20 comments

Romance Contemporary

I listened and waited for Lizzie to say, ‘when’ as I poured the milk into her teacup. Adding milk was the easy part, having committed to memory the exact shade of her favourite beverage. She’d always smile and claim my expertise was more due to luck than judgement. I’d chuckle in response and put it down to my discerning eye and training with inscrutable baristas in far-flung lands.

‘Almost perfect,’ she’d say, after judging the colour of the steaming brew.

‘You’d expect no less,’ I’d say, and she’d raise a finger to curtail our exchange and close her eyes in readiness for her role in our ritual. Inhaling the perfumed aroma was the crucial realisation of our custom and the ultimate test. I’d hold my breath in rapt expectation as she lowered her face to allow the tea’s delicate scent to tease her nostrils. It was all part of the mystique and imbued the occasion with a quasi-religious air. In another universe, we might’ve been sharing sacramental wine and nibbling communion wafers at a church altar, rather than occupying our usual table in Gerry’s Café on Brighton seafront.

#

Only the local gulls had the temerity to interrupt our afternoon pots of Earl Grey; sometimes they screeched throughout our entire tryst. They’d hover outside and peck at abandoned scraps or dive bomb inquisitive pedestrians who dared to trespass on our hallowed ground and gawp through Gerry’s windows at his wood panelled interior, eclectic decor and ramshackle furnishings. It’s a shame Gerry couldn’t extend his domain to discourage them or insist on a silent hour for us to appreciate his decadent offerings. A discrete rope, twenty yards of course netting and a couple of stout bollards would keep the pests at bay, and the wretched birds too. Gerry laughed at our suggestion and agreed it would improve matters no end, however needs must. Without new custom, he’d have no business and then we’d lose our favourite seaside haunt. 

Lizzie tolerated the harsh transient sounds invading our epicurean haven and ignored the airborne scavengers, providing I observed a reverential hush. Without my jovial remarks to entertain and distract her, she could disregard the world outside. She’d allow herself to be transported to a spiritual dimension meant for sensualists blessed with refined olfactory glands and cultivated taste buds. 

Wherever Lizzie disappeared to during those indulgent encounters, she enjoyed moments that were beyond description and bordered on pure rapture. I struggled to engage with the tea in such a profound way, being more earthbound and practical, however I appreciated our unworldly time together and I’ve missed whiling away our time by the sea. Hand in hand on the shingle beach or strolling along the water’s edge, we’d wander for a couple of miles and collect stones with holes; the victims of eons of attrition. Near the North Pier’s decaying carcass, we’d rest our bones and wait for the starlings to gather on its rusting frame. Every evening as the sun caressed the shimmering horizon, clouds of soot black starlings ventured upward and swooped in one gigantic cloud; a diabolical murmuration that behaved like one entity; a living being possessed with intent and a sight to behold forevermore.

#

The crucial part of our tea ritual had no specific duration. It depended on how Lizzie reacted to the delicate wafting vapours. Would she be satisfied or reject the pot and request an immediate replacement? It was never ‘just so’ when we first met, but as time elapsed, I honed my skills and offered satisfaction on tap. She’d indicate her appreciation by allowing a gentle exhalation to slip past her lips, and her pale eyelids would part to reveal pools of the deepest blue. I recall catching my breath the first time I observed this phenomenon; we’d only just met, a first date or the afternoon after the night before, maybe? It was as if the clouds had parted to reveal cerulean skies beyond; the first true moment of a new day in an unfamiliar land with only a refreshing breeze to ground my shell-shocked sensibilities. 

 #

We’d visited our favourite ‘tea-by-the-sea’ enough times to know the shape and feel of every teacup available to us. It was rare to encounter a matching pair of the cups at Gerry’s Café. His selection of crockery was mismatched in pattern and design; it was part of the charm. However, we had our favourites and who doesn’t? 

We both agreed that the cream cups with the blue polka dots were the best and ‘almost perfect.’ They were larger than standard teacups and boasted a wide brim, like traditional French bistro cups. Gerry said he intended them for coffee drinkers, who liked to dunk their croissants in a high roasted Velluto Nero. Regardless, we decided they were ideal for a long draught of tea and offered a greater surface area from which to enjoy the gentle fragrance. The deciding factor was that our special cups had matching saucers, another rare occurrence at Gerry’s Café. I think he must have kept them to one side, because without fail, the spotty vessels accompanied every order until our final visit together, and even after that time; when I returned by myself and requested a pot of tea for two and two cups. 

#

It had to be full-fat milk, of course; a simple luxury we allowed ourselves throughout our relationship. We’d debated the benefits of half-fat and in balance, we’d agreed to make dietary concessions elsewhere. Full-fat milk was as close to cream as we dared to go without forgoing a slice of Gerry’s homemade cake to share. On special occasions, we allowed ourselves a slice each and ‘mixed-and-matched’. 

Carrot cake and date-and-walnut were on offer that last day together; and being our anniversary, we couldn’t resist. After thirty years in training, I’d made the grade and knew how to satiate her soul’s desire. I’d learned to anticipate Lizzie’s ‘when’ and as the amber juices ran from the curved spout, I dared to look her in the eye, gauging the amount of liquid required by sound alone. Stemming the flow to a mere dribble by tilting the teapot back to kilter, I concluded by allowing a single droplet to disturb the tea’s quivering meniscus. She mouthed the word ‘when’ in a breathless whisper, and I sighed. It was as if we’d perfected a magical potion together, a divine infusion to cure all ills and soothe our bisected soul.


The End







January 15, 2022 04:51

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20 comments

Coffee Mc Cann
04:14 Jan 20, 2022

Wonderful story. The descriptions made it seem so real, now I want to visit Gerry’s Café.

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Howard Halsall
04:38 Jan 20, 2022

Hello Coffee, Thank you for reading my little tale of tea and love and loss. I appreciate your positive feedback and look forward to reading more of your stories in the future. HH :)

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Nancy Renken
17:11 Jan 25, 2022

Beautiful imagery.

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Howard Halsall
00:34 Jan 26, 2022

Hello Nancy, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your response; it’s much appreciated. HH :)

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Elena Crudu
22:49 Jan 19, 2022

Beautiful story Howard. You have a lovely way to paint the setting and the background of the story. I was there!

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Howard Halsall
22:55 Jan 19, 2022

Hello Elena, Thank you for reading my latest submission and leaving such a positive comment; it’s much appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed it and relieved that it made sense... HH :)

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15:49 Jan 19, 2022

Wow! I felt every word! Very tender, very touching! Loved it!

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Howard Halsall
06:40 Jan 21, 2022

Thank you Rebecca, I appreciate your positive comments and I’m relieved it all made sense. I wasn’t sure how it was going to read, given the tense and the nostalgic tone. HH :)

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Lorna Carruthers
09:46 Jan 19, 2022

Hello, this was such a sweet telling of two people's spiritual bond over tea and the development of the process of preparing it. Telling it from a nostalgic perspective adds to the emotion, and the feeling of loss for it all. Nice work :)

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Howard Halsall
10:43 Jan 19, 2022

Hello Lorna, Thank you for reading my story and taking the time to leave a positive comment. You got it right away; love and loss and sublime moments of bliss... HH :)

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Mae Stroshane
15:36 Jan 18, 2022

Lovely and sensual in every way - tea as a metaphor for long-lasting love between two people. My favorite line is "It was as if we’d perfected a magical potion together, a divine infusion to cure all ills and soothe our bisected soul." Well-done! I look forward to reading more of your stories!

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Howard Halsall
15:46 Jan 18, 2022

Hello Mae, Thank you for taking the time to read my story and leave positive comments; it’s much appreciated. HH :)

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Olivia Jackson
13:52 Jan 17, 2022

It's just beautiful...so beautiful...

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Howard Halsall
15:29 Jan 17, 2022

Hello Olivia, Thank you for reading my story and leaving such a positive comment, it’s much appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed it and relieved that it made sense. HH :)

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Kevin Marlow
22:32 Jan 16, 2022

Stunning vocabulary throughout, a delightful read, love expressed through a simple ritual.

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Howard Halsall
23:21 Jan 16, 2022

Hey Kevin, Thank you for reading my story and leaving such a positive response. It’s much appreciated. HH

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Anna Nonymous
18:09 Jan 16, 2022

So much beautiful language in this, Howard. I particularly loved this lines "we’d wander for a couple of miles and collect stones with holes; the victims of eons of attrition" and "I honed my skills and offered satisfaction on tap". Love the discussion of perfect tea mugs - we all have our preferences. My favorite are the American diner-style mugs that are so heavy and thick you could heave them across the room without them breaking. This was a really lovely moment in and across time. Well done.

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Howard Halsall
18:43 Jan 16, 2022

Hello Hannah, Thank you for reading my latest story and taking the time to leave positive comments; they’re much appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed it and relieved that it all made sense. HH

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12:58 Jan 19, 2022

So much thought obviously went into this story and it pays off!! The imagery and vocabulary complement the story beautifully.

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Howard Halsall
06:37 Jan 21, 2022

Hello Katelin, Thank you for reading my story and leaving a positive response, it’s much appreciated. It was a fun tale to tell and I’m relieved that it worked out. HH :)

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