Horace and Agnes: A Love Story is one of the stranger, more wonderful books to arrive on shelves this month. A collaboration between Writer Lynn Dowling and photographer/artist Asia Kepka, the project began when the two, who are a couple, donned masks brought over by a friend. Caught up in the imaginary possibilities of the project, they began to write a love story for their anthropomorphized animal characters, and take photos of them going about their lives.
Soon, the menagerie, and the community surrounding Horace and Agnes, grew. In the photo series, the models wearing the masks are anonymous, and the stories are inspired by the creators’ friends, families, and pasts, with remarkable attention to detail.
Welcome to the world of Horace and Agnes. Flavorwire is thrilled to share images and text from the upcoming book telling their story; all text is by Dowling and photos by Kepka.
From HORACE AND AGNES: A Love Story by Lynn Dowling and Asia Kepka, published by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Lynn Dowling and Asia Kepka.
Twenty years ago, Horace Groomsby met Agnes on a train. It was overcrowded and stiflingly hot. Horace politely asked if he could possibly take the last remaining seat next to Agnes. She moved her pocketbook onto her lap and smiled. He gently slid into his seat and smiled back. She was shy at first, but Horace enthusiastically engaged her in conversation. They talked for more than two hours. So engrossed with each other, they both missed their stops.
Agnes makes Horace’s lunch every workday. Horace pleads with her not to, but there she is, every morning, handing it to him with a big grin. “I hope it’s not egg salad,” he says as he grasps the handle of his lunch pail. “You know it is,” she says before she kisses him. Horace despises egg salad and Agnes never makes it for him; it’s just their morning ritual.
Horace and Agnes go out almost every weekend but sometimes Agnes puts on her “stay-at- home-dress” to signal they’re in for the night. Her quilted Asian-style ensemble is strictly used for lounging and occasional hair dyeing. Horace doesn’t mind staying in. He’s content to lean up against Agnes and peruse his record collection. The phone rings and Agnes starts chattering away under the hair dryer. Horace thinks it’s one of her girlfriends and that she’ll be on the phone for hours, but she’s off in a flash. “Who was that?” Horace asks. “Your lovely neighbor Irene,” Agnes says with a fake smile. “What does Ms. Klench want this time?” “You left the trash cans out too long this week,” Agnes shouts from underneath her hair dryer. Horace grimaces. “I can’t believe you’re nice to that pill.” “Horace my love, we all know you get more flies with honey, and we get fewer calls from Irene when you bring the trash cans in on time.”
Peering over her steering wheel, Irene Klench surveys the neighborhood. “Ohh, Mr. Freeman, you shouldn’t be watering your lawn during the shortage,” she says to herself as she jots down the infraction in her little black book. Irene heads out early in the mornings with a thermos full of Chock full o’Nuts and an old pair of binoculars. There is no stopping Irene when she’s on her fifth cup. Once she tried to make a citizen’s arrest on Horace when he was crossing the street. “It’s called jaywalking!” Irene shouts from her car window. “It’s called a crosswalk, Ms. Klench!” Horace shouts back as he hurries across the street. “Oh, sorry, Horace,” Irene says, slightly embarrassed. “I didn’t recognize you in your new jacket. I will call and get this crosswalk freshly painted tomorrow. It’s barely visible,” she admits before lurching off in her old car. Irene takes the neighborhood watch very seriously. Nobody is above the law. Not even her.
Agnes’s oldest friend, Bertie, likes to drop in unannounced, and it’s usually around mealtime. Bertie always has the latest gossip and follows up each story with “But don’t tell anyone.” Horace mostly plays bystander when the ladies are in their element, though he does notice that no matter how much food is on the table, Bertie’s fork always wanders over to his plate. He’s tried to address this with Agnes, but she just smiles sweetly and says, “Oh, Horace, friends have flaws . . . Eat faster next time.”
Dick Peck is an old family friend of Agnes’s. He grew up wealthy, but has never really found his calling. His recent foray into politics hasn’t been easy. Dick just has a habit of saying the wrong thing. Horace has tried to help him with his campaign—he even took his photo, but Dick is resistant to constructive criticism. “I think I know what’s best, Horace, but thanks for your suggestion. Hey, take a bumper sticker, will you . . . I just got them printed.” Horace grimaces at the stack and chooses the least offensive one. “Vote Dick-Less Government.” Then he laughs to himself because he’s going to put it on Agnes’s car anyway.
Every year Agnes heads off to Delaware for a week to visit her sister Flora. They are quite different in looks and personality, but they both enjoy good fun. The amusement park down the street is usually their first stop. Agnes misses Horace already, but she thinks it’s good to get away once in a while—it makes you appreciate what you have. Horace concurs. He always tells her on her way out the door: “Absence makes me handsomer.”
Now that Agnes is away, Horace is happy to break all of the house rules. Agnes runs a tight ship, so she would be horrified to know that he was eating in their bed. But as Horace sees it, he’s got seven whole days to change the sheets and no one is the wiser.
Agnes, get a load of that guy over there. What in the world . . .” Horace is dispatching running commentary as they wait for the 424 bus. Agnes is exhausted after a full day of sightseeing and can’t wait to get off her feet. “Horace dear, don’t be unkind.” “C’mon, Agnes,” Horace moans. “The best part of coming to the city is people-watching.” “That’s true, sweetheart, but don’t forget, they’re looking at you, too.” “What’s wrong with me?” Horace asks plainly. “Luckily nothing . . . because I pick out all your clothes,” Agnes says nonchalantly while peering out for the bus. Horace laughs out loud. “Very well, I will be good.” Just as he declares silence, a lady walks by who looks just like Ernest Borgnine.
Equipped with a fistful of brochures from his sister, Horace persuades Agnes to spend some time in nature out West. They amble their way through the desert, stopping at whatever catches their fancy. Agnes pulls the car over so Horace can investigate a small outcropping of Joshua trees. “This heat’s gonna take some getting used to,” Horace says, tugging at his polyester collar. “Do you think we look like city slickers out here?” Agnes glances at his shirt with a zebra on it. “Well, we certainly don’t look local.” “Then I need to get a cowboy hat,” Horace says definitively. “Yes, sweetheart . . .” Agnes says, shading her eyes, “that should do it.” Horace continues to stare ahead, admiring the vast terrain and her gentle sarcasm. “Just you wait, my dear . . . there’s gonna be a new sheriff in town.