Thursday, 14 June 2012

Tea Mobile - Friday Flash



The bone china tea service had seen better days. But then which of us hadn't? Although the colour glaze had lost its original lustre, it had outlasted her own marriage, for which as a wedding gift it had helped launch and then faithfully service through the years. Not that her marriage had broken up prematurely, perish the thought. But cracked and chipped as the bone china was, it still retained more integrity than her husband lying mouldering in a grave.

Such china contained bone ash, from the calcination of bones. Her husband hadn't been cremated. The teacup she took out from the cupboard had a rusty ring lining its interior. But then the entire service was similarly tarnished. Since the pair of them had drunk a copious amount of tea over the years. She liked to imagine it was akin to the rings inside tree trunks that marked off years of life. The undertaker had asked her whether she wanted him to be buried with his wedding ring, or whether she wanted it back which she affirmed. Only now she thought she may have made the wrong decision. For every cup here bore a ring symbolising their union. Their hours shared in this house. Round this very table, even if she now only set one cup down on it, the ring reminded her of him. Sat alone, with her hands wrapped around a teapot full of warm liquid trying to derive warmth from it. She still brewed enough for two.

The kettle chorusing its boiled readiness, she poured the steaming water into the teapot, letting it stew for exactly the duration required for a perfect strength. At the precise moment she cupped a strainer beneath the lip of the spout, and dipped the teapot to decant the golden brown liquid into a battered thermos flask. She added some milk and stirred it in with a long handled steel spoon that she'd purloined from a restaurant when it had arrived accompanying a dessert sorbet. The handle made it the perfect length for just such a task. She screwed the plastic lid back on to the thermos, slipped it in a supermarket "Bag For Life", something she had availed herself of when she went shopping to prepare the food for the post-funeral convocation, grabbed her handbag and scuttled out of the house. The heaped leaves remained abandoned in the strainer. Left alone in life now, she no longer had any need to read them to discern her fate.

After a slow walk to the park, she plopped herself down on a weather-beaten bench. The bird droppings had long dried to blend lumpishly with the fibre of the wood. Like her china, it too had been stripped of its glaze. This had been 'their' bench. They had fed the birds from here together. Until the park-keepers threatened them with a banning order.

She removed the thermos from the rough hemp supermarket bag and set it next to her on a slat. Then she opened her handbag and removed one of her china tea cups. A jogger passing by caught sight of her manoeuvre and raised a quizzical eyebrow, though he didn't break his stride. It wasn't a reaction she hadn't encountered before. People couldn't fathom why with a ready made vessel in the shape of the flask's cup, this dotty old woman would bring out a teacup from her handbag. Like some unexpected conjuring trick. But if there was one thing she and her husband had always agreed on throughout their shared lives, it was that tea tasted best when served in bone china.

Have tea, will travel. Not quite the rituals of the Japanese Way Of Tea ceremony, but honouring the leaf all the same. Her little finger extended away from the teacup handle, though these days it was bent and gnarled by arthritis. Her head bobbed down towards the cup, rather than bringing the cup up to her lips. From a distance, she looked like one of those perpetual drinking bird toys. She must have taken tiny sips, for the imbibing took an age.

And yet despite the reverence displayed for the libation, for the memory of her husband, she rounded off the ritual in the most inelegant and unceremonious fashion imaginable. She inverted the teacup and thrust it repeatedly in the direction of the ground. This time any stray looks from passers-by registered a greater level of incomprehension.

If she didn't want the tea contaminating the inside of her handbag, provisioning herself with a tea towel or a less conspicuous tissue, would have served to ensure that no dregs could leak from the cup. She seemed so organised in everything else around this endeavour, concern for her handbag could not have been the sole issue. It was as if by such an action, she was banishing everything from inside the china vessel. Not just the liquid residue, but memories too. The brown ring of decay however remained ingrained on the white bone of course. She would never be able to shake that clear from the teacup.


12 comments:

Helen said...

Ah a life time of marriage does engrain its rings of time on you (I should know been married 39 years this year)

Beautiful story, told so elegantly that I could visualise her bone china tea cup - 'it was that tea tasted best when served in bone china.' This is sooooo true! I have a fine bone china tea cup that I keep for my evening cuppa. ^_^

John Wiswell said...

There's a particularly good voice to this one, Marc. It's a little self-effacing, a little self-defeating, and thereby utterly readable.

Dijeratic said...

I'm always amazed at where your imagination goes for a story - who else would have thought this up? Elegant and resigned and a little suggestive of something macabre (whose bones were ground for the cup?) - a dark bit of humor and yet, it's very 'Englishness' belies that universal constant: grief and how we cope. How fragile, but how lasting.

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

Awww :-(
Also - what John said!
I shall look out for old ladies sat on benches, sipping tea out of bone china cups and not thermos flask lids, and smile conspiratorially at them.

Andy said...

Pleased I voted for the tea story. The use of tea and the Englishness of it captures the loss well.

Natalie Bowers said...

A very engaging read. I could sense an edge of weariness in the narrators voice. Love the tree-ring imagery. And can definitely relate to tea tasting better out of a china cup. It's those little details that bring a story to life.

Steve Green said...

A beautiful story Marc, tinged with sadness, but beautiful.

Sonia Lal said...

Beautiful story! I wonder if she killed him?

Larry Kollar said...

I chuckled at the opening line — "The bone china tea service had seen better days. But then which of us hadn't?"

The sadness in this was tempered by a determination to remember well, by engaging in the rituals that could no longer be shared. I was also wondering what kind of bones were ground up to make her bone china…

Cindy Vaskova said...

Lingering for so long to an object of memories and feelings out of time can be hard. It is a somehow fine and elegant way to release oneself from the past. Very smooth story. Absolutely enjoyable.

ganymeder said...

This was particularly beautiful, though in the beginning I had suspected the bone china had been made with her husband's ash.

What lovely story!

Katherine Hajer said...

Great build-up and a great image. What does it say about society that someone using a proper teacup is now worthy of being stared at?