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Green Tea (Part 5)

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I used it as a pitcher to water my Christmas tree, until I came to work for you, Gil. For the past few years, I haven’t spent enough time at home through the holidays to warrant a tree that needs water. You don’t keep a schedule during that time, but you have to be ready for each new year. You speak, you teach, you travel according to the master list I compile. Christmas time last year—alone here in the office, I sent you to Cairo and Alexandria for March. I re-organized the sculpture file labeled ‘Heads; Broken’ and cross-referenced it with ‘Limbs; Missing.’ I found a florist who would deliver parrot tulips to an ambassador’s daughter in Calcutta.  She, I gather, was the Shelli of Christmas Past.

The kettle hisses as the flame licks up underneath it. I don’t remember putting it on the stove, but awareness is not a prerequisite to boiling water. I lean beside the stove with my elbows on the counter. Leo jumps up to join me, rubbing his head against my chin. Leo, why is it that the men in my life—you and Gil—only need me because I have opposable thumbs? Gil finds my typing and filing and organizing to be of value to him, and you need me to operate the can opener and work the door handle that lets you come and go.

I put an inch of nearly-boiling water into the tea pot. No chipped enamel here—one of your admirers sent you a Japanese iron pot with a feathery pine needle pattern gracing its moon-shaped sides. A pot that was old when this country was new, and you call for it as casually as if it were of no value. I spoon green tea into the ceramic filter built into the pot—the Japanese have always known how to build a better product, it seems.

Tiny white jasmine flowers curl among the green leaves of the tea, shut in upon themselves until the water makes them bloom again. Out with the warming water, in with a fresh, furious boil that releases a cloud of steam. The kettle whimpers a little as I set it on a back burner. The kitchen smells green as the magic of tea begins.

Green Tea (Part 4)

It’s easier this way, now that I have a job to do. I wasn’t sure how to get out of my seat before, how to get past the two of you and slip out. My hands flex on the great carved claws that form the arms of the Viking chair. I push myself up, careful not to bump Leo. He’s endured enough for one evening. Carefully skirting the heavy edge of your desk, I move toward the tiny room that acts as a kitchen to your office on days and nights when we work in.

“Yes, half a tin at least. Of the tea. Half a tin of green jasmine.” 

Shelli turns at the sound of my voice, her face rearranging itself into the kind of look she saves for the women who work for the men who are her lovers.

“What a good idea, Gil,” Shelli says.  “It’s so damp out tonight…Can I help at all, Miss Harris?”

I smile her offer away, shuddering at the thought of her crimson coat cuffs dangling over the gas ring. An errant spark and poof—she’d kindle like a candle and go up in flames. Too risky to have her kind in the kitchen, even for something as simple as tea. Leo follows me, knowing the fridge holds greater promise than your office.

You settle Shelli into the recesses of your chair; I hear the faint squeak of the leather and the grate of its feet on the floor as you turn it toward the fire. Shelli protests your action with a low laugh, murmuring words that I can’t quite reach. As if I wanted to. Groping with one hand against the cabinets, I bat around in the dark to find the pull-string that turns the light on. Leo inquires of my progress with a single throaty note.

Blink, stutter, buzz—the florescent bulb flutters to dismal life at my command.  The tea kettle is a battered enamel one that I found at a junk shop; its hopeful little pattern of dented daisies made me unable to leave it behind. I imagine it was a wedding present once, boxed and bowed and presented with love to some happy couple. The wear and tear might have occurred over the years, or perhaps the bride pitched it at the groom’s head when he forgot their anniversary.