Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Enjoy Your Tea (short fiction #2)

Enjoy Your Tea

When I was young, my Nana’s cottage was only a few miles out in the country from my family’s house in town. Every Saturday morning of my twelfth year, my eight-year-old sister Jenny and I climbed onto our pink bicycles and pedaled past the green grocer’s and the bowling alley, out of town to the gravel road that led to her house. On sunny days we played tag and ran barefoot across her soft green lawn or helped her pick pea-pods the size of my hands from her garden. She made us cucumber sandwiches for lunch and encouraged us to fill ourselves with hand-picked raspberries, laughing as our lips and tongues were stained purple and helping us clean our sticky hands and feet in the claw-foot tub in her bathroom.

Even on days that it rained and that gravel road turned into a swamp, we put on our rubber boots and yellow coats and went to Nana’s. We walked our bicycles next to us because if we tried to ride them through the mud, our tires would slide around and we would end up in the ditch. The rainy days were my favorite.

“Rachel, would you open the curtains and let some of that weather in?” she asked me as she plucked the whooping kettle from her woodstove’s blackened surface. Nana’s house was toasty, snug and filled with smells from the stove that instantly brought the essense of the forest to Nana’s kitchen. Jenny and I threw open the sheer white curtains and watched the rain drizzling down the windowpanes and pounding on the pea-pods. Nana smiled and poured hot water into her bone china teapot. While the tea steeped, she opened the cedar chest she used as a coffee table and the uniquely heavy smell of that particular wood washed momentarily across the room. She pulled out three porcelain teacups and saucers: two sets in white and one set in navy blue.

She arranged them on the kitchen table, placing a white cup in front of me, a white cup in front of Jenny, and the blue cup in front of herself. After she poured my cup, I put my face in the steam, inhaling the scent of licorice and looking at the loose leaves sinking into the tea. Nana asked about our week and we revealed all the juicy details of our small town childhood as we sipped. When our cups were nearly empty, Nana instructed us to hold them in our left hands and to swirl the leftover liquid three times, counter clockwise. Then we flipped the cups onto the saucers and spun them three times.

“Read mine first,” Jenny squealed. Nana looked to me with her watery blue eyes and I smiled, nodding that Jenny could go first without objections from me. She picked up Jenny’s upside down cup and held it close to her face as she stared into the leaves, looking for any symbols that popped out at her.

“Aha!” she exclaimed as though surprised at the discovery in her hands. “Jenny, have you been lying to your parents?” Nana turned and stared into Jenny’s face. She pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow.

“No?” Jenny stuttered and blinked.

“Well, maybe you aren’t telling them the whole truth? Because I know you’re a smart girl, but I also know that school can be tough. They’ll understand a lot better if you tell them now instead of letting them find out later.” Jenny blushed and looked at her feet. She had told me a few days ago that she was doing poorly math class and had been hiding a note from her teacher under her bed for the last week.

Jenny nodded. “I’ll tell them when I get home tonight.”

Nana smiled appreciatively and continued. “In happier thoughts, I think your birthday party will be quite spectacular this year.” She squinted, turning the cup in her hands. “Oh yes. Quite good. I think that your Mum might even agree to you having that sleepover if you work hard for it.” She set the cup down and leaned over to kiss Jenny on the top of the head.

“Is it my turn?” When Nana nodded and picked up my cup I asked if she could show me where the symbols she saw were.

“Yes Rachel, of course.” Jenny scooted closer so she could see too. Nana peered silently into my cup for several minutes, turning it in her hands and contemplating the contents.

“Here it is,” she declared. She pointed to a blob of leaves near the handle. “Do you see this curvy road? It means you’re going to go through a difficult transition like all young women do. But this mule drinking from the faucet at the end it? It means that you are generous and patient and that those qualities will help you get through it all.” I glared at the blob, willing it to become a mule or any animal for that matter. Jenny giggled at the consternation on my face. “That’s all your cup says today.”

I looked at her in disbelief. She hadn’t even looked at the whole cup. “But what about everything at the bottom of the cup?”

Nana leaned to me now and kissed the top of my head. “I don’t worry about the bottom of the cup, and neither should you. Your life will be better for it.”

I never put much stock in Nana’s predictions. My mum claimed that I should listen to what she said. “I don’t know what to call it Rachel,” Mum explained, “but your Nana knows more than most people. She insisted that you were going to be a girl even when the doctor told us you were a boy. Your father and I painted the nursery blue and were completely ready for a little Matthew. Your Nana just shook her head and knitted a big pink afghan.” But having my leaves read was a childish wonder that did nothing but give me goose-bumps and made me feel special; as I grew older, I became more interested in stressing about my future instead of speculating on revelations in a teacup.

As Jenny and I grew up, we stopped visiting Nana’s cottage as often. When we went, we helped clean or weed her garden. We saw ourselves as too mature to play in the garden and get our tea-leaves read. I became involved in high school and then college. I worried about my future and worked constantly to assure that it would be successful. I had less and less time for Nana.

I had just graduated from college and was working as a waitress a few states away when my mother called to tell me that Nana had passed away in her sleep the night before. I was able to get a few days off to go home for her funeral and to clean out her house.

I was assigned the task of sorting through the cedar chest she used as a coffee table. I sat on the floor, letting the familiar and thick scent of the cedar embrace me. On the top of the contents were memory books of the most recent past: my college graduation, Jenny’s senior prom, and Mum and Dad’s thirtieth wedding anniversary. As I searched deeper into the trunk, the archaeological layers of memories grew older. The leather bindings on photo albums containing pictures of Nana’s own wedding were barely holding together. When I got to the bottom, I saw my old pink afghan, heavily faded from age and wear; when I grabbed its soft folds, I realized there was something wrapped inside. I delicately folded back the corners of the knitting, revealing the three porcelain teacups and saucers: two sets in white and one set in navy blue.

My mind raced to possibilities of predicting my future. Perhaps I could finally find out what my future might look like. The leaves would tell me where I was going. The leaves would tell me if I was on the right track. I pulled a fragile white cup from the blanket, the cool porcelain a relief beneath my fingers. I was ready to take the cup to the kitchen to start the leaf-reading process, a tiny fold of paper fell to the floor. I picked it up and unfolded it, recognizing the delicate swirls of Nana’s handwriting immediately:

Rachel. It doesn’t matter what the leaves say, the point is to enjoy your tea.


Anonymous said...


Very good! Well done, indeed.

A faskinatin' little yarn, as Popeye would say.

dad {!-{>

Leslee said...

loved your story, Cait.