The Proper Recollection of Tea


He watched with amusement as she gracefully turned the tea pot around with both of her dainty gloved hands, then took it up by the handle now facing her, and began to pour into his empty cup. When he lifted his eyes to her face, her normally smooth brow was furrowed in concentration. It teased the corner of his mouth into a smile. When she was finished pouring and her mind free to move on to other things, he watched an imperious eyebrow shoot up.

“It’s not just all the damnable coffee. They don’t even sit for high tea here let alone offer it with milk! Barbaric!” The tea pot absorbed her mood when she set it down with a thunk.

The smile fully flourished.

“Now, now, don’t be fussy,” he told her in a voice that held more admiration than reproach.

Her bottom lip pouted as she then poured the favored white liquid from a cow shaped vessel into her cup, leaving his plain. He wasn’t sure why she still insisted on pouring tea for him when he never drank it but there were manners, he supposed, so ingrained as to be habit. And he liked this habit of theirs although it had changed all of a sudden.

Most times they took tea in a dark corner of the cold and antiquated library. She never mentioned minding although there was an aloofness there that would eventually give rise to the same old discussion. The library itself had brightened several years back, as if someone had just returned to a summer house and was going through the process of uncovering the rooms and airing them out, with the library being the last to tackle.

The way the light in the hallway just beyond the door would grow, sometimes by feet, sometimes by inches, was often a topic of conversation. He could tell that she was nervous after all these years waiting. “What if she doesn’t like me?” she’d asked one particularly cold morning when a storm beat against the leaded library windows. “Maybe that’s why she never comes in here.” He’d assured her that it would happen and who wouldn’t adore her as he did. She’d worry her bottom lip, like she was doing right now, before changing topic. She’d wondered why it was rainy that day. And cold, so very cold.

But this morning, they had arrived here as if in a dream and it was bright and sunny. And definitely not the library. Their table and chairs sat on a cobbled patio just outside the house, the table an old round mahogany three legged number covered in a bright white lace cloth. The service was white bone china with traditional blue design; the pattern of most particular interest was a fire breathing dragon of Chinese variety.  Overall, the entire setting was stylish and economized, food set out but only just enough for one.

Above them, the expanse of an oak’s canopy shielded then from the indeterminate light and nearby a grand horse chestnut tree delicately bloomed in white and pink glory. All along the side of the house, the garden was in bloom and flowers buzzed with insects where the light bathed them. He could even smell the moss in between the cobblestones and the gentle perfume from a lilac bush somewhere.

That all would have been remarkable enough if somehow this little oasis was not situated just stone’s throw from a large tightly bound wooden crate. The edges of their tea garden reality didn’t reach to the crate; it stood in solemn stark white silence with one notable oddity. It sat under a tree laden with large yellow fruit.
She picked up her saucer and stirred her tea, that eyebrow still perilously arced above her critical eye as she turned her head slightly toward the crate just opposite them.

“I don’t really understand what she sees in him.”

His smile faded.  He knew they were bound to get to that but he had been hoping they could enjoy their surroundings a bit more. He was rather enjoying it himself. It had been a very long time indeed. And never in a garden such as this.

“Dear,” he let whatever passed for Vox in this place sweeten his words, “it is for her to decide. You know that.”

She set the saucer back down, the china clinking loudly. “Well, I don’t see why he gets to rearrange the furniture." She then swooped in with steely utensils for a scone with clotted cream, slapping the cream onto her plate. “And what’s our lemon tree doing there outside instead of in the greenhouse? Traitorous fruit!”

He leaned forward and covered her hand clutching the knife as she struggled to control the emotions all over her face. It had been a long time that she had been bottled up inside and she, of course, wanted to run about freely across the whole of the estate. But knowing her, she would try running things as soon as any measure of freedom was realized.

That was why he had long ago taken her to the basement, to the darkest corner of that forbidding place and shown her who dwelled there.  When she had recovered from the shock and asked him how it had happened, he had had to explain the danger of too many memories kept too close to the surface without rules. It would drive her mad.

As was often the case, his tenderness toward her made her more vulnerable and gave rise to glistening eyes. “It’s not fair. I haven’t had any time with her. I want to speak with her. I have so much to tell her.”

He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a handkerchief. But as she looked up at him, he moved closer and brushed the tears from her cheek with his thumb, cupping her face. She smiled meekly and covered his hand with her own.

Then he watched her eyes turn calculating and steeled himself against the barbed comment that was to come.

“Dan never got to rearrange the furniture. He never even got into the house.”

He pulled his hand away and sat back with a shake of his head. She was just starting on this topic, if history was to prove. “Darcie…”

She picked up a napkin and dabbed at her eyes. “Dan never even recognized our existence. Ridiculous soulless man! To think he’s raising our daughter without supervision. Poor child probably doesn’t even know what real tea is!” She snapped the napkin as punctuation.

“Exactly my point, love. She is living her life. We must let her do that. It is her lifetime. We must stand at the ready and be prepared when she needs us.” The words were direct but necessary. Darcie knew the dangers, had seen the results, and completely agreed with the compromise. She just needed reminding from time to time.

“I know my duty. I am prepared.” Darcie shot him a steely look. “Do you think I comb through every article we’ve ever read and have written whole books full of hypotheses just to pass the time?” Her face softened in a way he loved to watch. She smiled sheepishly. “Well, I suppose I do. Mostly.” The sheep turned to wolf.

“We’ve found other ways to pass the time here. Can we not enjoy this brilliant day as well as our tea?” he asked fervently. Then, with a bit of a sulk, he added. “I’m beginning to think you grow tired of me, old decrepit thing that I am.”

She could arc an eyebrow just as well as he. “I’ll not let you derail my thoughts to that particular…bend.” Her eyes gainsaid her words.

The growing light hadn’t yet reached through the canopy of leaves above them but a few dapples of it fell upon his face, warming his cheek. They exchanged a smile knowing there was no hurry here; other dalliances could wait until after tea. He leaned his head back, hopeful. 

“We do enjoy our time together here, don’t we?” he asked her.

“Oh yes, Val, I’ll never disparage that.” She went back to her tea, sipping at it.

Confident in her admission, he pressed on. “Things are in motion. Great change is coming. She will need both of us again very soon, I feel. This puzzle he presents will require our full facilities.”

She stopped mid-sip, pulling the tea cup from her lips. “A puzzle indeed. But first some things need to be set aright.”

Valerian tilted his head at Darcie, wondering what she was on about now with that wicked smart schoolmarm look on her face. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Leave it to you to forget that the foundations of scientific inquiry are based on fact. I’ll put it down to your romantic sensibilities.” He laughed at that. She set down her tea and began straightening the silverware. He admired how her hands had to absentmindedly fiddle as she worked out a problem.

When she continued, the jilted scientist was back. “In fundamental ways, she has constructed her own memories despite us. It’s easy for you to say to wait patiently when I’m the one who has to dodge her constructed simulacra of me floating around the halls like forgetful ghosts, mute about the truth of things. You don’t even appear to her at all here, just a shadow that falls in corners and down hallways that she avoids, a page in that book that terrifies her. It’s all fine for us to try and ignore her altogether until I stumble into her direct thinking and have to stand by helplessly while you jump into the nearest cupboard to avoid being seen. What help can we provide her when she disremembers so much? No, we must air out these halls before she can access the library or all her theories will be based on error.”

Jilted was right. But adored as well. Protective to the last. Of him. He sat in awe of it, how this other self could be readying to wage a campaign of clarification on his behalf. He even saw her nostrils flare as she grabbed hold of a knife and struck at the heart of the scone as if to emphasize. It made him worry a little over what she might do, what ripples of recollection might break through to the surface.

“You have forgotten, dearest, she has come to believe you murdered me!” Darcie continued with zeal. “And that cannot stand!”

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