- Write a story about a tea party that your character is reluctant to go to.
A tea party? What the hell! It sounded so pretentious, but there it was, the invitation sitting in the middle of my little wooden writing desk. The illustration on the front of the card was so ornate and girly and did not speak to my minimalist nature. It had come in yesterday’s mail and I instantly scoffed at it when I pulled it out of the lavender-scented envelope. It was from a woman I had just met in a coffee shop. Somehow we had embarked on one of those chance conversations where you’re both sitting there and your latte is now just milky remnants in the bottom of your cup. You find yourself staring off into space and your eyes land on each other.
But on that rainy afternoon I had admired the fact that neither of us was on our phones. We were taking a moment without the aid of apps or messages or curiously gorgeous photos. It struck me as quite unusual. Another person was actually looking at me with some friendly interest. We both started laughing at that fact. She was bubbly and instantly fun to talk to. Her curly brown hair framed a round face with large wide-set grey eyes. She had just gotten back from a cruise. I detest the idea of cruises and have never been on one but I played along. As soon as she started talking I recalled an essay by David Foster Wallace expressing his abject terror while on a cruise ship that he was certain the crazy loud whoooooosh of the toilet in his cabin was going to suck him up and carry him off to sea. I tend to let my mind wander like that in the middle of conversations, and god only knows why these random thoughts come up in my head. I suppressed the urge to release the hugest belly laugh as this lovely little person was waxing poetic about the azure ocean, the gentle motion of the ship and her meeting a really cool guy.
She was a good conversationalist and I was thinking that this was a rare moment. Nobody has verbal conversations anymore. We are daily coerced into the hunched position of texting mode. Either that or we just don’t communicate at all; we absorb all that the internet is compelled to lay at our eyes. It is equal parts fascinating and sickening.
Sickening! That is my response to a dainty pink card in front of me announcing… for all the world… a blasted tea party? What even IS that? I could only think of tea parties as being lavishly costumed takes on Alice in Wonderland. Possibly most participants in drag…or the festivities aided by psychedelics and edibles. A tea party has to be a spoof. But this invitation looked like it would involve oolong, petite iced cakes, and those tidily cut sandwiches on china plates from your grandma’s glass-doored hutch. Definitely special-occasion kind of stuff. But what was the occasion? And…I barely knew this person.
Her name was Sadie and she happily informed me of that fact before launching into the cruise ship story. She had won the cruise in a contest and didn’t have anyone to use the other ticket. So Sadie took off on a solitary adventure aboard the Sun Princess…which sailed to Jamaica and back. She was not so much interested in the destination as being on the ship and having a cabin all to herself and a view of the ocean. I couldn’t think of anything worse actually; the David Foster Wallace story creeping dangerously into my consciousness again. She paused and I anxiously welcomed her getting to the next part of her story.
So she thoroughly enjoyed herself; she loved the grandeur of the ship and would spend her days just walking from one end to the other marveling at the golden staircases, the banquet rooms, the hushed hallways with luxuriant carpeting. It was actually sounding inviting to me– the cruise ship cynic. She definitely made me feel good as she told this story…like a kid cozying up in bed for the nightly read. She had a flair. She was homespun and comfortable. My life was consumed by writing and er, coffee shops. And I was usually constantly with my head in my phone or my laptop. This day was different.
It seemed like she felt like she was talking too much and she hastily started to cap off the story. “Well, as the days went by on the ship, I met a man!” she exclaimed and the wide-set eyes sparkled. My cynical self was starting to rear its ugly head again, I had no time for a man, I barely had time for myself these days. She explained that they bumped into each other as she was going on one of her daily self-guided tours of the ship. He was equally in awe of everything about this sailing wonder and seemed to have many facts and figures to share. She found that he was like an encyclopedia of cruise ship lore. They started getting together at the dinners and he loved to regale her with his knowledge. One night he walked her back to her cabin and impulsively kissed her before she slid behind the door. The next morning it was time to disembark and she couldn’t find him anywhere. She asked some of the crew, but no one had seen him.
Just as she was about to continue her story a young, very tattooed girl came to our section of the coffee shop and announced in a tired voice, “We’re closing now, please bus your tables.” In other words, vacate now! Sadie quickly picked up her cup and said how nice it was to talk to me. As we were walking out the door, she handed me her card and asked if I had one. That was one thing I had invested in when I first started my writing career…fancy embossed business cards that identified me as author, editor, storyteller. I pressed one into her hand and she smiled and gave my arm a squeeze. “This has been fun, thanks for listening!” She turned the corner and when I looked again she was gone.
I gazed at the invitation on my desk. Should I go? Part of me was curious and the other part felt like it would be a waste of time. Did Sadie not have too many friends, so invited me to flesh out the party? I thought I had to go for some reason. It was tomorrow and I could get a lot of writing in tonight. Besides those cakes and sandwiches were calling my name…
The next morning I got up early, took a quick glance at my laptop, and added a few necessary lines to my latest non-fiction musings. My editor wanted this soon, but I was going to devote this day to a goddamn tea party. Was I really saying this to myself??
As I drove to Sadie’s house I thought about my life and how I eschewed such mainstream things. Christmas didn’t even do it for me. Cut the crap people, let’s get on with life and forget all the phony sentimentality. A tea party seemed to fall into this category. How were people satisfied with such quaint nonsense?
Finally, I got to her house and unsurprisingly it was darling. I hesitantly walked up to a tiny yellow cottage with a garden out front dotted with primroses. A welcome mat at the front door announced “Welcome Friends” and there were daisies and violets painted around the doorbell. Yikes, this was going to be a different afternoon for me.
As I went to ring the bell I saw another pink card similar to my invitation slotted into the door. It had my name on it. What? I quickly opened the envelope and inside was this message: “Dear Meg, thank you so much for the coffee chat the other day. It kind of changed my life. You talked about looking beyond the obvious and how conventional life didn’t satisfy you. I’m sorry, I canceled the tea party. It seemed silly and not something you would enjoy anyway. I am off on another cruise, this time to the ominous fjords of Norway. They looked mysterious and kind of scary, so here I go. Maybe I’ll even find Nigel again…and he can fill me in on Nordic cruising lore. In the meantime, you’ll find a little basket of tea treats in my mailbox as an apology.
I was aghast, she had just picked up and left like that? Off to the fjords, in search of Nigel? The crazy side of my brain clicked in again and I wondered if the toilet whoooosh had gotten him on the last cruise and he would never be seen again…
But…what about the party? What would it have been like? I wanted her cozy personality and her sparkling eyes and her…optimism. I needed this. How could she? I was standing on the worn doormat and discovering I wanted this so badly; sadness unforgivingly overwhelmed me.
I turned around slowly and walked down the wooden steps to the gate. Sadie would have a house with a white picket fence. I opened the little basket and started munching on a tea cake, and noticed a tear had slid down my cheek and dropped on the colorful icing, adding a strange little accouterment. Of all the weird unpredictable moments I liked to write about, what was happening here was not in my repertoire. Maybe she would ask me again when she returned. I would look in my mailbox every day for a familiar pink envelope. Maybe I liked tea parties.