Friday, May 27, 2016

Tea and Death

April 14, 2016

"Why are you standing there? Come inside and shut the door behind you," said the old woman. Her hair was the consistency of dandelion puff, and it was pulled back into a tight bun, exposing a face lined with wrinkles and looking like dry tissue paper.

I started, looking around for a moment, and felt a chill wind behind me and shut the door, which was thicker than the span of my hand, and closed with a satisfying 'click.' The wood grain was silky smooth under my hand, and my fingers drifted over the cool, wrought iron filigree that swirled and whirled over the polished surface.

The house was small, but comfortable. The kitchen dominated the living space with a huge cast iron range that radiated pleasant warmth and a smell that was unmistakably cookies. I couldn't tell what kind of cookies - but they smelled of vanilla, chocolate and some kind of spice I couldn't put my finger on.

The old woman had set out a tray with a dainty tea service made of a pale ceramic that looked like it was carved from bone. Without even touching it, I could imagine the gentle rasp against my skin and the sound it would make as it clinked against my teeth. She poured two steaming cups of dark liquid. And though I assumed it was tea, the smell was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I couldn't place it or even begin to describe it.

"Don't just stand there, dear. Take a cloth and get the biscuits from the oven," said the woman.
As I pulled open the oven doors, the warm smell of baking cookies along with the full-force of the oven heat blasted around and over me. It was pleasant and overwhelming. I inhaled deeply as I pulled the hot tray from the oven, and felt tears spring to my eyes.

A brief vision of someone - someone I couldn't quite see or remember handing me a cookie that looked like one of the batch before me. Someone big and someone I loved, but they were a blur or a faded dream.

"Set it on the block over there," she said. "They need a little time to cool. Have a seat, love."

I sat and watched the woman bring the tray over, balancing it with an ease that belied her seeming age.

She set my tea on the table before me, and added a small, empty plate made of the same material as the teacup. I picked up the cup and cradled it in my hand - it did feel exactly as I imagined. I took a sip of the liquid and memories washed over and through me. They passed quickly, but all with perfect clarity - and new understanding.

I didn't see her rise. I didn't see her move across the table. But the woman was wiping my watering eyes with a soft cloth.

"You'll be alright," she said.

Then she went to get the cookies.

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