“Be sure to set a cup for yourself, Enid,” you call from the office.
At least you’ve dropped the Miss Harris business, but I wonder if it’s made any difference. I do not want to drink tea with you and Shelli. I want to drink tea with you and Leo, savoring the sight of your hands wrapped around a delicate cup that once belonged to an emperor. I want to watch you stir your scant half teaspoon of sugar into your cup with the curious motion you use—around and slow, back and around again. I want to see you balance your saucer—Tao Ling dynasty, ninth century—on one knee, Leo on the other.
Lingering in the kitchen, wiping off the tray, finding an extra mug, smoothing the napkins. Not knowing how Shelli takes her tea, I add a sugar bowl to the set. Leo ‘plays his cello,’ which is a whimsical-but-accurate description of the position he’s assumed atop the counter, with one striped hind leg hoisted over his head. He stops grooming for a moment to regard me. No use in stalling, Leo. It’s tea time.
“Here we are—“ I begin, balancing the tray on my hands and negotiating the narrow kitchen doorway with my elbows.
You are putting on your heavy coat, Gil, I see. The cinnamon-colored wool that came from a shop on High Street in Aberdeen, after the airline lost yours. It was the only one in the place that didn’t bind your shoulders, you told me, and you thought you’d get used to the color. (Of course you got used to it; you looked striking in cinnamon and everybody told you so.) Forget the safety of camel or tan or charcoal—but you do clash with Shelli’s crimson.
“Sorry, Enid,” you say, snuggling the collar up to the edge of your beard. “Change of plans—couldn’t be helped.” You ease Shelli’s strawberry curls out from under the brim of her hat—scarlet felt, what else?—and smooth them with the tips of your fingers. The tea tray dips forward, wavering out of my control for a minute.