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She didn’t like tea. She wasn’t even sure why she was drinking the murky brew. Except maybe, that it had become their evening custom. His custom. She looked down at the pinched teabag and sighed. He’d come home from work with new episodes of his office saga. Small businesses drowning his calendar. His officemate working long nights and still getting in before everyone in the morning; stubbled face and wrinkled shirts telling a different story. And there was always some major client he was trying to sign. She’d sit and pay attention as he poured over his day, asking all the right questions; responding with the expected sighs and hmm’s. Always over a cup of tea.
Afternoon tea had become one of those English traditions she’d deemed lofty. Like calling a backyard a ‘garden’, even in the absence of flowers. Her red puffy eyes shifted to the long strip of lawn beyond the glass doors. The rain pounded down on the manicured grass now. Their garden, she thought. The single, most unified decision they’d made since moving there: getting the house, getting that garden. A space to bandage the festering wound he’d made.
She sipped. The shadow of the raindrops on the window dotting pages of the eulogy sitting on the table.
Michael had, at once, rubbed elbows with London culture. Fussing over silk ties and finding the right barber. Tweed blazers quickly becoming a staple in his wardrobe. He’d leave through the door each morning with an eagerness she was jealous of. Heaps of applications – positions she knew even she was overqualified for – and still nothing. But he was happy. And that had to be good enough. She’d have dinner ready for him; usually whatever he decided. “Looking forward to dinner, tonight?” had become some of his most endearing words.
His work colleagues made for instant friends. And Michael loved hosting them for dinner. She loved the cooking. That kitchen. The reclaimed barnwood table that she would ready for the crowd; an easy conversation piece during dinner. The kitchen island was an extension of her. Her purpose. The granite top classy and camouflaged. Unsung. “You deserve this kitchen” he had once said to her, sounding every inch the conservative English patriarch he had so passionately renounced. And she loved the comfort of their new home. She did.
His workmates, now her mates, would be at the church tomorrow. Lending her their pity again, an actual tragedy this time. They had raved over her cooking the first time Michael hosted. Parmesan truffle risotto, roasted sweet potato and almond crusted salmon with honey garlic sauce. She recalled the look of pride on his face when Dan’s incessant compliments led the table in an orchestra of full mouths and nodding heads. Now as vivid to her as the pages on the table. She was warmed by that pride. Depended on it. She would smile and nod, visibly enjoying everyone’s banter without adding much more than her dessert to the table. Michael was the talker. The storyteller. When it came to that phase of ‘friend-dom’ – the inevitable, get-to-know-you, backstory blab – Michael led the charge. And everyone had a story.
She had hated him telling hers. But she never let on. Besides, he knew. He knew that even the smartest, most open people were so often prone to backward thinking.
“Our compliments to the chef! Micheal, I envy you.” Dan’s plate was polished, she remembered, the fork hanging from his mouth. He sat back in his chair, giving more breathing space between his stomach and the table. But Michael had been tongue-deep in a spiel. “…the job market is brutal … NGOs and contract law … 3-ish years of experience,” He shrugged his shoulders rather animatedly, then. “Better than nothing, amirite?”
“…..!” the dense chatter was indistinct. But, from across the table came,“Trinidad?!! Where’s Trinidad?”
Truth is, she wasn’t American – not by birth – but an immigrant.
“You know? South Caribbean? West Indies?” Michael‘s wide grin was met with blank stares. “The Commonwealth? Ex-Brit colonies? Those islands..” he continued.
“Is that where you met her?” they’d often ask, if someone hadn’t already blurted “so how’d you two meet?” Fucking white people, she’d think. And suddenly she was a part of his story, devoid of her own.
The smell of rain barged into the kitchen and sat there with her as she sipped her lukewarm tea. She deliberated over each sip, the liquid barely getting past her lips, like wine during communion. The sound of a million drops, like the familiar static that would take over late night television, frayed her thoughts. And he was there. Michael was there. Making himself a cup of joe like he always did. A shadow sipping a black brew.
“You’re no saviour, you know … no knight in shining armour” she whispered to the dark. “All that privilege… and nothing,” she clutched the mug.
She had travelled the world with Michael. Lived in four different countries on three different continents because of him. His successes bought the kitchen she now sat in. She’d had a good life thanks to him. She’d had a good marriage. A good, sexless marriage. After all, his work was his passion. But their union had set her apart. Down. She was suddenly a fortunate girl; blessed to have landed an accomplished and sensitive husband. Yes, a girl. Because despite her mature age, she was relegated to the naïveté associated with her race. With minority races.
The rain clouds quickly shifted evening into night. Her hand searched blindly into the dark cupboard, behind the sink and pipes, for the half bottle of brandy. The grief she expected never came. Her resentment never left. She topped off her cold tea with the alcohol, sips turning into gulps. The bottle dripped liquid across his eulogy, reddening the words she’d soon recite.
Jenna was saddled with three kids for a bum mechanic. Becky had a womaniser in her bed. Compared to them, she knew she had every right to be happy. Nine years happy. Sometimes – often – she wondered if Michael thought her privileged to have him. The wild and cavernous love they shared was gone. Their marriage had settled into a comfortable friendship. Maybe less comfortable. His stories always seemed to box her in the kitchen.
She towelled the washed mug and hung it from the cabinet with the others. She once loved that kitchen.