Summer Solstice 2021- Cancer at 0°, by Jessica Nettles (PG)

“You get the stone circle ready yet, Pickle?”


Delia stopped at the bedroom door and almost dropped the tray holding her Daddy’s breakfast of watery oatmeal and flavorless coffee. It had been weeks since he’d last said anything that made sense, and even longer since he’d called her by that particular name. She pasted a smile on her face and sat the tray on top of the blanket chest. He glared at her as she set up the breakfast table and she moved the tray to feed him.


“It’s almost ready.”


The old man slapped the table hard enough to make the oatmeal splatter across his arm. “Don’t lie to me, Delia!”


She never could hide things from him.


“The neighbors…”


“They don’t matter. Time’s getting’ short. I need to be ready.”


“For what, Daddy? For what?” Delia picked up the spoon to feed him, but he waved her off.


“Never mind. You just think I’m off my rocker just like that doctor you got in here yesterday.”


Delia had no idea how he knew the doctor had been in the day before. He’d slept through the entire visit.


“I’ll make sure everything’s just right. Now don’t you worry.”


The coffee cup shook in Cyrus’s hand as he brought it to his lips. His green-gray eyes pierced down to her essence as if mining out the truth she wanted to obscure.


After that, they sat in silence for the rest of the meal. When she took the tray from the table, he grabbed her arm. “That’s my Pickle.”


***


He’d started talking about “going home” back last August after the initial spell while he was picking purple-hull peas in the backyard. If Miz Hollis hadn’t seen him go down between the vines from her kitchen window, Lord only knows what would have happened. Delia raced to the house and found sitting on a gurney having words with two men half his age.


“Ain’t no need for y’all to take me to no hospital, son.” He said to the dark haired EMT. His stocky blond partner shrugged and Cyrus shook his hand as Delia approached.


Before they left she pulled one of them aside, ”I’ll call his cardiologist in the morning, promise.” She led Daddy back into the house. He sat in his blue recliner and she brought him some iced tea.


“Won’t be much longer.” Cyrus had never been particularly religious, so this kind of talk surprised her. He took a long draw from the tall glass,


“What are you talkin’ about?” She sat next to him in the Shaker rocker they’d restored together a few years before.


“Gotta get ready to go home soon.”

“You been talking to ‘The Prophet’ lately?” She kidded him about one of the regulars at the Waffle House around the corner who always turned the conversation to Revelations and the return of Christ. She and Cyrus used to humor him and then laugh about it on the way home.


He stood up and took her by the hand. “Now you know that man is crackers. Let’s go downstairs a minute.”