Red Zinnias: A Carding Chronicle

It seems that everyone in Carding feels the same way that everyone in the country is feeling—tired, jittery, unfocused, and burdened by malaise.

It sure has infected Edie Wolfe and her friend Ruth Goodwin. They’re sitting on the back steps of Edie’s house, indulging in darkness.

But they’re not used to being in that place emotionally. I bet you aren’t either.

It looks like a new wind starting to freshen their sails so I’m glad you stopped by to see how it goes.

This Chronicle is part two of a three-part tale. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to part one.

If this is your first visit to Carding, Vermont, the little town at the center of my four novels, then welcome. If you’ve been here before, welcome back.

The two friends—their relationship stretched back more than thirty years—sat in silence, soaking up the early autumn sun on the back stairs of Edie’s house, each clutching a cup of coffee. They watched a pair of monarch butterflies dance on the zinnias still blazing nearby. Goldfinches squabbled and gossiped among the sunflowers that Edie had spread on the ground for them.

Ruth didn’t know what to say. Edie’s dark mood and obvious sadness frightened her a little. She was used to regarding Edie as the most stalwart of the people she knew in Carding. And if she was feeing hopeless then…

The crunch of gravel in Edie’s driveway startled them both.

“Edie? Ruth? Are you here?”

“In the backyard, Aggie,” Edie called.

The third member of their usual trio, Agnes Findley, sped around the corner of the house. She was obviously upset, clutching a tissue to her face.

“Oh, it’s too much.” Aggie’s voice broke on her words. “I’m just done. So done with all of this.”

Then she stopped short, taking in the emotional messages transcribed on her friends’ faces. Edie raised an eyebrow. “Coffee?” she asked.

Agnes heaved a long, shuddering sigh, and then sat down. “Yes, please.”

As soon as Edie placed a steaming mug nearby, Ruth cleared her throat. “Something wrong in particular, Aggie, or are you joining in the general malaise?”

“It’s Chloe.” Aggie was the longtime partner of Charlie Cooper, local good-guy lawyer and co-owner, with his brother Andy, of Cooper’s General Store. Chloe was Charlie’s youngest daughter, the sole bright spot in a marriage that’s best left in the past.

“Is she all right? Has something happened to her or Boz?” Edie asked. She had a soft spot for both Chloe and her new husband, Boz Flaneur.

Aggie sniffed and applied the tissue to her face again. “She’s pregnant.”

Those two words whipped up a thick stew of feelings in the three women—joy because they thought the world of Chloe and Boz, fear about giving birth in the midst of a pandemic, and a longing to visit these precious young people. But that was impossible because they lived in Falmouth, the Falmouth in Cornwall, England, not the one on Cape Cod.

Edie finally managed a single syllable. “Oh.”

“How’s Charlie taking the news?” Ruth asked.

“He’s over the moon and angry and scared and frustrated that we can’t fly over there right now,” Aggie said. She sipped her coffee. “Whoa Edie, you don’t usually make it this strong.”

“I was thinking about thinning it down with a little brandy,” Edie said. “What do you think?”

Aggie and Ruth glanced at one another then held out their mugs. “Yes, please.”

It took a few sips before the three friends stood up to venture into Edie’s garden to admire the harvest in progress. 

“Mmmm, I love the smell of those onions,” Ruth said. 

“And the garlic,” Aggie said. “And you still have some morning glories and zinnias in bloom.” She stroked one of the deep red flowers. “Sometimes I think that as flowers get scarce in the fall, we appreciate each of them individually all the more.” 

Edie drained her mug. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d added brandy to her coffee. Judging by the age of the bottle in her cupboard, it had been quite a while. But the alcohol was stoking a wee flame inside her, and for that she was grateful.

“How often have I told you two how much I like you and how much your friendship means to me?” she asked.

The three friends blushed. None of them would ever be characterized as overly sentimental so Edie’s words fanned emotions that they rarely expressed aloud.

“I suppose that none of us really ever says that out loud,” Ruth said. She reached out to touch a morning glory. “Friendships—long friendships like ours—have become so important to me this year. I suppose it’s like Aggie said, the fewer the flowers, the greater appreciation for the individual blooms.”

Edie turned to look at her two dear friends, Ruth with her steel-gray hair pulled back from her face, and Aggie’s short, white curls catching the sun, giving her a bit of a halo effect.

“Remember way back in the spring, we promised to watch out and take care of one another, to block that…that…horrible orange human being from our conversations so that he couldn’t live inside our heads or our hearts, and to remember that we’re good people and that Carding, Vermont is a good place to live. We can’t succumb now, my friends. We need one another—and everybody else in our lives—more than ever.”

“You’re right,” Aggie said, and she felt the darkness in her heart thin a bit.

“You are right,” Ruth agreed. “So besides drinking brandy in the middle of the day, what are we going to do about it?”

Edie thought for a minute. “Let’s start with comfort food. Macaroni and cheese ought to do it.”

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Ruby Royce.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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