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Agouti Periwinkle

from The Semolina Pilchards


Maggie began to wonder if she had rung the doorbell too many times. She briefly wondered why ranged wasn't the past participle of rang. It was the same thought she had years ago when she was learning English as a Second Language. She had come across the word 'flung' and discovered it had no corresponding 'flang' for the past tense, corresponding that is to ‘rang’. But just like wondering why English is learned as a Second Language, while French and Japanese and every other language is just learned, the thought was far too brief to convince her synapses to do much work. On the other hand, wondering how many times she had rung or ranged or even ringed the bell was a thought that held some practical necessity. Thoughts like those get considered.

Maggie was now considering if she had rung the doorbell too many times. Twice, at most, was supposed to be sufficient. The first sound of the chime might only bring the occupant's subconscious attention to something other than the task at hand, like writing or cleaning the bathroom. The second chime would be heard and identified as 'someone is at the door'. The occupant would then stop what she was doing, go to the door, open it, and find someone like Maggie on the doorstep.

Maggie wasn't sure how far past twice she had gone. She thought about knocking, but after having already rung the bell so many times (five was it?) that would sound as though someone was clamouring to get in because she is being attacked by werewolves or really needed to pee. Something like that. Besides, using one’s fist to punch wood to make a sound big enough to distract an occupant from what he is doing generally does not succeed in doing anything other than causing damage to the skin of the knocker's knuckles. One could use the palm to smack the door, but what had the door done to deserve a spanking? Or, maybe it liked to be spanked. Metal door knockers. No, they were invented to give Mel Brooks a sight gag. Besides, this door was less one knocker.

This was getting Maggie nowhere.

The young woman went back to the question of how many times she had rung the bell. She became so lost in thought she forgot she was standing on a doorstep waiting for someone to open the door.

Someone did.



They were standing face to face, not because Maggie was all that tall or this man was short. It just happened to work out that way. Mind you, they were standing face to face, but they were not seeing eye to eye. Maggie couldn't possibly look into another person's eyes. That was the reason she was there.

"Oh, hello?"

"That's very clever. You repeated the syllable and then added another syllable before it to make a new word. You wouldn't happen to be the linguist I have been waiting for, would you?"

"Uh .... No, I'm not a linguist."

"That's good. I was leaving and I would hate to have missed you if you were the linguist."

Maggie's faculties were sharp enough to realize the man hadn't answered the doorbell at all. He had simply started to leave the house.

"Before you go, can you tell me if the doorbell works?"

"No, it's rather lazy and hangs around the stoop all day."

Maggie sighed and dropped her shoulders. One would think this would have elicited some sort of sympathetic response from the man. However, he continued to stand in the doorway looking as though he was blocking her ingress when she, actually, was blocking his egress. Not that Maggie saw it in those terms.

Indeed, what Maggie saw depended on how she was avoiding looking into his eyes. Fixing on another part of the face was the most polite thing to do, unless one ended up staring at a birth mark or nose hair. However, that tended to make Maggie want to look into his eyes even more, since she could see them in her peripheral vision. Someone once suggested that she look just past the person, over the other's shoulder only as far as there might be wings growing out the back. That was helpful albeit weird advice.

While Maggie was serenely looking not at the man but just past him where his wings might be, she realized he had turned his head to also look.

"Do you see something there?"

"Oh, no! Oh...."

It was easy enough now to avert her eyes entirely from the man.

"Miss, although I am already running late for my appointment, I see you are quite anxious. I would like to help. One of my worst character defects is trying to save damsels in distress. Therefore, allow me to relieve some of the tension. My name is Agouti Periwinkle."

Maggie was already too embarrassed to remark on his name. However, he seemed to have anticipated her response, as anyone would if he were named Agouti Periwinkle.

"Are you familiar with Semolina Pilchard?"

Maggie furrowed her brow and thought, but the answer was the same as her initial, gut reaction.


Now it was Mr. Periwinkle's turn to screw his face into the picture of someone who has just smelled skunk.

"That is unfortunate. The fact is that as surely as Semolina Pilchard climbed the Eiffel Tower, my name is Agouti Periwinkle. Most call me Aggie."

Maggie wasn't quite certain what to make of this information, but one small window of opportunity had opened.

"Oh, really! My name is Maggie. Isn't that a coincidence? Aggie and Maggie."

"Yes, yes," Mr. Periwinkle assured her. "It's a good thing we are being so informal or else we would have nothing in common."

Surprisingly, Maggie didn't find that comment the least bit condescending. It was an opening and that was all she needed.

"Oh, Mr. Periwinkle.  We hardly know one another. Perhaps there are many ways we intersect."

It was a carefully chosen word. Maggie had the notion that Mr. Periwinkle's unchanging features when she used it meant he could be the person she was looking for. Or he was simply bored. It is quite hard to tell how someone is responding to stimuli if you can't look at their eyes.

Mr. Periwinkle knew. Maggie didn't know he knew. She hoped he knew. And, although hope is not always a thing with feathers, it does tend to lighten the burden of needing to ask something of a stranger.

"Mr. Periwinkle, I apologise if I am keeping you from your appointment. Perhaps I should just ask you to meet me some other time."

"Should? What nonsense! No one should do anything. Either do or don't. It does no good to browbeat oneself into performing any act one must browbeat oneself into doing."

"Yes. Yes, of course, Mr. Periwinkle."

Maggie really wasn't as certain as she admitted, but she didn't know Mr. Periwinkle was not going to stand for any dissimulation.

"Fish or cut bait!"

That sealed it.

"Yes, Mr. Periwinkle. May I see you later today or perhaps tomorrow?"

"You may. It depends on whether I leave the house, which I am apparently not very good at since I am still standing in my foyer."

"Oh! Oh!" Maggie was rapidly plummeting to flummoxed again.

"Back to that are we? Miss Maggie whatever-your-name-is, as I stated, I am leaving for an appointment. If you would like an appointment with me, I suggest you do so properly. That is done so with a device called a telephone. I quite understand why you need to see me. And I must say you were doing a splendid job up until your anxiety came splashing down about you again when I hinted that my purpose at present is to leave the house."

Maggie did her best to digest what the man was telling her. It all sounded rather pleasant and comforting, even though she knew she was being reprimanded for not following procedure.

One of them said, "I look forward to seeing you again."

Maggie moved away from the door. Mr. Periwinkle stepped out, turned, and closed the door. He waited a moment to be certain Maggie wasn't going to descend the steps to the sidewalk ahead of him. After reaching the sidewalk, Agouti Periwinkle turned back to Maggie.

"For future reference, ringing the bell twice is sufficient. If no one comes to the door after that, the occupant is likely doing something that he does not wish to stop doing just to answer the doorbell."

"Yes. Thank you."

Maggie hesitated, but felt it was worth asking.

"How many times did I ring the bell?"

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