The Host That Waited for So Long
The old woman fussed over her cupboards, antsy in the rustling of old antique silverware and relics from the Old World. Her babushka doll set rattled as she clanged forks, knives, and tea spoons into the plank drawers. She had company, she knew it was coming, and she wanted nothing more than to be prepared. For too long she had known that company would be arriving to greet her, and today had been the day. She made tea, the water from the teapot had been screaming for the past few minutes. She then put out sugar cubes, nearly fossilized in their jar, and poured an old pennyroyal tea, her mother’s favorite remedy for the fevers and chills that haunted her most of her life, into two of her fancier china tea cups. It helped benefit her dizziness that happened when she stood up too fast, or when she had been coughing for a prolonged time, it stopped the ringing inside her ears.
She sat down with biscuits, and some butter, making sure to place the plates adjacent from one-another. She was prepared to greet her guest. She would do-so without a hint of concern. She poured the tea, and spritzed a bit of lemon, the citric acid curdling in writhing pain from the tea’s heat. Then, the doorbell rang. In almost two years it hadn’t rang, not even from her youngest daughter, nearly a grandmother herself now! This meeting however, felt long-overdue.
The bell rang once more, and still she didn’t dare venture to stir from the chair. Her breathing is a bit heavier, perhaps just nerves? Yes, just nerves. Still, she pined at her collar, as though breathing itself required more attention than ever necessary. Suddenly she was shook by three distinct knocks at the door. Knock! Knock! Knock! Each louder than the last.
“Come in then! The door is unlocked! Always is!” she sat up, and took a sip of the tea. It was soothing, and reminded her of her mother, so fondly her mother was in her memory, as though there, in that silvertone dream of pictures before color. She rested easy, breathing normalizing, as the door slowly creaked open.
The figure was not terrifying to her, nor were the robes of black anything but dazzling in the glistening morning sun. The figure sat down, as tall as the house itself, and eyed the cup of tea placed in front of it. The old woman’s breathing was again becoming heavy, but less difficult this time, as though a false sense of security had overcome her.
“I know why you’re here, not surprising my advanced age...yet I am capable of doing everything myself, still have most of my marbles, don’t even look a day over seventy! I exercise, eat right, and I never feign a doctor’s appointment. Before you say a word, no I’m not begging for more time, I just know I’m due, as we all will be due, I just wanted a spot of tea before I leave. Would you care to join me? If I’m not to be allowed a parting request, then please allow me to stay still, for I cannot seem to bring myself to stand. My legs...seem to be without the strength I had but a moment before you’ve arrived.”
The Figure leaned forward, and looked at the old lady, then down at the teacup at its seat. The sound it made was like a sigh, but more a shiftless wind escaping from out a creaking wood board. It didn’t speak, nor did the old lady question if speech was even possible for it. All she knew was a bit of relief when it placed the scythe down by its side, and picked up the cup of steaming tea.
She bowled up the tea in her aching hands, and blissfully enjoyed the first sip. It was a rather sharp taste, not like her mother made, but not terribly tart. She breathed out a relieving breath of hot air, and it seemed to lessen the tightness in her chest.
“You are the first to bade me company in over two years. The younger generation, they just distance themselves from age, as if they will avoid it like a plague. Bah! I love my children, and my grandchildren all, but they never bother, because they’re fearful I’m some delicate piece of china that would drop and break if ever they come close to my home! You understand fragility I take it? I’m not fearful, but grateful for this last little bit of company. I would rather my family be around me, but I already ask too much. It’s a pity to die alone though. At least the biscuits came out perfect. Do you want some butter?”
The old lady points to the butter dish, up to room temperature, and cuts and spread perfectly onto the old lady’s biscuit. She pressed firmly and dropped the butter knife as she felt a slight, irritable cramp that had returned once again at the perfect time. She flinched, but shook it out gently, and tasted the biscuit. It was delectable, simplistic, but a mountain of flavor onto her traveled tongue.
“My mother’s recipe as well.” she smiled in-between chews, and gently wiped her mouth with a cloth napkin in the hand that hadn’t spasmed. The figure now placed its elbows promptly on the table, and clasped its bony fingers together, leaning into the old woman’s space. She didn’t smell any breath, or feel any life come off the figure. Still, she kept a smile through the wheezing of her lungs, the cramping of her hands, and the slight tightening in her chest. It felt like a right hook to the heart, but she didn’t falter, keeping herself afloat.
“Please! Just a few more sips, I will not stall, I will not beg, or plead or bargain. I just want your company for a few more moments! Not to feel like some outcast of the world, I want to feel human, not a burden in these last moments! You need not speak! You need not worry! I know you keep in time, but hurry not! Just please...enjoy this tea with me, and then I willingly will go to whatever destiny that’s in store! I fear neither the beginning of my existence, nor the bane of my end! Just allow me this tea, so I can keep the dizziness at bay. I want to be all there to feel it when it comes! Just a few more moments is all I ask!”
The Figure huffed, and sat back, tapping bones on the table, and pantomimed sipping the cup, though it was faceless in the darkness of the hood.
“Thank you.” the old lady wheezed. She picked up the teacup again, and sipped. This time it seemed more difficult, and the tea not as hot as it was but a minute prior. The heat was depleting rapidly from the cup, as though ushering the time to move quicker. The Figured seemed to be growing impatient with her, and she had no endgame, there was only one way this would go: she was not ever moving from her kitchen table ever again.
The tea, though cooler, still had a rather tart flavor to it, and she was regaining some of the dizziness she had been struggling with that day. Her mind was clearing up, and she smiled at her guest of honor.
“I take it you’re more the coffee type then?”
The figure shook its head and pointed at the clock on her wall. It had frozen in place, and time itself was halted. Even if she stalled, she would pass at the moment she was destined. There was no exit clause, or loophole, and her guest was not paying her any kindness. It was just doing its nature, and she too realized, and smiled with a bit of a laugh, that she too was doing what was her nature.
“No small talk huh? Well, thank you for humoring me for as long as you have. A couple more sips...well, maybe just one more, it seems a bit uncouth to finish a cup before leaving. I shall leave a taste. Thank you again for being so-”
She dropped to the table, her heart exploding, and the old lady fell down and seized up in a stone terror on the ground. The scythe flew down and carved ideep int her, riping out her soul from the avatar she once held, and whisked it away to wherever destiny required.
The cloaked figure of Death then left the little home, with the lovely china, the pot of tea, and spectacular homemade biscuits passed down from generations. Death left, and with the politeness of an unwanted guest, made sure to lock and shut the door upon its departure.