Comfort Lies in a Cup of Tea
by Mari Mitchell
I text: standing in line at Grumpy D’s and commune with the world but stay in my cocoon.
On a large sign are the words: Keebler BEANS! They must be the newest trend. Elf dolls sit with their knees up - grinning, coffee cups with elves shoes tap on the shelf, and I can get a combo pack with a doll, cup, and ground beans.
What makes these beans special? The barista is delighted to inform: “Elves plant the beans and shower them with dust, giving the beans their enchanting flavor.” And then he asks, “Can I enchant you today?”
“I’m sure it’s bang-o-rang, Peter, but I’ll take my tea, Lyons.” My plastic smile meets his. The friend who introduced me to the drink is English, but the tea is Irish. It has a stronger taste than American tea, but not overwhelming to the pallet. And no leprechauns were harmed in the making of it. At Grumpy D’s they do a whole pot, the proper English way.
Ahead of me is a long stretch of weekend with no official plans.
I take a seat in the corner near a painting of a thatched cottage. The aroma of the black tea has a hint of spice. I take milk, and sugar in my tea. On occasion I pare it with jammy dodgers or scones.
Happy music is always playing. I’m pretty sure it’s why all of the employees are whistling. You would think Grumpy would have gone another way.
Couples crowd most tables. I pick up my worn copy of Doctor Sleep, but I’m not reading. I’m listening. Listening to couples, wondering what it would be like to be a couple.
I glance at the cuckoo clock and tense up. She’s usually here by now. I think of her as my queen. She’s always dressed so pristinely, conservatively, wearing black and purple, which sets off her porcelain completion. A thin red belt graces her tiny waist, and a red stoned broach is perched above heart.
At the counter she orders apple pie. Her voice is beguiling. No enchantment in her cup. She orders a Snow White drink – an icy rich drink blending vanilla bean, milk and topped with whipped cream and sucks it dry. She crushes the cup.
Her makeup is carefully done - smoky eyes, raven hair slicked back, and red, red lips. I’m sure she’s not from the country but the city, living high above us all.
She too sits alone. Just her thoughts - her regal black eyes still.
I try and conceal my interest. What if she became displeased and stops coming?
The boys at work are nice, but there’s no real connection. I’ve tried. But no one seems to read, or love movies the way I do. I’ve tossed some quotes around but they never been caught.
The country with its deer and blue birds of happiness is getting to me. I can’t seem to get use to all of sunshine.
Sometimes before I go to sleep I envision she and I sharing a pot of tea, a slice of apple pie. In the days of friendliness to come, I’d make her my famous meat pie. My secret ingredient is heart. It’s not easy to take something so tough and soften it, but if you can, you are richly awarded.
She mouths something as she looks into her compact, and I melt.
In my mirror at home I practiced points learned in googled articles – Instant Irresistibility: How to Make Small Talk and Advance Social Skills. I sound dopey.
On occasion, I’ve tried meeting her eyes with a smile and say something like, ”I know we haven’t met, but I would gladly share my table with you.” My breath catches in my chest. She notices that on the table is a copy of the book she has read. I offer her a cup and say say, “Comfort rest in a cup of tea.”
I sneeze. I do that when I’m anxious. What if she all she wants is to be like Garbo and be alone? Then who would I bake gooseberry pie for and pretend to share it with? Whose perfect hand would I imagine to brush against while sharing popcorn and watching Netflix and trade off watching favorite movies. Who would I send bouquets of sharpened pencils to on their unbirthdays?
It’s wrong, but I secretly hope that someone will knock over her drink. I would rise and speak, “Please allow me,” and she would say, “Thank you,” and as I go to work, I would say, “My pleasure.” I’d catch the corner of her mouth smiling, and I try to not be bashful, and I say, “Out of all the coffee shops in the world he had to pick this one.” She’d smile a little more; see you have earn her smiles, and she would say, “Yes, but we’ll always have Grumpy D’s.” We would not speak again until the next time we saw each other from across the crowded coffee house.
I tuck my thoughts away and read more of the book she was reading last month.
In a beguiling voice I hear, “Comfort lies in a cup of tea.”
* * *
Mari Mitchell lives in the high deserts of California next to a spaceport and an airport cemetery. She lives with two orange stripey cats, a nerdy husband and two even nerdier sons. She's taken classes with Cat Rambo. Other stories of hers can be found on Wicked Jungle, Flurb and more.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
My story ideas come from conversations I have and books I have read. This one was inspired by a short story called "It Feels Like Spring," which I read in junior high school a thousand years ago.