..."You let us down, man! Er, woman. Whatever."
"I guess not," said Penny.
A few minutes later, the phone rang. Aggie checked the display and, seeing Simon's number, answered it, hoping he at least wouldn't yell abuse at her.
"H-hello?" said Aggie, trembling.
"Hello, Aggie. I've been following the news. It's dreadful. Absolutely dreadf--"
"Look, Simon, I'm so, so--"
"--ul that someone would play such a cruel prank as to sign your name to such doggerel and put it before the public. Well, rest assured, my dear, that I've pulled some strings to have the FBI's finest forensic specialists track down this rapscallion, this, this jackanape, this--"
Aggie sighed. "Tell the Feds not to waste their time, Simon. It was me. I wrote that awful thing."
"Suh-Simon? You still there?"
"...Why, Aggie? Why did you do it?"
Aggie teared up, while Penny stood beside her and rubbed her back, and the rodents climbed on her shoulder to nuzzle her. "I I I didn't mean to share it with the public. It was just one of I've lost count how many crappy poems I've tried to write, this past week, as a follow-up. Finally, I made a paper airplane out of it and tossed it, but a draft took it away from the garbage bin and out the window, and... and I guess someone found it..." Another long silence. "Hello?"
"...Why did you sign it?"
"I don't know!" Aggie began to hyperventilate. "Oh God I'm gonna die I'm gonna--"
Penny took the phone from her and said, "She'll call you back later Prof. Seasoning okay sorry bye!" Then she hung up.
Penny found Aggie a paper bag to breathe into, and soon Aggie had calmed down.
"I just don't understand," she said. "Every poem I wrote before 'A Penny's Worth' has, according to, like, everyone, been crap. Every poem, or fragment thereof, I've written since 'A Penny's Worth' has been crap. How is it that 'A Penny's Worth' was not merely non-madness-producing, non-riot-instigating, not merely good, but messianically great?"
"Gotta be honest with you, little Grasseater," said Penny, cradling her partner's head as it rested on her shoulder. "I've been wondering the same thing, in the back of my mind, since I first 'came down' from reading it. Hm. Tell you what. Let's retrace the day you wrote it. What did you do that day?"
"It was a weekday. Went to school."
"Anything out of the ordinary happen, or did you notice anything odd, at school? No? Okay, and after school?"
"I went canvassing for that nuclear disarmament group."
"Okay. Whose houses did you hit?"
Aggie thought a moment, then listed them off. "And John's was the last one before... inspiration struck."
"I see," said Penny, crinkling the paper bag in her other hand. "What happened at John's?"
"I made my pitch, and he cut me a cheque. Then Chessica popped her head out and said she needed advice on... girl stuff. So I went down to the rec room with her and we talked for half an hour. Then I left, and within a few minutes, I had my Big Idea and I rushed home to get it down."
"Anything unusual about John's place that day? Okay, that's kind of like asking if the Earth was revolving around the sun that day, but you know what I mean."
Aggie thought. "Well... he was working on something with Bob and Freckles, which is new as far as I know, because he usually just has the girlbots help him. Oh, and there was an awful lot of smoke. Smelled funny. Even wafted through to the basement."
"Smoke, huh?" Penny let go of the bag and scratched her chin. "Some sort of chemistry experiment, maybe?"
"I don't know." Aggie shifted slightly. "I heard John say 'like a massive brain-processor upgrade' at one point, and Freckles say 'maybe it's really true about us not using 90%' at another."
Penny thought some more. Suddenly, "Sorry, Ag, gotta get up," she said. "Gotta make a phone call." And she went to call John. With his permission, she put him on speaker-phone.
"Smoke?" said John. "--Ah yes, I recall. We were having a deuce of a time trying to get our latest invention to work properly, when Bob suggested we three temporarily boost our intelligence. He produced a container of cannabis that he said he'd reverse-engineered from his hair, such that instead of making others who inhaled it... pebbled?"
"Stoned," said Penny, repressing a giggle.
"Right, right. Instead of making them stoned, it would have the same effect on others as it does on him. It would make them, temporarily, a genius. And the more and longer one inhaled, the more genius one would acquire."
"I understand. That's all I needed to know. Thanks, John. Bye."
Penny hung up. "Well. That explains it, little Grassinhaler." She grinned and turned to face Aggie. "Just think, if you could go from poetry zero to poetry hero just from the second-hand smoke of that pot, imagine what smoking it directly could--Aggie? Ag? You in there?
Yep, you guessed it. Aggie was catatonic. To bring her out of it, Penny and their pets...
"Life doesn't wait forever." --Lisa Winklemeyer