My name is Agnes. I’m sixteen years old and I help my mum run her pickle stand on evenings and weekends.
During the day I go to school, I have a couple of weeks left until exams start, and it’s so hot I can’t concentrate in class on anything except the sweat running down my back. I’m trying to study now as I sit here waiting for customers but I honestly can’t even remember what chapter we were on. I think we were doing some kind of history review but I’m not sure. Chapter after chapter is all the same though, we valiantly fight some war that we end up losing.
Maybe I don’t have to study too hard after all, sometimes I find our tests easier to manage if I’m winging it, not trying to force everything I’ve learnt onto one little text box, and instead just play around with really emotional words like noble and courageous, chivalrous, maybe even throw in something a little bit cheesy like ‘mighty’-- the mighty Hungarians this, the ‘noble’ Hungarians that -- and that’ll encourage the examiners to ignore some of my glaring omissions, like important dates I can’t really remember, or some spellings of names.
I read somewhere, I think maybe in a marketing book I bought when I was working on the Instagram account of my mum’s pickle stand, that the most important part of the writing process is keeping your audience in mind at all times, and what it is you are trying to sell them. I think I do this quite well in exams. I’m not one of those kids in the front row in class, you know, with their five thousand multicoloured pens and all their little notebooks and their hands up in the air all the time, they come in at the start of class pull out all these extra books no one told them to read and just arrange them at the front of the desk so the teacher sees them and is so impressed that they spontaneously combust in the presence of such brilliance. These kids only really think about themselves. They aren’t engaging empathetically with their readers. That’s why they’re always a little bit disappointed with their grades where I’m always pleasantly surprised with mine.They’re just trying painstakingly hard to squeeze every pointless fact they’ve remembered onto a piece of paper that they’ve completely forgotten the whole purpose of this exam affair; to entertain and beguile a very bored and potentially very unhappy, uncomfortable and most definitely overheated examiner who more than anything just needs some kind of pick-me-up besides their afternoon shot of cherry schnapps and their evening palinka. And that’s exactly what I do. Who needs facts at all when you can dazzle with fancy words, when you can sell dreams.
Still there’s a lot at stake with these upcoming exams, my mother says if my grades aren’t anything but excellent she sees no point in my continuing my education, said I’d learn far more useful skills working the pickle stand full time, or starting up a pickle stand of my own in the town next to ours where we sometimes go on weekends and where there’s always quite a lot of demand, especially for our homemade stuff that I would go so far as to describe as legendary. And when I say legendary I mean that there are at least fifty people in the world who would opt for our homegrown pickles over anyone else’s.
If I’m honest, I prefer the ones we ship in from Poland, that also do pretty well, they’re sweeter than ours, more vinegary, too, they’re preserved in a solution that I’ve tried to make myself but can’t seem to get right. For our own pickles, we use a tried-and-tested solution that has been in the family for decades and that’s pretty formulaic; we mix together dill and garlic in the brine, some secret spices I of course won’t bother you with, and two slices of stale bread perched on top. It works all year round but we’re especially busy in the summer months when we’re harvesting our own crop that we’re especially proud of as the land in which we grow them has been in our family for quite a few generations, and everyone knows that, and knows that when they buy our pickles they are buying into our beautiful history, too.
At least, that’s people who like us think at any rate, not everyone does, some families are jealous of the success our pickles have had through the years, and these people leave unfavourable reviews about us online, sometimes spreading lies that our recipe was stolen or that that our cucumbers have unnatural things like chemicals or even that we actually swap the labels around on the jars to pretend that these German pickles are actually ours, which is total nonsense but is the kind of gossip that people just love to spread around because it’s the sort of thing people really get emotional about.
I guess the topic moves people especially because I redesigned our labels so that the Hungarian flag merges into what is supposedly our family crest perched on a very lovely-looking pickle. It’s the sort of thing that stirs a lot of feelings in people around here. But anyway, the thing is I don’t understand why our enemies would work so hard to make up lies about us when there’s plenty of family scandal to go around, especially given that there’s no way we would be able to make ends meet if it weren’t for my uncle subsidising the business with the help of his stolen car business and the pedigree cats we illegally breed in our basement and sell on Craigslist.
That, and the fact that we might be facing criminal charges for the fact that the postman may or may not have been attacked by the less-than-welcoming alsation we mostly keep chained to the hut outside our house, the one my uncle brought round after my Dad left, as way of calming his own nerves around the prospect of two unprotected females left alone to guard the family’s small but noble and mighty pickle empire from intruding forces.
It was a thoughtful gesture but the problem was that none of us got around to training the guy so he’s pretty feral and dangerous and if left to it, would probably kill all but two people in this world. As I said, we keep him chained at all times, or at most times at least, but you know the postman got too close said he had a way with animals, said he’d watched some video on Youtube about how to get crocodiles to trust you, I’m not sure why but he seemed to think that the same rules would apply with mad dogs but apparently they don’t and he’s in a cast now and trying to suing us even though neither of us told him to get that close, and I can prove that with the video he made me take for his Instagram page that obviously he now won’t post because he just looks like an idiot. Still, the problem is the dog’s a psycho and it’s kind of our fault we let him get that way.
We’re waiting for my uncle to get back because he has more experience with these sorts of complicated matters and I am sure has some kind of solution up his sleeve, because he can just about get away with everything, actually I’m looking forward to his visit whenever it is he never tells us, but I might ask him to help convince my mum to let me stay in school even if my grades aren’t that great, and that’s the thing I don’t even know what she means by excellent as she doesn’t like clarifying points like that it always depends on her mood, it drives me a bit nuts if I’m honest, makes me feel like there’s no point in even trying to be one of those kids in the front with all their pens and their debates and all the books they read that they don’t have to read at all they just do because they want to. Sometimes I walk quietly behind them and hear them talking about leaving town and university and all that stuff and I hate them. Sometimes when they come to my stand I switch labels around so they’re eating Russian pickles they thought were Hungarian.