was finally left was the smoke, three of their graduating class were gone with it. There was mourning. There was national headlines. No one really came to Sean's band after that night.
  As they reminisced, their feet wandered, too, making their way around the track and back around it again, just like always. Named for Jack Welle III, one of the founding fathers of the small township and quite possibly its only, non-Irish native, the pond's actual creation was a mystery to the locals and history books. 
  No one knew where the pond came from.
  The land was a flat clearing surrounded by the rolling hills of what was now the area's only official "park," with exactly one official "park bench." It had been, perfectly flat back in 1891 until some day in 1892 when the local paper began referring to something called "Well's Pond" where the clearing clearly had been. When asked by other local reporters, the one who had coined the term had claimed that it had always been there, and that someone related to someone else always must have called it that. There was no recording of these events or locations anywhere before 1891. Some people believe the small, still body of water with rings of rocks around where its corners would be if it were in fact a square just one day came to be because it wanted to be there. It must have wanted very badly to leave wherever it was and just end up somewhere, anywhere new. Agnes liked this explanation best because she could understand it.
  It was almost time. The rain had stopped. They had completed their walk twice. It had been almost thirty minutes. They both walked over to the edge of the water, back heside the largest rock. They both held their breath for a second. 
  "No" Agnes said. 
  "I don't want to do our hands first. I... I just want to look. I want to try just looking."
  "But... but, Aggs, we always put our hands in first. I mean, that's, that's how it's always been. We walk around twice, we hold hands and we dip them in to see if, you know... "his voice grew quieter here. "If... if we can still see them."
  "I know" she said. 
  "I want to just try something different. I want to look. Sean, would you... would you mind holding my hair back?"
  He frowned, if only for a moment, and his lips became a perfect half-circle. It was a symmetry she suddenly saw that she never saw before. She couldn't recall a single time she had seen him unhappy. Now, now his smile was perfect. It was just upside down. 
  He fixed it into a familiar bend and his eyes lit up with their familiar light as he said "Okay, Aggs. if you want to try it that way, you know, why not? Let me help, ok?"
  It was two years before the night of the prom when it happened. It was three years before she was married.  It was seven years before she was divorced. It was one day before she was so scared she stopped seeing Sean for the rest of that year. 
  It was The Day. 
  She remembered it perfectly. They celebrated it every year. No matter where they were, no matter who they were with or what they were doing, every year on July 4th they put it on hold and would meet at Well's Pond. Aggy Gagnew and The Last Sean Reilly would leave their normal lives, the routines they were both comfortable with and the ones that were wholly uncomfortable. They came to Well's Pond and would stick their hands into the pond water, exactly the same way, at almost exactly the same time, to see if they would disappear.
  She remembered the first and only time it happened. It was the very first and only time they held hands. She held him once before and she held him once after, but she held his hand only that once back when she was 16 years old, back when he was 15 years old and together their hands disappeared. 
  She screamed at first. They were there, palms sweaty and young and pressed against each other for dear life until they broke the water. Then, they were gone. The water was clear. Their hands, together, were no longer there. Where they should be, was only rock and weed.
  She pulled her own out, and he reluctantly, let her fingers go and did the same. 
  They tried again several times that same afternoon, roughly half-an-hour after the rain ended on that July 4th, just after 2:30. On that first day, they never appeared.Each time their skin broke the surface of the water, it vanished. So, as a young girl with her entire future ahead of her and with anything possible, any and everything at all, she asked The Last Sean Reilly to hold her hair back for her and she dipped her face in, just her nose and then her eyes. When she opened them, she saw a whole other world. 
  She did not see water. 
  She did not feel water.
  She saw a gigantic field, bitterly cold with snow pouring down. Dark, blue snow flakes the size and color she had never seen fell to her face and melted on the heat of her exposed forehead. She saw tall, white trees that stretched and bent into shapes she did not recognize. She saw the sun, gigantic yellow above her with a second, smaller sun that was dark and red and looked almost like a shadow to the first beside it. They shined more brightly than anything she had ever seen. In the distance, just about as far as she could see, were rows and rows of mountains, some wide, some almost skinny, like giant earthen legs. Beyond them, she thought she saw what looked like a city, or at least buildings, that seemed to rest on clouds above the mountains. Everything was bright, but so bitter cold. Everything that was normally straight was suddenly crooked. What was where it should be suddenly wasn't and everything, everything was beautiful.
  Wherever it was, there was not here.
  She cried out and breathed in. No water came. Only cold air. 
  With that, she pulled her head up and fled. It was the next day when he walked the two miles to her door from his house and asked what had happened. 
  She told him what she saw.
  He believed her absolutely.
  She saw him once more that whole year. It was the next year she came back and found him there. The rain had died out, the same way it did the last time they both sat down by the rocks in the park, right before they walked the length of the pond twice in a row. They tried their hands again, she dipped her head below the water again and yet each time she was denied that glimpse into that other world. Each time she tried the door was locked, the window was closed. Though she moved on, though he tried harder, they returned each year to try again. Their hands dipped into the water and each time they could see their fingertips and knuckles bend with the light. Their clothes changed at the edges, their wrists got fuller, their hands held sometimes more tightly, sometimes not as tight. Yet each time they had seen them all the same.
  He held her hair, shortened from the long, blond length that she had worn for years into tighter, narrow curls and did so mostly symbolically as they again held their breath. He held his for her, she held hers for the water. 
  11 years after the prom. 10 years after her marriage. 5 years after the divorce. 
  She felt the cool water get cold and at once, without fear, she opened her eyes.

© 2014 Francis Danger

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Added on August 23, 2014
Last Updated on August 23, 2014
Tags: story, water, agnes, gagnew, beneath, world, below, york


Francis Danger
Francis Danger

Philadelphia, PA

31, M. editor and creator of A Secret Machine . Com, staff writer for PA Music Scene, former editor of The Disembodied Americana. professional technologist. semi-professional writer/ artist. ama.. more..