Bev reached into the cupboard with one gnarled hand, misshapen by arthritis and spotted with new bruises. In spite of the fact that her auburn hair had faded to a lackluster, white-streaked brown, and that her face was now shrouded by a patchwork of intersecting creases, Bev still maintained her youthful countenance. Old age had snuck up on her like a winter blizzard arriving too early in the season. She was not prepared. Many times, she was silenced when her body let her down. Because inside, she never changed. She never grew old. While she steeped a cup of tea, just to warm herself from the inside out, she planned the tea party for a special guest of honor.
Bev selected her favorite china pattern for this afternoon’s tea. Guests would arrive at four, she believed, so she consulted her checklist to make sure she would be ready. So frustrating to write everything done now. She had decided on one of her classic vintage collections since this was a special occasion. At first, she had planned to use the Blue Willow pattern, with its intricate, distinctive blue Japanese drawings, painted across the porcelain to tell a story of love. She and Todd had purchased an eight-piece set when he was stationed in Europe. Not the version made in Japan of course, since Todd avoided anything made in Asia. This china was produced in England. She held so many wonderful memories of other occasions using this china set, however, she eventually decided on the Portmeiron. She knew that the delicate floral illustrations would be perfect for that day’s tea.
Bev brought the set of five dessert plates, cups, and saucers to the dining room table. She had previously spread out her finest lace tablecloth, the one with the most delicate weave, like the beauty of the morning’s spider web glistening on the eaves. After she set a proper table, she began heating the water to fill the matching teapot. When she turned to place the platter of biscuits on the table, Bev was surprised to see Miss Crocker already sitting down.
“Oh, Miss Crocker! When did you slip in?” Bev was so pleased to see her, after such a long absence. “How delightful to see you, dear.”
Bev positioned the napkin and plate a little closer to Miss Crocker, and then added a biscuit, brownie, and some fruit.
“The others will be here soon. I’ll get the tea.”
She walked over to open the pantry door and there was Mr. Silas, sitting on a chair beside the counter. He was slightly leaned over, but dressed very smartly in his three-piece suit, even though she never meant this to be a formal affair. But isn’t that nice!
“Oh, my goodness, Mr. Silas! What on earth are you doing over here in the corner? Let me help you to your seat at the table. Right this way,” Bev filled his plate as she had done for Miss Crocker, placing an extra cookie as well.
“Miss Hart should be here at any moment. And then, our guest of honor!!!! My grandson is coming!” Bev clapped her hands and was radiant with excitement.
Josh finished up his meeting and checked his daily calendar. He had one more zoom call scheduled at 2 p.m. and then he was going to visit Nana. Josh and Nana had an especially close relationship. He started calling her every other day after Pops died. And Nana’s cooking was the best. Ever. No doubt that their relationship was established when he was young. Nana had always been so involved with all of his school events. Josh remembered looking up from the basketball court and always being able to spot Nana and Pops. He loved their matching shirts in the school colors, and their enthusiasm for every play he made. Even his friends loved his Nana. He was looking forward to their visit today. I hope she’s made her cheesecake bars again.
Josh turned 40 last week, and Nana had insisted that he come to her home for teatime. The two of them shared tea during most of their outings, starting as early as his college days. During every visit home, he and Nana would go shopping and then always stop for a cuppa. As the years moved on, and shopping visits became a little trickier for Nana with her new hip, they started to go to shows. She loved theatre and she shared her wealth of information with Josh. It was their routine to share a spot of tea at a nearby café afterwards.
Nana had mentioned she was making plans for today’s teatime. Josh hoped that she hadn’t worn herself out. She usually did overdo anything involved with entertaining. It was just her nature, and there wasn’t much Josh could do about it. I’ll bring her some fresh flowers for the table.
Bev walked from the bedroom to the dining room where her guests were waiting.
“Look who I found in the back bedroom! Now that Miss Hart is here I shall pour the tea!” Bev placed Miss Hart in the nearest chair to Miss Crocker and made her guest an identical plate of sweets.
Bev poured the steaming tea all around, fixed her own plate with treats, and then halfway collapsed into the mahogany dining chair. She closed her eyes briefly, shutting out the world from her dimming vision, and fondly relived purchasing the dining set with Todd long ago.
Bev opened her eyes, and for the slightest fraction of time, something didn’t seem right. For a split second, Bev was not aware of what was going on and realized she had dozed off while sitting at the table. It was disorienting to then wake up so suddenly. It was so brief, but it did cause Bev to steady herself by grasping the edge of the table. This simple act was enough to right the ship. And she laughed at the very thought of it. How embarrassing!
Josh pulled his Land Rover into Nana’s driveway, grabbed the flowers from the passenger’s side, and exited the car. He noticed that Nana’s daily newspaper lay halfway on the sidewalk and garden, apparently right where it had been thrown that morning. Josh leaned down, picked the journal up, and tucked it under his arm.
He knocked on the door and waited briefly, but then turned the knob and opened it slowly.
“Nana, hey, it’s me. Are you here?”
“Hello? Who’s there?” The weakness of Nana’s voice startled Josh, making him think she was napping.
Laughing slightly, Josh headed to the kitchen. “Nana, did you forget I was coming over today?” He retrieved a vase from Nana’s extensive stash from all the years of flower arrangements. He filled the container by a third and carefully placed the flowers.
“Oh, no dear, I didn’t forget at all. You’re the honored guest! Come join us in the dining room.” Nana sounded a bit perkier than her first greeting.
Josh left the newspaper on the counter and carried the vase to the dining room.
The lighting was dim with the shades drawn shut. The table was filled with treats of all kinds. Nana’s favorite teapot sat on a trivet with spirals of steam clouding the spout. Nana sat at the end of the table, all smiles. “Happy Birthday darling boy. Eric, this is all for you!” Nana occasionally called Josh by his own father’s name, Eric. She had been doing this for as long as he could remember. It happens. Josh looked so much like his dad.
But that wasn’t what was alarming. Not at all. For placed around the table, propped up in front of their overflowing plates, were some of the animals and dolls from her vintage collection. There sat Miss Crocker, the old, overstuffed bunny, wearing a hat he had seen before on one Nana’s favorite collector dolls. The bunny’s small pink mouth, with half the stitches long worn off, was smeared with chocolate and a brownie lay crumbled on the lace tablecloth.
“Nana, what’s going on here?” Josh tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
“Why Eric, dear, a few of my friends are joining us for teatime. Let me serve up a plate for you!” And then Nana started to push herself away from the table to stand up.
Josh quickly reached her side before she was even standing. “No Nana, it’s fine. You sit, let me pull up my chair.” He helped her sit back down, noticing how hot her skin felt under his hands. He pulled a chair right next to hers, while he looked across the table. The entire time, he was thinking of a plan of action.
“Do you know Mr. Silas and Miss Hart?” Nana reached for her tea, but half of the contents sloshed onto the lace. Josh steadied her hand and checked that it was tepid so she wouldn’t get burned.
Mr. Silas, the only ‘boy’ doll that he remembered seeing in Nana’s spare room, was dressed in a gentleman’s suit and hat. Miss Hart was one of the older dolls, with jointless limbs that didn’t articulate. So, she stood at slanted attention on the chair, her blonde, shiny curls cascading down the front of the pink satin dress. One black patent leather shoe was on, the other one missing.
On the ride to the emergency room, Josh held Nana’s hand. He had cleaned her up from the tea party, promising a ride in his new car. He had only witnessed a few very minor incidences of forgetfulness over the past year with Nana. Nothing alarming. There was the time that Nana told him she found her car keys on the fridge shelf, and they both had laughed. But today, when he gathered a few of her things, knowing that he couldn’t return her to her house alone, he knew she would stay with him. He hoped Nana wouldn’t have to stay in the hospital.
He prayed that this was a reversible event. Maybe she had an infection, something minor that twisted her thinking and muddled her thoughts. Maybe she just needed an antibiotic and life would be back to normal. But while he rushed to pack a bag of her essentials, he had been disheartened, frightened, and even shamed when he noticed yellow post-it notes placed all over her bedroom. He never usually went in there. Why would I? He read through the first few notes. ‘Josh called 4:44 pm Sunday’, was stuck on her dresser mirror. ‘Tell Josh about the sprinkler hitting the car’, was on her bedside stand next to her phone charger. ‘Josh called Tuesday 1:35’, precariously hung on the bathroom door. He scanned the room and noticed dozens of yellow and pink notes stuck on various locations of her bedroom.
Josh pulled up to the emergency room patient entrance and parked. He helped Nana out of the car. Visitors in the waiting room smiled as they saw the beautiful grandmother walking arm in arm with the handsome young man.
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Hi Alice, I received your story from the Critique Circle and I enjoyed reading it very much. I loved the detail you went into regarding Bev. I have quite a clear imagine in my mind of what she looks like! I look forward to reading your future work, Alice.
Thank you, Louise!
Hi Alice, I think you did a tremendous work with the way you weaved the story around Nana's dolls being treated as humans before Josh's arrival revealed otherwise. The suspense towards the end is also good. Very good work. Please keep improving!