Dominique sat patiently at the table in her garden, the gentle breeze stirring her hair and the birds chirping their greetings. It had been a long, tiring week and she’d looked forward to this rare but cherished opportunity for teatime with her grandmother. The table was beautifully set, as her Grandmother would have done, with a linen table cloth, matching linen napkins, a lovely fresh floral center piece, and a silver tea set that had been in her family since the early 1700’s. Her dress had been chosen carefully; a blushing pink full skirt with a cream colored bodice that she’d made by hand herself. Her grandmother had taught her many things including sewing, canning and preserving food, and how to dance properly with a gentleman. There were precious few gentlemen left with which to dance properly, but twenty three year old Dominique occasionally went to the popular nightclubs to dance in a more modern style.

  She’d gotten everything ready a little early this time. Her grandmother would not show until it was four o’clock, sharp. She had never believed in being fashionably late, nor earlier than the hosts had decreed. Somehow, her whole life, she had been everywhere she had needed to be precisely on time. You could have set your clock to her back then, and that was still true now.

   At precisely 4 PM, the teatime her grandmother had held sacred her entire life, Beatrix Alexandra Armstrong made her appearance. She smoothly glided over to the chair left pulled out for her and, with her back held ramrod straight, gracefully lowered herself into it.

  “Good afternoon, dear,” greeted the regal woman warmly.

“Good afternoon, grandmother,” replied Dominique. “I’ve missed you. I really look forward to our time together.” Beatrix nodded and smiled her gentle agreement. They were only able to meet four times a year, on the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice, the Autumn Equinox, and the Winter Solstice. It had always been this way. Dominique didn’t know where her grandmother spent the rest of the year, and she knew better than to ask. It was considered rude to question your elders, and Beatrix was extremely old-fashioned, but it wasn’t really fair to judge her for it. A ghost had precious little to cling to. Tradition was vital to them.

   “Shall I serve?” Dominique murmured. She would have to. Ghosts aren’t very good at grasping solid objects, and anything that was clumsily done was best not done at all, in my grandmother’s view. Beatrix nodded her consent and Dominique poured the scalding tea into the delicate china teacups. There were scones and biscuits (what Americans refer to as ‘cookies’) but Dominique only had them because her grandmother expected them to be there. Beatrix couldn’t drink the tea or enjoy the food, but it was what was served at a proper teatime, whether or not she could partake mattered not at all.

  “How have you been, granddaughter?” Beatrix’s voice was still silky and feminine, despite being nearly 90 when she had passed on.

  “Oh. I’ve been OK,” Dominique’s manner of speech became more and more informal now that the polite greetings and niceties had been observed.

  “No more trouble with that young scoundrel, Benjamin?” she cocked an eyebrow.

Dominique smiled slyly, “Uh, what scoundrel, Grandmother?”

   Beatrix wasn’t amused. “Come now, you know the one I’m referring to. The one who asked you to dinner and then went with another young lady to the motion pictures.” Grandmother still called the movies ‘motion pictures’ although Dominique suspected the term had been out of date even in her Grandmother’s time, but she let that one slip by without comment. At least she didn’t call them “talkies”.

  “Well, I did what you said and confronted him. He said they are just friends. I don’t believe him one bit, but Grandmother, we aren’t engaged. He can see whomever he likes.”

  “Oh, I know it’s fine to have multiple prospects, dear, but I was so hoping he would see how special you are and extend his promise.” Beatrix had called him a scoundrel, but Dominique had shown her some pictures of Trace and she’d taken an instant liking to his boyish looks. He had an open, almost innocent smile. Dominique actually preferred a man to be a bit rough around the edges, but Trace was good company. “Perhaps if he thought you had other beaus, he’d be more attentive,” she suggested.

   “I’m not really for commitment yet anyway, Grandmother.” She tried not to let the thought of disappointing Beatrix weigh her down. Her Grandmother only wanted her to be happy anyway, and happiness can only be found by looking, not settling.

  “Well,” Beatrix sighed, “I’m sure you two will work things out on your own.” If she’d still been alive, she’d have been patting Dominique’s hand reassuringly. They tried to avoid physical contact. It was uncomfortable for them both.

 Time passed quickly but Dominique knew that even though teatime always had to begin at 4:00 sharp, it could extend as for long as they liked. Beatrix was as loathe to leave Dominique as Dominique was to see her go.

  The two women chatted companionably for another half hour, then Beatrix began watching the sun and Dominique knew her time was almost at an end. She dearly loved her grandmother, prim and proper but so very loving. She could tell her anything, even details of her life that were considered to be quite scandalous in her relative’s day, without judgment or chastisement. Boyfriends, parties, even the occasional hangover had all been topics at their visits. Her grandmother would give her an affectionate smile and make some small remark about how much fun the modern world must be, which would have shocked anyone else but Dominique. Her grandmother was Old World classy but with a heart of gold.

   Beatrix Armstrong was the mother of eleven children and the grandmother of twelve. She hadn’t had any great-grandchildren at the time of her death, but a few had been born since. Dominique was always sure to bring recent pictures and anecdotes to Beatrix’s delight.

 As the sun began to sink lower, her grandmother bade her farewell and began to slowly fade from view. Dominique already anticipated the next solstice. Someday, when her life here was over, she knew she would be able to have tea with Beatrix and day and any time of the year, but only ever at four o’clock. Sharp.

March 10, 2020 18:08

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