Every day the kitchen window sill fills with the water-colored light of damp dawn. The brass kettle whistles with a high-pitched whine. The sound personifies my inner monologue as I grip the handle with a shaky hand. This tray of tea is not being prepared for only me. This offering of hot, inky water, is a gesture of my goodwill.
“With milk?” I suggest staring into the hazy bedroom from the threshold of the door, clutching yesterday's tea tray.
Every morning I ask, and every morning I receive no reply.
“Milk.” I surmise to myself, mimicking a voice in my head I’ve never heard aloud.
I do not remember the first time he appeared. I did not inherit him with the house. I cannot recall the first time I offered him tea, but the preparation of the hot drink has become a long-occurring morning ritual.
There is a monster who lives under my bed, you see, with claws and snarling teeth, but he never comes out at night. It is only at the first wink of dawn that he is aroused, talons, long and sharp, wrapped around the edges of my bed. He beckons me, his heavy limbs spilled out from under the frame, clad in dark fur, huge and hulking, outstretched toward the tea tray at the foot of the bed.
“Tea.” I imagine, he demands, with the subtle tick, tick, tick of his talon against the worn wooden floor.
Every morning, my footsteps creak along as I make my way to the kitchen, stand in front of the stove, and listen to the click, click, click of the ignitor as the pilot light is brought to flame on the burner. I stare into the hot blue light and wait for the sound of the whistle to fill the dusty room. While the monster found me by happenstance, my tea set found me through inheritance. Its soft glossy surfaces vibrate in the morning light. I fill the teapot, bone china and white, with steaming liquid. From the counter, I retrieve my container of loose leaves, allow them to fill their metal hammock, and gently submerge them into the piping water. I hear the low-grade sound of steam as the tea quietly steeps.
The tea tray balances between my two sweating palms. Milk, sugar, teapot, and teacups tinkling like wind chimes in the morning breeze. I am cautious as I ascend the back staircase with its tight quarter turn. At the top of the stairs, I pause and listen carefully. I imagine, as I do every morning, that the monster will dissipate, leaving as abruptly as he appeared. I hear the subtle sound of hot breathing, like a small brush fire crackling, patiently awaiting to engulf its surroundings.
My bare feet pass the bedroom threshold and the monster is alert, icy blue eyes glowing from beneath the bed frame. I take my necessary spot on the edge of the bed, sitting upright with the tea tray placed in my lap. I hold tight to the tea as the monster’s claws wrap each of my ankles and I am pulled to the dull world beneath the bed.
“Here we are,” I remark, as I do every morning, no salutations in return.
Together, we sit suspended in a dark void and the tea tray floats between us. I pour two cups of tea. I stir in the milk with the clink, clink, clink, of a silver spoon against the thin china wall. I watch as the monster clutches his cup, tipping the milky liquid between his snarling teeth.
By comparison, my limbs are small, my teeth are hardly intimidating. While we share the commonality of blue eyes and a love for tea, there isn’t much of myself I can see in this monster. I wonder how he found this dwelling under my mattress and managed to find my ankles that first morning.
The first time this happened to me, I was taken by surprise. Not by the fact that I was pulled to a world unknown, but that I was not reluctant to go. I allowed the darkness to envelop me. Swaddled in the heavy arms of a creature I had not previously known. I stared mutely as time began to tick, tick, tick on around me, and I remained completely still.
We sip and I pour cup after cup until the teapot is barren and the loose leaves are dry. I cradle the empty cup in my hand, so brightly white and delicate until we both return our cups to their saucers. They are set down with a soft clink and I grip the brass handles of the small tray.
“When do you leave?” I ask as I do every morning.
The monster silently stares back at me, both of us know the answer is uncertain. With no reply comes no relief. I have lost count of the cups I have placed in front of the monster, a gesture of goodwill, in the hope we come to a silent agreement that it is time for him to depart.
I wonder if the morning ritual, the comfort of tea, my gesture of kindness, is what causes him to stay. I have grown host to this monster, allowed him to dwell and I sat in silence as he stretched his large limbs from beneath the bed. Every morning I wake up, and every morning I prepare the tea, for fear that if I do not offer a bit of goodwill, good fortune will never fall upon me.
Once we have finished drinking the tea, the monster releases me to the surface of the mattress. I lay face-up staring at a dark ceiling. I hear the subtle sound of crickets singing, of moths flapping their wings, the electric buzzing of fireflies. Dusk has filled the room around me and I have lost another day.
“What a thief,” I think as I sink into sleep, the tea tray situated at the foot of the bed, prepared for me to pick it up again in the morning.