The sun is bright and adamant in the Country. A flickering haze is over the horizon, over the fields and over the road.
It’s easy to miss someone approaching their house and Red notices the figure fairly late. It does not matter, though. Red is not overly curious and the stranger will come closer soon enough. It’s comfortable sitting here on the porch. The shade is gentle, the sizzle-water cool and the chair cozy.
If there was anything that could make Red happier, it would be having Boxer at her side. She did not come to the Country to spend lazy days without him. He was back in the house, busy with some menial work. Maybe Red will join him, after she has seen to the visitor.
The figure at the road grew larger. Slowly Red could make out details. White dress, bowed head and a red and white umbrella. The woman stopped a distance away from her, twirling anxiously her umbrella.
Perhaps it was best that Boxer was in the back of the house and not here. It was never about him, after all. Red wished Sybil understood that.
And so Red looked at Sybil and could not bring herself to stand up, to welcome her in. Red just mustered her, the dusty shoes and sweaty light dress. Her face was hidden under the twirling umbrella. Ashamed? She should be.
Red felt contempt, deep sorrow and a tinge of helplessness. There was nothing to be said.
Sybil’s arms maybe grew tired and the twirling became slower, till it eventually stopped. The umbrella closed and Sybil allowed the tip of it to rest on the yellow ground in front of her. Then she finally raised her gaze.
Back in Cloudbank, Sybil reminded Red of a bird, carelessly chirping with her fellows, flying from conversation to conversation. She certainly never lacked for words.
But Sybil did not speak now. Her eyes glistened with despair. She stared so pointedly at Red, not daring to speak, maybe fearing her voice will betray her. There was hope in her eyes. More than Red felt herself.
Red could not stand the intensity of her gaze. Red looked at the golden fields to the right and thought about the sunsets of Cloudbank.
Her own throat burned from tears that would not come.
At the sound of her name, the woman flinched. Sybil was three years older than her, reminded Red herself. She didn’t look like it, though. Never really acted like it.
"Sybil, come here."
Slowly, Sybil let the umbrella fall out of her hands. The first steps towards Red were hesitant, then faster, as if Red would withdraw her invitation if Sybil did not show proper haste.
Sybil ran up the few steps on the wooden porch and fell down on her knees next to Red.
"I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, Red, I’m sorry…"
The words, the tears came out like flood. Sybil grasped Red’s hand like as if she was drowning and in a way, she was.
The hat with wide brim fell down on the floor. Sybil always had such feathery-light white hair and Red stroked it. It was just as soft as it looked.
"I won’t forgive you", thought Red, pulling Sybil closer for an embrace. Sybil sat down on her lap and burrowed the head in Red’s shoulder, still sobbing, still scared.
"But you don’t have to know."