By P.A. O’Neil
Aggie slumped back into her Queen Anne desk chair, elbows resting on the slender arms, hands on her thighs. She stared at the crisp sheet of white paper rolled in-and-out of her Remington typewriter. It was as blank as when she had placed it there two hours ago. She sat up straight and smiled certain that Miss Dryden would have a ruler in her back if she had seen her sitting that way. Repositioning herself before her desk, she set her fingers above typewriter keys, some worn down enough that the letters no longer shown, and waited. Waited for her fingers to press them in a semblance of order, letters forming words, words forming sentences, but still nothing happened as if paralyzed.
Aggie’s shoulders sagged as she sighed with disappointment, again. With her fingers still resting on the keys, hoping for inspiration, her eyes wandered to the letter from her agent from the morning’s post. She picked it up to read for probably the tenth time, believing she could recite from memory, now, the words written there. “Publisher anxious to receive new manuscript … wants to distribute early next year … keeps asking if I know the plot … promised we’d have something to him on Monday … is there some way I can help?”
She leaned back again, not caring about the unladylike posture, while she tossed the letter back onto the walnut desk. It landed in practically the same spot from where she had picked it up which made her smile. “Ah, things might be looking up after all,” she said to herself. She let her eyes drift past the offending letter, to assorted framed photographs of loved ones, a pen and ink set gifted by her publisher, assorted notebooks, reference texts, and eventually out the large window her desk faced.
Even though it had a southern exposure, there were enough trees in her yard to shade it from the heat of the summer sun yet allow for welcome warmth during the winter months. Looking out the window was like looking at a fine landscape, a frame of velvet draping before a double matting surrounded the view. The first mat, a fine gossamer lining that could be pulled shut for privacy or temperature control. The second, an exterior frame of green, the flora planted outside the windows of her Chelsea home. It was late September when the trees carried a rainbow of colors from green to yellow, but not yet shed for the barren grey of winter. Her window exterior was encased in a halo of ivy as it curled and stretched tendrils upward in search of a toehold. But it wasn’t the vines that caught her eye, it was the spider that had woven a web between a set of leaves.
Aggie stood and leaned over the desk to watch the methodical strokes of the spider as it wrapped a fly caught in the web. Saving the meal for another time perhaps, she thought. She was so mesmerized watching this little mortician at work, that the knock on her study door startled her. “Yes, come in!”
The door opened slowly as a woman in a blue uniform came in balancing a silver tray laden with ceramics, “It’s time for your afternoon tea, ma’am. I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“No, Daniels, a cup of tea could be just the thing I need to clear my head, thank you.” Aggie picked up a pile of papers and stacked them upon another, clearing a corner of her desk, “Here, you can put the tray here.”
The maid poured hot amber liquid into a cup of fine English china and laced it with milk from a small pitcher similar in design to the tea pot. From a squat jar Daniels lifted what could’ve been a magic wand for a leprechaun, a wooden spoon with slits in the bowl filled with syrupy golden honey sliding back into the pot. Quickly, the maid transferred the sweet delicacy into the tea cup before she lost any to the tray. “I thought you’d like a treat today, Mrs Mallowan. Cook picked up some local honey at the market this morning.”
“Thank you, Daniels, but I don’t think I deserve a treat today. As you can see, I haven’t written a single word.”
Daniels passed the cup and saucer to her employer, “I have noticed an unusual silence as I walked past the study door today, ma’am, if you don’t mind my sayin’.”
Aggie sat back down and stirred her tea. “It’s not that I don’t have an idea about what to write, it’s all there on the desk, piles of notes.” She rested the spoon on the saucer and gestured with a free hand, “I have the characters, the setting, and the crime. What I don’t have is the ‘hook’!”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll come up with something soon. What’s that term I’ve heard you use before, your muse?” Daniels lifted the tray off the desk, replacing it with a small plate of biscuits she had brought with her. “Do you want me to take the tray, ma’am?”
“No, you can leave it on the side table in case I want more.” As the maid turned away from the desk, Aggie continued, “Funny thing about honey?”
“What is, ma’am?”
“I know beekeepers wear gear, but I’m sure it doesn’t always protect them. I’ve often wondered why they raise bees if they know they can get stung,” she mused while sipping her tasty indulgence.
Daniels turned towards Aggie, “I wouldn’t know ma’am, but I’ve heard it said, ‘no reward without the risk.’ Will that be all, ma’am?”
Aggie smiled, as she turned to nod her assent to her servant, “Thank you, Daniels, you’ve helped more than you know.”
“I just served you your tea like I do every afternoon, Mrs Mallowan.” She curtsied before opening the door to let herself out.
Aggie sipped at her cup, enjoying how the sweet taste overwhelmed the acidity of the tea. Her eyes drifted back to the activity just outside her window. She set the saucer on the desk next to the biscuits and stood, wondering if the fly had been completely covered by now. She was not prepared for what she saw, for rather than the spider and his victim, there was a large wasp antagonizing the spider. The spider did it’s best to fight off the flying insect while maintaining balance on the web, but alas, the wasp stung the spider and waited for it to die from the poisonous venom. Aggie sat back down and thought about what she had witnessed. She pondered. Even though it was only a spider, the sting from the wasp was surely a painful way to die.
Like receiving warmth from the noon day sun, when her muse finally spoke, it filled her with an energy that flowed down her core and out to her extremities. She grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper from her notes. Turning it over to the clean side, she wrote a phrase and then crossed off every two letters until she had a proper accounting. Facing the Remington with purpose, she used the gauge to find the center of the sheet of paper. Counting back the amount she had calculated, Aggie pressed the backspace for every pair of letters, then she typed the phrase she had written, perfectly centered.
Aggie slid the return arm twice and put the carriage back to the center. This time she did not have to calculate how many spaces to go back, it was something she had done so often before, it had become second nature as she typed a byline familiar to readers around the world and for generations to come.
“Death in the Air
by Agatha Christie”