I lost an essay of mine about tea cups, saucers, cracked china and blood, an essay about my mother. After searching my computer archives and another online journal, I’ve come up empty. It may have been something beautiful and poetic, full of pain and missed opportunities – perhaps I just wanted it to be. There wasn’t much about my mother’s death that was beautiful and poetic.
The woman in front of the room was past seventy years old, and she wore a print flower dress with an eyelet bib and a sparkling broach. She’d brought her collection of china tea cups and saucers and had them spread across the linen covered table. Flower centerpieces and books about formal tea filled in the empty spaces. Tea pots and tea cozies and pretty paper napkins and placemats and invitations reflected her pride and she leaned forward into the microphone to make sure we heard every word she said, “After everyone hears my story, you all should be ready to hold your own tea party.”
Next to me a woman in pristine Sax Fifth clothing, pearls highlighting her ivory skin and hair, skin nearly translucent with years on this earth, said, “If a tea’s that much work, I’ll stay in bed, thank you very much.”
The tea party woman continued, “And if you break a tea cup, don’t worry. Mismatched tea cups and saucers and tea pots are all the craze.”
I wondered when she’d get to her story, the real one she wanted to tell.
“Flower arrangements don’t have to be expensive to be beautiful – just stick freshly picked flowers into one of those broken tea cups and you’ll be all ready to go. You can also put candies into a tea cup and send those home with the guests.”
Sax Fifth Avenue grumbled, “If I had any desire to send gifts, I’d just order off the internet.”
“Another thing that’s wonderful are these little sugar cubes shaped into flowers and such. People never want to use them, though. So when the tea is done, I collect them, save them, and wait for my next tea party.”
The tea lady clasped her hands and breathed into the microphone, “And with every sip of tea, you sip the love of the Lord. Let me tell you my story about finding Jesus.”
Ah, the story. I leaned back in my chair, scratching an itch on my head, wondering if Sassy finally brought home fleas, damning those worthless Hartz collars, and listened to the tale of the tea lady and Jesus.
“I was raised in the church,” she said in a deep, melodramatic voice, “and spent every Sunday in Sunday school. I worked hard for the church and memorized many bible verses. But I never felt the love of Jesus, not personally.”
“If I wanted to feel the love of Jesus, I’d just lay in bed and watch Billy Graham.”
Wait, I thought, isn’t this the Christian Women’s Lunch? I bent and whispered, “Aren’t you a Christian?”
“No, I’m a Republican. I worship nothing. Oh…no…I worship Visa and Mastercard and my Arco shares. Can you please pass the butter?”
I checked my tea after I passed the golden pats on a plate. I wondered if someone slipped a peyote button into my white china tea cup. My cell phone buzzed in my purse and then began to sing the blues, a lady in a large blue hat glaring at me, shaking her crucifix necklace at me. I clicked the phone off.
The tea lady began to weep, part of her speech having skipped over me, lost in the air and my buzzing phone, “And then my husband died from a bad case of syphilis he caught from a toilet seat in Rio de Janeiro while on a mission for God. Too much pain after having watched my daughter get run over by the MTA bus as she chased her black beast of a dog across the street. I knew I was missing something in my life.”
“If I knew I was missing something in my life…”
“I know, I know, you’d have just stayed in bed.”
“Yeah…getting the high hard one from my husband. Don’t you know women want to be fucked to God?”
I drank all my tea down. Blinked and stared at the tea lady on her knees and praising…something. “It was horrible! I had no personal relationship with Jesus! So I joined a prayer group!”
Someone tapped my shoulder and I got scared, thinking it was Jesus. I shook my head, no, no, I’m not ready to die, I’m not ready to meet my maker, I don’t want to sit at the feet of the Lord!
“Are you Mrs. Bliss?”
“Yes,” I said, turning around, getting glares from all over now, a bunch of crucifixes and tiny black hotel bibles being shaken at me by a bunch of ladies in hats. “That’s me…Mrs. Bliss-going-to-hell.”
“I have your daughter in my dance class,” she hissed, trying to be quiet, “And may I ask why she insists on screaming at my students if they don’t wear matching clothes? Is she autistic?”
“No, she’s just pre-bipolar. It’s okay, I’m starting her on pre-bipolar medication in order to prevent the full onset of the disease, you know, like prenatal vitamins that you take before you’re pregnant?”
The ballet teacher just stared at me and then walked away from me, backwards, “You are a monster!”
I turned in my seat and smiled to everyone else just as the tea lady got back into position at the podium, “Please order my book, ‘Tea and Jesus and Purple Sugar Cubes’. Thank you so much for the invitation to speak.” The room stood for a full standing ovation and an envelope was pressed into my hand by another lady in a hat, “Give to the children.”
“Of course,” I said, digging into my purse for a few dollars and a coupon for a free Filet-o-Fish. A woman began to sing in an operatic voice, a Disney song about finding something, and I could have sworn it was a rainbow and a leprechaun she’d found but I might have heard wrong thanks to the peyote in my tea. I walked with the crowd, noticing space around me. My phone buzzed which I thought was strange since I’d turned it off and I picked it up.
“Hello, this is Satan.”
“Of course it is…silly me.”
“You’re expected at home. The boys want ribs but M wants you to pour her cereal and a cup of chocolate milk.”
“And you’re not just whipping this up for them…why?”
“Because only YOU can salve the wounds of your children.”
“And they are wounded….why?”
“They haven’t found Jesus yet.”
As I breathed in the last few moments of my freedom, putting my phone away, shutting it off for the second time, the Saks Fifth lady sidled up to me, “That’s a terrible purse you have. Here, have a credit card application. Shop your heart out. Now THAT’s true love.”
The tea lady was packing up her stuff and I told her what a wonderful speech she’d given, “Really, nicely done. A fine little circle of a tale.”
She looked confused and wished me luck with my autistic daughter, “Word gets around.” She handed me an order form for her book and a little mesh bag of chocolates the label on which read, "Melting for the Lord." I took them and walked out of the conference hall into the hot, sunny day. My phone rang and it was my husband. I ignored the call and grabbed my keys. When I looked at my hand, there was blood. A stigmata.
I zipped home. Touched by...well...something.
No, that wasn’t the essay I’d written. Damn it.