Copyright is held by the author.
LATE AFTERNOON summer air breezed through the window. John had spent another day inside. His friends used to try to visit. John saw them from the window, but his mom always turned them away. They stopped coming long ago. School chores, the end-of-the-year play, and even little league games were all behind him. In the back of his closet, his baseballs sat dusty next to the rest of Grade Seven he wouldn’t know.
In the fall, he’d go to high school with his brothers. He didn’t know if his friends would be there or not. He could’ve asked them. They were online from time to time, but he didn’t try talking to them anymore.
This past year was long for everybody, but for 12-year-olds, it was an eternity.
When the lockdown happened, the suits on TV said it was safe for children. John didn’t like being called a child, but this time around he was all for it. He tried to tell his mom it would be fine, but no dice.
The school called the first few weeks but gave up pretty quick. He wasn’t the only student missing, and they had bigger fish to fry. Now, he was home-schooled. At least, in theory. His mom had two older boys to teach and a job to juggle, so John’s homework wasn’t exactly her biggest priority.
He spent his days playing video games and looking outside at the world he used to know.
Until she moved in.
Whatever she was, she was not part of the world he knew.
Trench coat to her toes in a blazing hot sun, and black top hat to boot. No 12-year-old he knew dressed like that — scratch that — no one he knew dressed like that.
When the moving truck arrived across the fence from John’s house, Agatha was out before the wheels stopped turning.
“Agatha!” Her dad yelled after her, spilling her name to John.
Agatha, magnifying glass and notebook in hand, stayed in the yard while her parents moved the furniture.
From that day on, Agatha would record in her book everyone who crossed the street and birds who landed in her yard. John watched as she meticulously noted every garden gnome in her parents’ yard, making faces at them when she thought her parents weren’t looking. There were many gnomes, each expressing a different emotion accompanied by a different costume. Nothing got past her.
John watched her as she raced around looking for mysteries that needed solving. Her binoculars searched far while her magnifying glass found new clues, but she never went far from her home.
Like John, she never made it past her yard. Like John, she was looking for something new to discover.
To Agatha, it came with a crash.
A garden gnome. Destroyed. Its little green hat was caved in on its head. Everything from its jolly red nose up was a crater of broken clay. The rest of the body was sprawled out on the walkway a foot from where it had stood before.
First thing in the morning, Agatha was on the case. John saw the girl outlining in chalk where the little cadaver lay. She paced back and forth, gesticulating and explaining the case to an invisible audience.
When mid-afternoon came, John heard screaming coming from next door. His stomach turned. With two older brothers, he knew that sound well.
He didn’t see her outside her house for the rest of the afternoon.
“Framed,” said a quiet voice outside his house later that evening.
Looking out of his window, he saw Agatha’s outline against the streetlight. She sat on her fence, nearly eye-level with him.
“Hi,” John said.
“Framed,” Agatha repeated. “Somewhere out there, a monster thinks he’s bested me. Somewhere out there, a foul element, murderer of ugly little dwarves, thinks he’s bested me. Framed me.”
“What — what happened?” John felt his cheek blush from her stare.
“I saw you at your window,” she said.
John’s face was so hot, he feared words would burn up if he tried to open his mouth.
“You were watching this morning,” she continued, saving him the effort. “You saw the crime. You heard me being blamed for it later. Must have. Papa wasn’t quiet about it.”
John’s face cooled off, the cold night doing its work.
“I heard,” John said, breathing a sigh. “What are you going to do?”
“I will catch a villain,” she said, raising her nose. “Clear my name and bring justice.”
“Whoa,” he said, not knowing what else to say. “How?”
“Order and method, and ‘the little grey cells,'” she said, flashing him a devious smile. “And with your help, of course.”
Surprising John, she stood on the fence, her hand out in front of her. He took her hand in his. “Poirot,” she said. “Agatha Poirot.”
“Hastings,” he said. “John Hastings.”
The plan was pretty simple. Agatha would investigate from the ground. John would investigate from up high. Every evening she’d climb the fence, and they would go over the day’s events.
Agatha brought her notebook with her. She recited all of her findings: suspicious bugs, sketchy flowers, and low flying planes, to name a few.
John had less to report. Once, he saw a lady walk her dog out in her slippers and bathrobe. The dog did his business on the sidewalk, but the lady just kept on walking like she didn’t see the mess in front of her.
Agatha scoffed, brought her pen down to her journal, but then put it away again.
“One case at a time, Hastings,” she said, with a sigh. “Else, Mr. Gnome will go unavenged.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Gnome, being the centre of their attention did little to solve his murder. Days came and went without any evidence or lead for the two detectives until a whole week went by.
“Nothing to report today, Hastings,” she said from her yard, not climbing the fence. “Keep up the good work. Something new will come soon. I feel it. Don’t lose heart.”
Unfortunately, she was right.
“You’re too old for this, Agatha,” John heard from next door. “You can’t keep playing pretend. I know you didn’t want to move, but we don’t own the house. Every time you break one of these, I have to pay for it. Please. Don’t make this any harder.”
Agatha and her father sat on their back porch. She didn’t say anything. Her striking eyes looked over where the second gnome lay on its side, its bottom half shattered underneath it.
She didn’t come to the fence that evening or the following evening.
He didn’t see her out in the yard playing anymore. The second gnome’s body was left without an outline being drawn.
John scribbled down everything he saw for the next two days. The number of dogs that peed out in the yard, how many birds flew past his window, and every odd car that drove by went into his own little notebook.
She didn’t come to the fence the next evening, so he came to her.
He saw it in movies a million times, so he knew what to do. He threw a rope made out of blankets out the window and climbed on down — slid down, really. It took all he had not to scream because of his chafing, burning hands.
When he got over the fence and into her yard, he threw a pebble at her window. He watched her frame stand behind the closed window.
“I think I know who did it,” John stage-whispered, holding his notebook. “The dog owner came by three times last week. Twice you weren’t out in the yard. She doesn’t pick up the poo, no way she’d stop the dog if it jumped on the gnomes. She wouldn’t clean it up either. With all that sharp clay and her with no shoes? No way!”
The frame behind the curtain didn’t stir the whole time he was talking. He went on looking up at her, expecting Agatha’s voice to jump out the window with one of her theories, but it didn’t.
The window did open a little, but the only thing that jumped out of it was a dusty baseball. The same baseball that was supposed to be sitting in his room next to his Seventh Grade textbooks.
“I don’t want to play anymore,” Agatha said from behind her curtains.
John picked up his ball and put it in his pocket.
“Why didn’t you tell your dad?” he said, even though he couldn’t tell if the shape was still up there. “He yelled at you.”
“You were my only friend here,” she said after a moment. “I was lonely.”
John squeezed the ball in his pocket as hard as his heart felt.
I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s why I did it, I was — I’m sorry. I’ll leave. I’m sorry.”
John walked out through the front gate and walked up the stairs of his house. No one in the house stirred.
When he got to his room, John retrieved his blankets still swinging outside his window. He closed the window through which he had thrown two of his baseballs in the past week. The girl’s window remained closed.
A week later, John was back in studying mode. His mom was once again driving him crazy with all the stuff he needed to know before Grade Eight. His days were spent with his nose in a textbook.
Outside his window — continuously closed now — something hard hit his window pane. He thought he imagined it. A few minutes later, the sound came again.
Opening the window, there she sat again on the fence.
“I never did like those gnomes,” she said, smiling at him. “Besides, what’s Poirot without her Hastings?”