Thursday, August 27, 2009

High Tea

In the dark of the twilight there lit a blue shimmer of nocilucent cloud high above the earth brightening the ambient light. The summer rains had ended and the sky was an obsidian blue glass but for the shimmer. The cicadas were in full guttural pitch announcing the oncoming fall and the return of the yellow school buses filled with children headed for school. It meant an end to the fun and frolic of the easy days of laze and haze. Across the valley an old Victorian house stood still against the sky. The haunt of the light had thrown many a children into a state of panic on a “dare.”

The lonely occupant of this house was an old lady known vaguely to her neighbors. To the children she had powers beyond those of a normal human being. She could transfix you in a stupor so that only pee on the pant legs was a reminder of the magic. She could also make the bats suddenly come out of the house gables and swarm over you – one bat maybe. The myth of the magic powers escalated to such a degree that transgression onto the lady’s property became a source of “hazing ritual.” amongst children. A little boy too young to be involved was egged on by his seniors, did just that and fell as his foot caught on the uneven ground.

“I am so sorry about your son’s injury.” The old lady with her gnarled hands lost in a sea of tremors barely able to hold the pot of tea in her hands apologized.

“I see the children playing outside all the time and I let them enjoy their little games.” She said with a loud whisper that had a deep undulating tone like that of Katherine Hepburn. It made her sound as if her voice was an analog recording on a warped old 78-RPM vinyl record.

“Would you like some sugar dear?” She asked.

“No thank you.”

“Good for you. It causes diabetes anyway.” She stated bluntly. "Look at me. I have been living with this for five years now. My doctors tell me I may have to move out of the house and live in assisted living.”

 “I am sorry to hear that.”

“I have lived all of my 75 years in this house. “ Her voice lowered to a whisper. The cloudy eyes shimmered with emotion but the dignity of her past helped her through the moment. “I don’t know if I could do it.”

“These sandwiches are great.”

“Why thank you.”

“Did you make them?”

“I make them every day.” She paused a moment and without regret or thought she referenced a natural event, “In the old days if no one visited, I would eat them myself, but now I feed them to the birds.” Here she looked out of the window. A glint of smile touched the corners of her once delicate mouth. “See!”

Between the sheer curtains and the dusty windowpanes four little birds sat perched on the banister of the balcony, twittering away, awaiting their gourmet meal.
“I feed them out of my hand.” She said with a sense of pride and joy.

“They give you company?”

“They do.”

“Don’t you have a family?”

“I do.” Her eyes brightened a bit and then the stare of solitude overwhelmed the eyelids. “But they live far from here in different States. Besides they have their own families and I would not want to burden them.” Her hands now folded on her lap as the bony fingers harvested comfort in their clasp.

“I am sure you would not be a burden to anyone.”

“Why bless you for saying that.” The little joy in the sea of wilderness seemed to raise her spirits. “But I want to leave my three sons and their children and theirs all that I have.” The wistful look of resignation crossed her eyes again. “The well-meaning people from the State keep coming and telling me that it would be in my interest to move. Sell the house and that can pay for me to stay in the assisted living.” Her voice raised a decibel, “What do they know about my life and my wants?” With her fingers now untied from the clasp, she gestured by approximating the finger and thumb of her right hand, squeezing the air between, “They know nothing.”

“Yes but you do have to look after yourself too.”

The ornate small teacup was empty of its content.

“May I pour you some more?”

“No thank you. That was just wonderful.”

“The world has changed. We don’t live for one another anymore.” She answered. It was so truthful and symbolic of times. “I am sure your parents are proud of you. You spend all this time listening to an old lady and her complaints.” She said as she cleared the table of the food and plates onto a tray. She talked some more and then growing tired she grew silent.

“It has been my pleasure. Maybe you can visit our house next door and you can show your magical powers to my kids.”

She laughed quietly as she slowly lifted the tray off the table. Refusing all help and with her slow determined yet quiet dignity carried it to the kitchen. 

The next afternoon as the tree shadows shortened and the bright light of the sun burnt the fog of the still Sunday afternoon, a police car drove over to the old Victorian house. Moments later an ambulance arrived without any fanfare of lights or sound. The only sound was that of rubber tires on the gravel driveway. The house that had never looked empty was made empty now. It was now devoid of its fortune - an elegant lady who made tea one late Saturday afternoon for a stranger. The birds still flew and the occasional raven still crowed and the family of chipmunks making a haven in the old oak tree still playfully ran up and down its trunk, but the earth stood still for a brief moment.

She had diabetes. This was the curse of an indulged civilization. The sugar molecules converting into fat created Insulin resistance. She had said losing weight in her later years had only helped defer the ultimate damage to her body. The slow deterioration from aging had been accelerated many-fold by diabetes. Her eyesight had weakened to requiring a magnifying glass for reading and her heart would go into a state of “pitter-patter” as she called it. Her hearing was limited and her legs had scars of poorly healed sores. The doctors had told her kidneys were failing. All this she had said with a stoicism of a wounded veteran. She lived the ruin but never dwelled or looked for sympathy. Her only concern in her conversation was what she had lived for – her family, that they would not be deprived of her limited bounty – her house and property. It was her silent chant of “Don’t cry for me, but learn from me.”

Her non-verbal cry was a simple one, “Avoid the road I have taken. Take the fork to better self-care, health and prosperity. You can live as long or longer but without the indignity of infirmity."

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