5.19.19: a tea party in 4 universes

  1. As a child, I would spend my Saturday mornings pruning an elderly neighbor’s garden. Her home was full of hanging ferns, china dishes, newspaper clippings in crooked scarlet frames, stacks of cassettes and VHS tapes with cryptic handwritten descriptions in Sharpie on their sleeves. Sometimes, when the stars aligned, she would invite me to stay for dinner, and we’d feed sliced bread to a family of raccoons that came to her porch each night at precisely 9pm. Then we would relax in her living room. We’d listen to scratched Julie London albums while her schnauzer, who looked at me like he harbored some secret knowledge about my fate, worshipped at her feet. Once, clasping a mug of decaf Earl Grey between her palms, she told me about a famous world traveler who would cry if he stepped on an ant. “There is nothing too small to be sacred,” she murmured as the steam threaded between her twinkling eyes. From that day on, that explorer was my touchstone of empathy. I still scan my path for ants.

  2. After her first breakup, my best friend spent three weeks straight watching The Princess Diaries on repeat. After school, she would promptly proceed to her room, shut her door, flip open her laptop, and pop the DVD in. On weekends, she wouldn’t even leave the house. We would often lie side by side, watching and quoting the movie together. “My expectation in life is to be invisible, and I’m good at it.” We felt as if we too were seated at that wrought iron table, sipping tea from porcelain cups. We both wanted to be the woman at the end of the movie, made beautiful by some benevolent, hair product-wielding sage. But Julie Andrews wasn’t knocking at either of our doors to tell us we were royal by blood. In fact, very few people were knocking on our doors at all. I became intimately acquainted with the warm space between our shoulders, and the sound of her throat tightening as she rehashed the last days of her relationship aloud. At the end of the third week, I persuaded her to walk with me to a nearby park, where we sat on a swing seat eating cucumber sandwiches (a snack perhaps befitting a Genovian queen). She turned to me, and the sun was tracing the side of her face. “Y’know, I actually prefer Mia’s before hair.”

  3. I stand opposite a brick wall, holding a frosted glass cup. I turn it over in my hands, admiring the delicate gold band around the rim. This might have been my cup once. I can’t remember. I loop my finger around the handle and hurl it across the room. There is the radiant forward momentum of one moment accelerating into another. There is the sun slicing into a thousand thin lines. I kneel to pick up the pieces. I feel their weight in my hands. Remembering, I hold them gingerly. They leave cuts on my fingers. Blood runs the length of the lines of my palms. This cup held tea once. This cup was warm once. This is still a cup. This can be a cup again. This is still a cup. This can be a cup again. This is still a cup. This can be a cup again. This is still a cup.

  4. Someday, we’ll stand in your kitchen, stirring confetti cupcake batter with a wooden spoon. You’ll be pressed against my back, your hand on mine a parenthetical. We’ll ladle the batter into shiny baking cups. (I’ll take special care to pool them evenly, crouching to inspect them at eye level. You’ll chuckle at me, and it won’t be at my expense. Later, I’ll wish I had looked at you then.) We’ll fill most of the cups, and we’ll have the same idea at the same time. We’ll abandon our posts to fling handfuls of batter at each other, ducking one another’s barrages unsuccessfully. We’ll laugh, and we’ll wheeze our battle cries, and we won’t be able to stop laughing. You’ll kiss a messy laugh into my mouth, and I’ll kiss you back, layering our sugar-grained lips. You’ll drape your mother’s navy quilt over the living room table, and we’ll tell stories with flashlights. We’ll drink herbal tea from soup bowls, our faces shimmering. We’ll speculate about the shadows on the lawn. We’ll name the unnamed things. We’ll wash the dishes. We’ll put them back on their shelves for another day.

(A note for readers: Like much of my writing on this blog, this piece is a work of fiction! Some of the people, places, and events I write about are inspired by my real life, but most are fictionalized. Unless I indicate otherwise, the writing I publish on this blog is not intended to be anything resembling a historical account.)