Tea

He approached the fire cautiously, homemade spear outstretched. You never knew who you might come across in the bombed out streets. “Who’s there?” he called.

The bony figure was hunched over the dancing yellow flames suddenly unfolded itself, straightening up into the shape of a woman who turned to face him. “Tea?” she offered.

. . . . . . . .

“I thought it was the end.”

“Must have been quite embarrassing to realize your mistake,” she replied. They sat on opposite sides of the fire. She stirred sugar into her cup while he stared blankly into the fire.

“We all did,” he said. “Apocalypse. That’s what everyone said.”

“Frightfully overused word.” She took a careful sip and sighted contentedly. “Not a very helpful one either.”

“Not like it matters,” he grunted. “Nothing matters now. Everything’s gone.”

She shrugged. “You’re not gone. More importantly, I’m not gone. Though the tea soon will be, so you better drink some before I finish off the whole pot.”

His gaze drifted to the cast iron pot. “What’s the point?”

“Same as it was before, I imagine.”

Slowly, dully, he poured steaming liquid into his cup. He smelled chamomile, mint, orange blossoms, lemon grass. He breathed in, then out. He breathed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Tea

Danny hoped his annoyance didn’t show too much as he tried to comfort his crying child. “What happened to your teacup, honey?”

“The monster broke it,” Ava sobbed.

“Oh a monster, huh?” Danny replied, jaw tensing. “Well did you tell the monster that we have to be extra careful with your china tea set?”

“I tried,” she said, sniffling, “but—but—but—”

Danny finally softened at the tears, recognizing that whatever had happened, his daughter was in genuine distress. “Alright sweetheart, go sit on the couch and calm down while I clean up the rest of your tea party.”

“B-but—but the monster!

“Don’t worry,” he called out over his shoulder, “I can handle a—” But then he saw it.

Blue feathers, a scaly tail, a party hat resting between curved horns. The monster messily gobbled up a cucumber sandwich they had skewered on their claw. “What did your dad—oh . . .” they trailed off, locking eyes with Danny.
“You . . .”

The monster hastily wiped crumbs from their maw and said, “Yeah . . . sorry about the plate.”

“It’s . . . okay . . .” he mumbled. “We got them from a thrift store.”

“Right on,” they answered. “Oh, and tell Ava she makes a kickass cup of Darjeeling.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Again

Their eyes were ringed red and bloodshot, staring blankly into the half-empty cup of cooling tea.

“How many times are you going to do this, Cal?” she asked.

A lazy shake of the head. “Shut up, Jane,” they muttered.

She leaned forward to speak, then sighed and relaxed back into her seat. Cal’s thumb drifted back and forth across the lip of the mug. Jane tried again. “I’m just sayin…” she began.

“No you’re not,” Cal interrupted.

“E-excuse me?”

Cal’s eyes turned deliberately away from Jane, out to the window. Out to empty darkness. “If you have to tell me that you’re just saying something, that hundred percent guarantees you’ve got something even worse that you’re not saying.”

Jane leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “Like what?”

They gave a lazy shrug. “Fuck if I know.”

She rose, snatched up Cal’s mug, and carried it to the sink. “I’m helping you, aren’t I?” she asked. “I’m letting you stay here, right?”

“Don’t make it sound like such a threat.”

Jane leaned wearily against the counter, head low. “What do you want, Cal?

Cal’s eyes were wet with unshed tears. “I don’t know, Jane. I wish I did.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Steeped

It was crowded, and louder than usual.  A gust of cold wind hit him as one more soul was ushered into the tiny coffee house.  The bell above the door tinkled.  Another angel’s wings, he thought.

His attention returned to his tea:  Irish Breakfast.  He used to drink it with his grandmother, who was neither Irish nor ever ate breakfast.  She just liked tea.  “Tea is peace and comfort,” she would tell him.  “A good pot of tea can make the worst enemies into friends.”  She always used to say that.  But that was almost forty years ago.

This was the best Irish Breakfast tea in town.  Almost as good and Grammaw’s.  “Excuse me …” 

Steam and memory rose from his cup, and he looked through the mist at a stranger’s face. 

“It’s pretty full here today.  Would you mind if I sat with you … or are you expecting someone?”

The bell tinkled.  Wind rushed in.  He was silent a long moment, knowing nobody was coming for him.  His eyes fell to his tea.  It was getting cold.

“It’s alright.  I’ll find somewhere else.”  And the stranger was gone, lost to the bustling noise of the coffee house.

He felt cold.

* * *

Photo by Nicolai Schindler on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives
originally published October 30, 2010