Too Late

I wrote this–as I often do–with my Thursday night writing group. Prompts included: I have waited too long, ferocious food, what was the house like, Agnes and her pike, why wouldn’t I want an Italian cavalry sword, diagnosis, immediately largest (which I changed to largess). Another challenge was to weave a color throughout the piece–and I really enjoyed doing that. Finally I must say–sorry if this story feels like a downer; sometimes that’s just what the muse delivers!

Once again, Zenobia thought as she tied the red apron strings around her waist, I have waited too long.  

She roasted the red bell peppers, layered them in the casserole with red onions and red tomatoes.  Then she sat in the late afternoon kitchen, staring out the west window at the red sun, knowing the fire must be near. But she had not had to evacuate yet this year, and she was confident the red line would hold.  Right now all she wanted was to serve up a ferocious meal, red meat, red sauce flavored with red wine, and red peaches and red plums sliced and stirred into Sangria.

Agnes had called this morning, giving Zen no chance to refuse, arriving almost immediately with a largess of family heirlooms, antiques, photos, and jewelry, including mother’s red ruby dinner ring, a rusty red pike, and a sword with a red handle their father had said he pilfered off an Italian soldier during the second world war. “These are all for you now,” Agnes had announced with ominous finality, and it took Zen a great deal of effort not to roll her eyes.  Right, she thought.  Why wouldn’t I want an Italian cavalry sword?  She knew this was Agnes’s way of dealing with the diagnosis, even though the doctors told her the prognosis was good.  It was long past time to clean out their late father’s storage locker anyway.

“I drove through the old neighborhood,” Agnes said, “all red with new brick walkways, red victory flags, red roses.”

“What’s the old house look like?” Zenobia asked, remembering the front door, big and red with a fan-shaped window.  

“The house is deserted,” Agnes said, “except for the House Finches.  They’re everywhere:  perched in the sycamores, lined up on the electric wires, fluttering about even inside, their red throats like bright candles in late afternoon.”

Agnes had wanted to go walking then, but Zenobia begged off, wanting to start dinner prep.  Agnes had set out alone, drawn by the red clay soil and the blooming red cactus flowers.  Zen sat now, her casserole in the oven, watching for Agnes, thinking she should have gone with her.  But the cooking—that was her gift to Agnes—though perhaps her sister would have preferred Zen’s company.  Always too late, Zen thought, too late with my small epiphanies and regrets.

What she wanted to say, but didn’t dare say, was this:  Agnes.  Please.  Stop worrying about the cancer.  The doctors had said that it was slow-growing.  Odds were Agnes would die of something else before it became an issue.  Just look at the billowing black smoke in the distance, the red creeping up from the horizon in messy splotches like drops of blood.  That’s what’s gonna kill us.

Photo by David Santoyo on Unsplash

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