Agnes Hestia Smith was fifteen years and three months old when the vegetables in her back garden came to life.
Maud Lillian Jones of the old-money Charleston Joneses was seven and two days. Artie Allen, Jr., who organised the local paper round and directed the boys as to who was to go where, was eighteen and eight months. Christopher Birch, who ran the mechanics at the edge of town that sold fresh egg creams from the diner next door while you waited for your car to get fixed, was thirty-three and three hundred and sixty-two days. Little Alice Cooper, daughter of Jennifer Jones (also of the old-money Charleston Joneses whose marriage to grocery-worker Eddie Cooper was quite the scandal), was only five days and thirty-two minutes and her smooth, new hair was stuck damp to her head. But they were rather less observant and don’t matter as much as Agnes Hestia Smith, who was fifteen years and three months old when the vegetables came to life.
Agnes Hestia Smith was the only one who noticed that the vegetables in the back gardens were coming to life. Agnes Hestia Smith was the only one who cared.
It was the white-light cusp of May and the heavy April rains had left the ground fragrant, sweet and a dark, rich colour that stuck to her bare feet. The day had been warm with a bloom of chill frosting the morning wind, and the sky at its end was streaky and bright with colour, orange and red streaming over the legs of the girls who jumped hopscotch at the end of the street. It turned the chalk muddy with light, brown-bloody as skin-shred knees. The grass was damp. She could see everything from the flat land of the back garden. Their house was tilted back at the bottom of a hill, so the town stretched out like an artery up, thick and aortic with bronchiole trees and fat-yellow camelia cells, bleeding out into thin streets. If she went to the front you could see further out behind the town, to the pockets of forest and ‘lake’ (swamp), the red clay soil, the highway like a silver bird in and out of the other hills, in and out of the dead light. The cement was new-laid from the works project stationed over by Bamburg, and it still looked black and wet. The railway lines fish-boned out from behind the house two doors down but it dipped a little from sight for a good stretch of eye after that. She could see someone following them, just into town, nearly at Mrs and Mr Allen’s house. The light turned him into a line drawing. He carried something over his back, and his hat, even from here, she could see was crooked. The top was buckled and looked like it was pulling free from its stitches, straining at the leather, like the top of a can when it jagged away from the rest of the metal.
Agnes Hestia Smith was standing with her feet out, dug into the sweet earth, pulling them in and out of the brown, letting the dirt turn the hang gaps between her toes and their nails dark as vinegar. She didn’t like to think. She didn’t like to breathe. She liked to pretend that she had sprouted right out of the ground, her hair thick and leafed as the crooked apple tree, her skin fragile, soft and freckled like the ruddy potatoes sleeping under the ground, her eyes wet and fresh as sliced strawberries in the evening. She would push her nose into the crook of her elbow when she did this, to see if she could smell for rot or fresh, smell the broil of cabbage or citrus sting or the sweet, soup-tang of carrot. Sometimes when the evening was particularly dark, and the day had been particularly cold, where mother had kept the doily curtains down and the crow that sometimes came to visit did not visit, sometimes she would open her mouth and press her teeth to the skin above the elbow joint, where the faint pulse of blue turned her arm into fresh-bone china. She would drag her tongue across it, try to suck the colour of the marrow beans and the taste of the sweet potatoes and rough-bump of the corn skin from her arm, from herself. She thought that all the years she had been eating the vegetables from the earth patch out the back meant that in some way, the fleshy parts of her arm and her palm and her fingers were stitched together from the leaves and dirt of it, and that some part of her would still taste of them, the nutrients just close to the surface. Agnes Hestia Smith knew she was very lucky that the fenceposts around her house were very tall and Lillian Bleakley from next door could not see her when she stood there, smelling and mawing at her arm, pretending to be a plant, trying to know the vegetables and the fruit and the flowers and the dirt of her garden inside her.
Agnes felt the air dim about her, the sweetness of the evening turning her skin ripe, sharp and crisp with apple balm, maybe the juice of the pears her mother had brought in from the plantation a few miles over the hills outside of town. The sky, the time, the weather; all of them changed which vegetable Agnes would bloom into that day, which fruit her skin would taste of, even the patterns the dirt fit into in her hangnail-gaps. After she had spent her minutes outside, she would write them down in a book she kept in her sock drawer. She would press her arm against her stomach while she wrote down the date, the weather, the type of day it had been, the colour of the sky, and the plant that she felt most like that day, what she flavour she had picked up from the elbow pit. It felt good, her arm crushing down the silence of her belly. Writing out the food, writing out the smell and the taste of herself, made her feel full, and at the same time too empty, and not empty enough. The pulse of blood, the heat of it, in her arms always spoilt it just at the last minute. Just when her stomach gurgled, bright and full from the weight of her apple pear corn carrot skin, almost tricked, the zest of the blood underneath would pull the wool from its eyes and she would be hungry again. Sometimes she thought about biting down, not just tasting. How it would taste. Like meat or like fruit.
She had just smelt it, her stomach had just yowled in protest at her deception, she had just unfurled her arm from her nose, when the vegetable patch started to move. The darkness of the dirt in the darkness of the sky meant that she didn’t see it at first, but she noticed the thud of it the second time, the small shower of seed and earth that puffed into the air, as if someone was pushing it from underneath. She slowly raised her spit-wet arm to her face, rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, as she had read in books that young girls were wont to do in times of surprise and crisis. She wasn’t sure that it helped much, but at least made her feel like she was doing the right thing for the situation.
The earth pushed again, more violently, landing in spirals outside of the patch, cutting dark constellations into the grass that bordered it. Agnes felt the vibrations this time from her place at the edge of the patch, felt the pulse of the ground against her heels and her toes, and a sharp scratch against her sole, as if done by a nail or a tooth. She stepped back, into the wet grass, mostly to get away from the pain of it but also to get away from the swollen hunk of dread stuck sideways in her stomach. She could feel the burn of her acid trying to eat away at it, gnaw at its edges, pull away at its rough wheat and dissolve it in its green bubble. It was different from the dread she usually swallowed, which was thin and brothy and made her chest grumble but would crumple and dissipate into the oily well of her intestines, easily swallowed and easily digested. This made her aware of its journey every squeeze of her throat on the way down. Swollen and the crust of it stale-hard. Her stomach stuck out from its edges. The step did not help much.
The earth thumped a third time, loud enough and scattered enough to disturb a small bird that had been nesting in the apple tree. Agnes found herself watching it as it circled up against the purpling sky. The early moon picked out its wings, its light watery and thin, its shape muddled as a flattened grape behind the summer clouds. She did not want to look again at the vegetable patch, just in case. In case what she did not know, but she knew she did not want to look at it. She swallowed the crumbs that scratched her throat and forced her head down.
There was a hand sticking out of the vegetable patch. Its nails were yellow and flat, pale as pumpkin seeds. Its skin was orange-Agnes Hestia Smith’s favourite colour-and the veins that pulsed were the darkest green, too vivid for blood, wrinkled and full-blushed with sap. The fingers were flexing, pulling at the air as if to shred it, leaving the oxygen boneless and wet. Agnes tapped at her stomach, as she had seen her father do, and realised all her reactions so far were the actions of others. She decided to be Agnes, Agnes the half-plant who breathed the grass and the marrow-sweet and the chlorophyll, who hadn’t come from blood and pain between her mother’s legs but had sprouted up from the ground, string-bean legs and the velvet pea innard of her downy arm hair. This was Agnes who was the earth. She wouldn’t be afraid of anything in it. She bent down and grabbed at the hand, as if the hand’s owner was falling from a bridge. It was soft, fuzzed like a peach, but the rind of the bottom palm was scaled and rough. She ignored the weird texture and pulled, feeling the under-earth resist like she was pulling a root, the dirt sucking at the pale forearm. She wondered for a brief, bizarre moment if the body that was (hopefully) attached to the arm would pop from the ground like a bubble, sharp and clean and fresh as a baby. It was harder than that, the body coming forth from the ground inch by inch, the earth shedding out pupae-skin sheaths. It took so long that the dark was thick and smothered when the other arm pulled free, pushing its other mud smudged palm against the dirt to give Agnes a help in force. The crown of hair shone white under the leak of the moon, the beaded gems of dark earth strewn loose, berrying the strands with blackened gems. A final heave sent the shoulders careening up through the dirt, pushing Agnes over with the force of it
There was a girl in the vegetable patch. A girl who looked like Agnes but orange. Her skin was bubbled and hard with gourd-rind, especially around her pulpy knuckles. Her hair was deep green, verdant, Agnes’ hair reflected in bright, dew-wet, earth-pocked leaves bursting from a yam dark scalp. Her eyes were wet and palest yellow, two large, flattened seeds in the middle of her face, and her lips were sharper than the rest of her skin, tiger bright. She wore a dress that looked like Agnes’ too, only green, its white lace collar made from mushroom roots. Her buttons were tight-curled earthworms, dotting their way down her shivering chest.
There was a girl in the vegetable patch. There was a pumpkin in the vegetable patch. There was a pumpkin girl in the vegetable patch.
‘Hello’, the pumpkin girl was speaking. Her voice was rich and dark, the same colour of the earth that she had been pulled from. How did she know how to speak English? Agnes did not know. ‘Do you come from the earth too?’
Agnes pretended she did a lot but in front of this girl, this girl who was actually from the earth she felt all her games and her vegetable pretending and her sitting at the back of the class drawing parsnips in her jotter was a bit of a joke. A pretence. Shame at her own childishness blushed its way across her face.
‘I come from the surface.’ The girl tilted her head to the sky, but the night was so dark and the moon so thin that it must not have been that different from being buried in the earth. Agnes watched her eyes fall on the apple tree, and its branches must have looked like roots to her as she did not seem discombobulated or scared. The house loomed behind them, bright with light, and Agnes was not sure how she would react to the structure, or the yellow pulsing from its windows. She thought of the panic that used to sit on her chest when she was younger and the lights were turned out, the fear that froze her stock-still. She lived every day and every moment in the light and the dark was as unfamiliar to her as if somebody had picked her head up with their fingers and twisted it off her shoulders and plonked it out in the mountains and told it to find its way back to her body. She imagined that for this pumpkin girl suddenly being in the light would be much the same thing.
‘How did you-come? Come to be?’ The girl was looking at her oddly, her eyes-the same colour as Agnes’ own in the iris, deep greeny-brown, aside from the seed-yellow sclera-narrowed as they mulled over Agnes’ own, non-orange skin.
‘My-mother and father were very in love. And then my mother says a bird dropped me on her doorstep. But we had a class in school called biology-that’s where you study how bodies like mine work-and they said that mothers to bring babies into the world have to carry them in their stomachs,’ she pointed to the flat of her belly, then immediately felt stupid as if this pumpkin girl could speak English and knew where she came from she probably knew what her own stomach was, ‘then they have to push them from between their legs, and it’s very bloody and very painful. So, from my mother’s stomach is where I came to be. How about you?’ They still hadn’t moved. A few metres apart, facing each other, in the same position. Like a Mexican stand-off.
‘My mother shed seeds. One of the seeds split and then I grew in the dirt and here I am.’ She smiled. Agnes expected her teeth to be yellow, like her seedy eyes and nails, but they were white. They glinted in the light of the moon. It was her own smile, staring back at her, bright and rare. A low May wind had picked up and raised bumps across her shoulders. She held a hand out, slowly, as if she was not quite sure how or why she was doing it. Agnes felt herself doing the same, and was surprised when their fingers slotted together, and at how warm the pumpkin girl’s skin was. She had thought it would be cold, and damp, like the earth she was buried under.
‘Are there more of you?’
‘Well, I had lots of brothers and sisters. Some were in this patch; some were in others. I don’t know if any of them grew past embryos.’
‘Is it only-pumpkins? That are alive?’ The pumpkin girl laughed, the gap in her mouth showing her bright white teeth again. They were so human, so distinctively not vegetable, and looked so much like her own, but whiter. Brighter. They looked made from bone. Agnes knew all teeth were, really, but this was the first time she had stared at someone’s teeth and remembered. Thought; this person has bones in their mouth.
‘No, silly!’ Her other hand-the one not holding Agnes’ own-made a throw-away motion in the air, as if Agnes’ question was the most ridiculous question anyone had ever asked. ‘There are hundreds of us down there.’ She threw her fingers at the vegetable patch. ‘Every plant is like me.’
Agnes looked at the pumpkin. Her fingers and her toes and her light lips and her bright, white teeth, and thought of all the vegetables she had eaten. She had crunched down. She had dreamt of in the cold dark nights when all they had was broth as Dad had been turfed off after another season of something or other had been picked clean, and the Relief Bureau lights hurt her mother’s eyes and it was deep winter and nothing much was left of the patch apart from what her mother had canned for emergencies. The carrots she had shivered her blunt knife through for dinner, that Mom had roasted and tasted sweet with wild rosemary Agnes had picked on her way to school, how she had sucked at every inch of its tart-tang skin and made sure she chewed to the count of one hundred to really savour it. The peas she had eaten one by one and revelled in the burst of their green coat between her incisors. Thought about how she had been eating eyes and faces and bones and lungs. Looked at the pumpkin girl and her bright, bony teeth and thought about them peeling and sucking at her brother’s elbows, shaving them against her Mom’s bumpy nose, snapping between their points the silvery blue eye of Lillian Bleakley. Revulsion poured up her throat and she threw up on her feet and the edge of the patch. The pumpkin girl jumped back in disgust, and the action was so normal, so lifelike, so human, that the vomit surged again. The moon picked out the orangey clump of carrot, the flat, fleshless shells of green peas. The pumpkin girl looked at them, and Agnes caught the dawn on her face breaking, the bright awareness of what Agnes had eaten blooming into teary leaves at the corner of her seedling eyes. She felt her own eyes wet up from where she hung, half-bent over and cradling her stomach, over her sick-stained toes and the crime scene of her stomach.
‘I’m sorry,’ she gasped out, and the pumpkin girl looked at her with a deep sadness, and a deep horror, that she just couldn’t stand. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I won’t eat-them-ever again.’
Agnes brought her into the house. The pumpkin girl was not afraid of the light as Agnes thought she would be. She revelled in it, pressing her flat hands against the small glow from the oil lamp her mother kept half-burning in the kitchen. Agnes could hear her parents upstairs, her mother’s soft, tired voice and her father’s cracked drawl, broken and worn from two weeks away in a WPA camp. He only came back yesterday, and immediately they were trying to plan where the next check would come from, where the next job could be found. Her mother wanted to work too, and when he was away she got away with it, picking peas and digging up potatoes, grooming horses and canning peaches wherever she could get a job close enough. Agnes and her brother both had keys, so they could let themselves in. William had work too, for how long they didn’t know, at the theatre downtown, so he wasn’t home often either, and Agnes liked her time on her own. The extra money helped, but it broke her father’s heart. Before he had found the camp billet Agnes had walked in on him, in her brother’s room, head buckled in his hands. She had never seen him cry before. Agnes’ loved her father’s hands-their lines, the whorls in the knuckles, his broad warm palms. Those hands had shaken so many important hands in the early years of Agnes’ life, Smith a big name in the Carolina farms. Those hands had swung her over wooden stiles to see the cows in their closest place, smooth their soft white fur and blink back at their sweet, sad eyes. Her grandfather had the same hands, soft and calloused at once, paper hands and grass hands. When that October had pressed dark and cold that year and the farms began to fritter away quick as the wind, he had managed to hang onto their house. But that was all they had now. Those hands were constantly mud-lined, not soft anymore. They looked older than her grandfather’s now. Folded and crumpled over and over, like so many fresh sheets.
Her mother used to be a teacher, down in the school that Agnes attended now. She had taught fourth grade. When Agnes was little, she would tell her what it would be like when she got to go to class. she used to describe the smell of the polish on the warm floor, the rotted pecan trees that crooked and overhung the playground, the scratch of chalk on the board. Agnes knew she missed it. Her mother’s parents allowed her to do it for a few years, to fritter some years away between her coming out and her marriage, but when she became engaged the school fired her. They wouldn’t take back a married woman now, so her mother didn’t even apply, even though the wages would be safe and stabilise their family quite a bit. Mean they wouldn’t have to wear four-stitched clothes and eat from the vegetable patch out back only. While the pumpkin girl pressed her mouth to the glass of the lamp, as if to eat the light inside, Agnes noticed the account book open on the table, numbers underlined five deep. She could hear no footsteps in William’s room, and thought he must not be home, even though it was real black outside. He might still be at the theatre, taking tickets and shovelling popcorn. Or he might be with pretty Violet Clark, kissing in the cold May night, drawing the fingers he shared with their father and grandfather through her dark curls. Agnes looked at her own fingers, which still looked more like theirs than they looked like her mother’s. She imagined her own hands in pretty Violet Clark’s hair. She shook her mind at her oddness and reached toward the pumpkin girl.
‘Come on,’ she slotted their hands back together, and the pumpkin girl grinned at her with all those bony teeth again. ‘I’ll show you my room.’
Her room was inky black, as it always was this time of night, so she made sure to light a little candle to get enough light to show her the way. Like most houses in town they were lucky enough to have gotten electricity wired in a year or two before the crisis, but the bills really choked if they kept the lights on. Agnes tried never to turn them on anymore, reaching for candles which she knew they had stocked up ten boxes high in the basement. She had to push the pumpkin girl’s fingers away from the fire, shaking her head to indicate the pain of it. She gestured to her bed for the girl to sit, and she did, marvelling up at the reaches of the ceiling, her window to the garden where she was born below it. Agnes supposed it must have been like if she went to the moon and looked down on earth, and on her town, and on the flat roof of her house and wondered about the rooms underneath it where her mother gave her life. She didn’t know much of what to say. She wondered if the pumpkin girl thought like her as much as she looked like her, but from her grin and her flippancy and her ease Agnes didn’t think so. Agnes was never at ease.
‘I’m hungry,’ the pumpkin girl said, blinking up at Agnes. She had folded her legs, greener than the rest of her body, and underneath her they looked like criss-cross roots, as if she had planted herself for good in the folds of Agnes’ bed. Agnes had forgotten she was standing, and with the pumpkin looking up at her like that she almost felt as if she was a parent, a large-winged bird ready to retch up some worms into her mouth.
‘What do you eat?’
‘Meat. Do you have any?’
Agnes did not. Her family hadn’t had meat in three weeks, and the last piece they had was a salty rind of pork fat that her mother had mainly used to flavour some soup. Meat was expensive. The butcher needed to survive as much as they did.
‘Can I have some of yours?’ the pumpkin girl blinked at her, seedy eyes wide and scared, and her cheeks almost seemed to collapse in with hunger. She was so soft, and sweet, glowing Agnes’ favourite ever colour under the lights that Agnes almost didn’t realise what she had asked.
The girl reached for Agnes’ hand, and in a trance, she let her take it, turning her palm up to face them both.
‘Just let me bite here. Just a little taste of the blood. Please, I am so hungry. Please, Agnes.’ Agnes didn’t realise she had told her her name. ‘And you’ve eaten enough of us over the years. You owe me this.’ Agnes thought of the carrot crush she had swallowed earlier, every grip of taste on her tongue clinging on to its orange tart. She thought of all the vegetables, the vegetables who might have had the same blinking eyes as this pumpkin girl, she had crunched and nibbled and mawed and licked. She did owe it to her. She owed it to them. She closed her eyes.
The pumpkin girl’s teeth were so sharp. Her lips were even brighter where she has pulled at Agnes’ blood.
She sleeps in Agnes’ bed. They pull the covers up over their heads and she whispers in the night, her mouth still hungrily tensing in and out in and out, searching for the cul-de-sac of teeth marks on Agnes’ still wet hands, she whispers: I feel like I am still underground. With you. We are underground.
Agnes sleeps easier. She dreams that there is no difference between them. That they are the same pumpkin orange. Then she dreams that there is only one of them and Agnes, old Agnes, old non-seeded, non-rooted Agnes is gone and there is just the Agnes of the earth. Just the pumpkin girl.
When she came downstairs the next day, the pumpkin girl’s hand squarely in her own, her mother didn’t even blink. Her father turned the corner of his paper as if the only interesting thing in the room was not the five foot tall orange and green girl with seeds for eyes and bones for teeth who looked exactly like and was holding hands with his daughter but rather the stock news coming in from the Charleston companies. As if it was ever going to be anything other than bad. Her mother used a rag to swipe up a sill of milk from the corner of the kitchen table, poured Agnes a glass of orange juice.
‘The vegetables in the back garden are alive.’ She blurted out. There did not seem to be a right tone of voice for that announcement. Loud or quiet, both seemed wrong. Nonchalant or stark mad. Both seemed inappropriate and misunderstood.
Her mother smiled softly, looking out at the dust motes of the sun in the window. Her father turned another page. Agnes looked at them both, and the pumpkin girl, who’s hand was still wrapped in hers.
‘The vegetables, in the back garden, are alive.’ She raised the hand of the pumpkin girl as if to prove it. When neither of them moved, she pulled out a breakfast chair and motioned with her head for the pumpkin girl to sit down. The pumpkin girl smiled, tapped her seedy nails across the tabletop. Her father nodded his head in time to the beats of her fingers.
‘These are crazy days, Agnes.’ Her mother used a soft hand to lift the corner of the lace curtain. ‘Everything can happen in a crazy time.’
Agnes was hungry. So hungry. She hadn’t eaten since three nights ago she vomited up dinner onto the soles of her feet and the vegetable patch. Her stomach roiled with it, the hunger. She was never full, never satisfied, these days. Even before the pumpkin girl. But now she ached, ached ached ached with it. She couldn’t eat the vegetables, and that was all they had. All they could afford. Father had left for a camp up near Charleston. William had been fired. He was planning to join the CCC and would be leaving in a few days. They had no money. Mother was serving them jellied and jammed strawberries and honey yams she’d canned from a few winters ago. They would fall out of the can, thick and gelatinous, still in its shape onto the plate. William would crunch them so hungrily, and mother tended to eat hers while doing other things, her plate half trembling on her knees, raising a spoon now and then to her half-open mouth as she sowed or ironed or darned. She’d been taking in extra jobs, laundry and needlework from out of town. Agnes would take her plate to the back garden, and bury the food back where other roots were being born. The pumpkin girl would sing and pray over their bodies. Her tears made it easier for Agnes to keep to her promise, even though her stomach yowled for it. She would press her arm to her face, like she used to do, but instead of smelling any vegetables, now there would just be blood. Red raw and meaty.
‘Agnes,’ the pumpkin girl whispered. She slept with her arms around Agnes’ waist, her face buried into Agnes’ neck, like they were sisters. Or husband or wife. Or pups, curled up in a pack. ‘I’m hungry.’ She, like Agnes, was always hungry. There was never enough for her. They had no meat.
Wordlessly, Agnes held up her palm to where the pumpkin girl’s face peeked over her neck, where her mouth was just above the curve of her shoulder. It was scarred with seedling teeth marks.
It was quiet for a time, while the pumpkin girl sucked her food from Agnes’ hand. It didn’t even hurt anymore.
‘Agnes,’ Agnes nodded. She didn’t want to look at her, the orange reflection of her own, her face smeared in Agnes’ blood. ‘I’m still hungry. I want—’ she made a huff of frustration. ‘I want meat.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Agnes used her still-bloody hand to pet the pumpkin girl’s face. ‘We don’t have any.’
The pumpkin girl caught it, and wiggled one of Agnes’ fingers back and forth.
‘Just one-please.’ Her voice was so high and so sweet, so wanting, so full of need. ‘I only want one.’
‘But those are my-I need them.’ Agnes was afraid at how little fear she felt, even though the pumpkin girl was bright red and her mouth was wet with Agnes’ own blood against Agnes’ shoulder and she could feel there, the press of her bony teeth.
‘Just one. You can spare just one?’ She smoothed her cheek, back and for, over Agnes’ shoulder. The skin felt damp-dry and sticky. ‘Please, Agnes. I love you. Don’t you love me?’
The bite was so quick, and her teeth were so strong, Agnes barely felt a thing. It was her left hand, anyway, so it wasn’t like she would miss it.
Agnes felt the ache beyond her stomach now. It settled in her ribs. She moved her hands over them constantly, pressing down, trying to find the pain and press on it to make it go away, but it was quick and it was everywhere.
Her brother was gone. Her mother was tired. Nobody knew. Nobody saw.
The pumpkin girl had gained weight. It was a nice gain, gave a tangerine flush to her cheeks and a sweetheart waist made for hands to circlet. Her legs were strong and she delighted in them. Hopping across the grass like a little girl, scrambling up the trees like a lizard. Agnes liked to watch them, the pulse of the muscle under the skin when she ran, when she moved.
Agnes had two fingers left on her left hand. The scars the pumpkin girl left behind were white, and starry. Lunar calcium spirals laying craters across the ridge above her palm.
Last night, when the pumpkin girl was asleep, Agnes went downstairs and stared at the leftovers from her mother’s dinner, that she was too tired to clear away. The red smear of beetroot. The roughage clumps of broccoli stems. She stared at it, in the leaky light, the quiet of the kitchen, until she heard the footsteps behind her. The soft chin on her shoulder, the gentle arms around her waist.
‘Please don’t,’ her voice was so high and so sweet, so disappointed, so full of grief. ‘Don’t you love me?’
Agnes Hestia Smith was fifteen years old, four months and three days when the vegetables in the back garden died.
She had been so hungry.
The pumpkin girl had looked at her with her bony mouth, curved in that trusting smile. The swell of her stomach, her well-formed legs crossed side-saddle on Agnes’ bed. She had her fingers around Agnes wrist, pressing her lips to Agnes’ skin.
‘It’s just an arm, Agnes.’ Her eyes were bright and wanting, slick with evening dew and wild as any animal. ‘Please, Agnes. I am so hungry. You don’t need two. I love you. don’t you love me?’
But Agnes was hungry too.
She had stared at the white bumps on her left hand where her fingers used to be.
They weren’t identical anymore. The pumpkin girl had no scars. She had fingers.
She stared at the girl’s bone teeth. Her mouth full of them, arm bones, leg bones, little chips of femur for incisors, clavicles for canines.
She ran her tongue over her own. Dull from lack of use, but still the same. Still bones. Her own mouth was full of them, arm bones, leg bones, spines for molars, patellas for bicuspids.
Agnes loved her.
But Agnes was hungry.
So Agnes ate.
art by Quinn Fagersten