Cup Of Tea?
Winning Entry by JC
The sight of the offering made her draw breath. 'Thank you, but I wonder if I could trouble you for a cup of tea?'
The footman's tentacle flushed green, purple and blue, and her father hissed under his breath. 'Miranda, this is gharmwutch. To refuse is unthinkable. Take one quickly before you cause an incident.'
Miranda felt her nails digging into her palms. Being a diplomat's daughter sucked. The worst part was when she had to stand in at functions. Eyeing the silver platter of pulsating, dirty-yellow slime blobs, each fixed to a wafer, she understood why her mother so often claimed illness. Tentatively she reached for the smallest.
'My daughter is honored, your highness,' her father said, speaking to the stick on three legs whose hair hung to the floor like wet strands of kelp.
Raising the disgusting object to her mouth, Miranda took a breath - and wished she'd closed her eyes. Has she done so she wouldn't have seen the middle section of the slime rear and twist as though trying to escape her reluctant teeth.
She turned to the Kroutchaa king. 'This gharmwutch is very active.'
The translator chirruped her words and the stick creature ran twiggy fingers through its royal seaweed. The data chip she'd studied the night before said such a gesture indicated gracious acceptance of a compliment.
Miranda brought the yellow slime closer, wishing they hadn't fastened it to the wafer. Free, the blob might have slid down whole, like an oyster. This way she'd be forced to do a certain amount of crunching.
'Have you been to Earth, my lord?' she asked, putting off the shudder-inducing moment.
He twittered at her. It was the only thing she liked about the Kroutchaa - their beautiful way of talking - reminiscent of a magpie's warble.
'I have not,' the translator said in a masculine, unaccented voice.
Her ankle received a sharp kick and she winced but otherwise ignored her father's prodding.
'We don't have gharmwutch on Earth,' she said.
The reaction was a wonderfully melodic string of notes.
The translator spoke in its featureless monotone. 'How terrible for you. What do you serve honoured guests?'
She considered, watching the filthy slime squirm on its wafer. 'Well, you can never go wrong with a nice cup of tea.'
The king addressed one of his footmen in delightful song and Miranda's father took the opportunity to glare at her pointedly.
'Of course our tea can't compare to a gharmwutch,' he said as the noble Kroutchaa turned back to them.
Miranda sighed. Everyone was looking at her. She shoved the wafer into her mouth and chewed quickly. No speed, however, would have been fast enough to prevent the slime blob from squirting the noxious fluid of its death throes into ever corner of her mouth.
In her travels with her parents over the past sixteen years Miranda had smelt many unpleasant things. The worst was a highly prized flower grown on a planet orbiting Rigel. The scent of this flower could fairly be likened to a badly decaying corpse with high tones of vomit. Until this moment she'd never even thought about how such a smell would taste, but now she knew.
'How fortunate it is,' her father said as Miranda's eyes filled with tears and she swallowed hard against the gag reflex, 'that humans are able to enjoy the exquisite charms of gharmwutch, with the help of this.'
He produced a small white pill, which Miranda seized and gulped down. The result was instantaneous. Her buckling legs straightened and she actually managed the required shaky spin of thanks to her host before reaching for a glass of water.
She assumed her parents had endured this ritual on their first visit - gharmwutch was only ever offered once, thank God - and she wondered how they'd coped with the lingering aftertaste. No amount of the water she gulped seemed to assuage it.
A new footman arrived with another tray and Miranda went weak. Please no. Not some other horror. The king chirruped and the translator went into its boring rendition. 'My kitchen staff has researched and produced your Earthly greeting beverage.'
Miranda peered down at the light brown fluid in the cup. An aromatic fragrance reached her nostrils and trembling slightly, she lifted the cup, sipped, sighed. Two more sips and the aftertaste of gharmwutch disappeared.
She looked at the king and placed a finger on her nose as a sign of extreme appreciation.
'The gharmwutch was exceptional,' she said. 'But there's nothing like a cup of tea.'
This quiet moment, while leaves
steep in tea's deepening hue,
we can take a breath and release
the thieves secreting away our time.
We can sweep our worries
into the keep, dissolve our wan
tears in this cup of clear infusion.
What good is it to weep,
when the worries will keep?
See, now the sun that grew these
leaves can seep into our hearts
and we can reap the time we take
to simply be here, holding our cups
in our cold hands, together.
My family has had tea at least four times today. We listen to the unfurling of leaves in the warmest of waters. A green ocean that washes over the build up—we cannot see past our guts.
In time, things shed and we believe in this remedy. The melting of food accumulated. And after a few sips, I’m detoxicated.
I say things I usually keep to myself. My parents become loving in my eyes. My brother laughs as always.
I tell my father I have a bladder problem. He says it’s genetic like every peculiar part of me. My uneven eyes are his and so are my bathroom habits.
“Sometimes I excuse myself from class to pee and just before returning to the room, before I open the door, I have to walk back to the bathroom.
I never know when it’s empty, Dad.”
He doesn’t either. I imagine a younger him waiting for the bus, worrying about the first day of classes. His legs crossed, holding it in.
It’s called a nervous pee, I explain.
My mother lets the faucet run and adjusts the handle for a thin stream. She catches the water with our stained cups, filling each half of the way.
“Ma, I like the tea stains. They’re like patina.”
She thinks I’m crazy as she makes whirlpools to rinse the ceramic.
The way my mother washes cups is genetic. Like her, I turn down the faucet to a thin stream and think about saving fish in the ocean.
The running faucet sounds like relief.
At the table, my brother doesn’t understand these specifics, but I plan to tell him about it later.
He should know that the way he pinched me when we were kids is the exact way Mom teased our young aunts and uncles.
Then he’ll laugh and tell me that our young dad’s thick black hair fell from his head because I was born.
My father’s black hair is now mine.