Anatomy of Tea

It is the fake kind. Not black, not even green. Herbal. Fake. She is a tea snob, and though I am not, her definitions have sunk into me, etched into my skin. The current skin. If the past is any indication, it’ll flake off eventually. Before too long.

She tells me that she just wants to be friends. She and her boyfriend are looking for a third party, if the spinning rumor mill wheel is to be believed. Why don’t they pick me? What’s wrong with me?

When we watch the sky together on the roof, she tells me she can’t see any stars. They’re everywhere, I tell her, and she says she can’t see them. I look at her, and her eyes are shut. This is the kind of shit she does.

The teacup in my hand is only cardboard. White, with a brown sleeve, it gave under the hot water and I thought it was going to collapse into my hand and burn me. But it held up in the end, sturdier than it looks. She always says she’s not vulnerable, that she doesn’t get hurt so easily. She says her eyes just get wet sometimes, that she hasn’t cried in years, that I’m projecting.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I didn’t grow a new skin last time.

Photo credit: Lars Kristian Flem

Ginger and lemon taste like nothing else in the world. Nothing tastes like anything else, though, so I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be a compliment. When I told her she tasted like herself, unique, she rolled her eyes at me and I could tell she’d been hoping for me to come up with something less cliche, less used up. I tried to tell her how I felt, though, and she couldn’t stand to hear it. What else was I supposed to do, then? Cliches are a great trampoline to fall onto, they make you bounce up again.

The man with the gray hair who’s always hanging around her is just a friend, she says. But this is where her boyfriend and I agree: she should stop having friends who sell her cocaine for the price of a blowjob. I’m not sure who I want to punch more, the dealer or her boyfriend. Maybe they’ll take each other out for me, leave the field clear.

The night she touched my skin without prompting on my part wasn’t delirious. It was pretty underwhelming, in the end. Maybe that’s because I was expecting more than a drunk bear hug. She’s not so attractive when she’s sloppy. I guess I’m more shallow than I thought I was.

My skin is itching. I break out in hives every time someone says hashtag in order to emphasize their commentary on the world. It’s cold. Hashtag. She’s such a bitch. Hashtag. Love you, babes. Hashtag.

Hotels are really depressing when you’re there alone. Nothing is complementary anymore. The minibar is an invitation to expensive sinning, but even the water and coffee have little price marks on them. You don’t get anything for free, she always tells me this, but I never listen. It’s funny, though, because I don’t have faith in people either. I guess I have faith in corporations.

Corporations are people too. Her parents raised her conservative. She explains how she can believe in bad economic practices and in women’s right to choose not to have abortions, and I wonder how we haven’t stopped talking yet. I don’t take this kind of shit from anyone. I don’t think I can be friends with her.

I don’t want to be friends with her.

I never wanted to be, though. Some things you don’t really get a choice in.

When her boyfriend dumps her, she comes over to my house and asks if I have tea. I tell her I do, regular tea, Lipton. She picks up the back of a chair and slams it down. She yells at me that Lipton isn’t real tea. Haven’t I learned anything? She says I’m useless and leaves. I see her already pulling her cellphone out of her back pocket. She’ll call the grey haired man and end up in a skeezy motel with him.

I have another business trip to make. She still hasn’t called me back.

My suits are getting wrinkled. I need to pack better. I need to get a new skin. I need to get some new taste buds. I need to learn to discriminate in my tea choices. Maybe I should be a colonist, a racist, find somewhere new where tea is conquered. Then she’ll really like me.

ReMeMoRyIng

“What do you want to be remembered for?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Not really. You know. Under the circumstances.”
“Sure, fucking whatever, but it’s not up to me, is it.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask. God, you’ve gotten to be such a dick.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that also shouldn’t surprise you, ‘under the circumstances.'”
“Look, you said I should be normal. I’m being normal. You made me promise. Like, months ago. Remember?”
“Yeah. I didn’t say I’d be okay about it now.”
“Fine. Well. Just as long as you remember that you asked for it.”
“…”
“…”
“Fine.”
“So what do you want to be remembered-“
“Oh come on.”
“Seriously, just think about it for a second. Like if you were asking me-“
“Yeah? What would YOU want me to be remembered for?”
“Really? Did you really just do an ‘enough about me, what do you think of me’ line just now?”
“You love me.”
“Whatever. Look, if you’d asked me, what like I wanted to be remembered for, yeah, like, it’d be a hard question. It is a hard question. But I mean, I can think of a couple things.”
“Like…?”
“Like I want to be remembered for things I did while I was around, not for things people find out about me after. Or like, I don’t know, mushy things, like I want to be remembered for being a good person, I guess, or for at least trying.”
“But that’s so fucking general. Everyone wants that. Or everyone says they do. It’s stupid. What’s the point anyway? No one’s going to say you’re mean after. Like what, we’re gathered here today to commemorate this awful fucking bitch? Nobody would say that about you.”
“I feel like you’re not done.”
“Even though it’s exactly what you are.”
“Shut uuup.”
“Anyway, it’s easy for you. You have people. Like lots. And family and shit.”
“So do you.”
“Not really. You know what they’re like.”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“But nothing. They’ll care. They’ll make the right noises. But then poof. That’s it. They already bought a place in Miami, did I tell you? For when they don’t have to spend winters here anymore.”
“Are you kidding.”
“It’s fine. It makes sense. You know. It’ll be good for Zach, he hates the winter here. He gets all seasonal affective disorder and shit.”
“Fuck that, he can buy a fucking SAD lamp. They don’t have to buy a house already.”
“It’s a condo. Like in an apartment building.”
“Whatever.”
“Look, don’t worry about it, it’s just how they are.”
“Insensitive morons? Assholes?”
“…”
“Sorry.”
“Nah, that’s pretty accurate.”
“Well, still, it’s not my place to-“
“As if you ever cared about shit like that. Gimme a break.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“So anyway…”
“Yeah.”
“Want me to turn the TV on? See if Powerpuff Girls is on or something?”
“Yeah, sure, why not.”
“Cool. Want some water? I’ll go get some.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“No problem.”
“Hey-“
“Yeah?”
“Nothing.”

Quickie #4 – Don’t Nurture It

Don’t look at the lips. Focus on the eyes. Eyes are family and friendship as well as love. Eyes are ambiguous. Ignore the wedding ring, even when he twists it round and round his finger while he talks to you. It’s a nervous tic, it has nothing to do with you. Don’t overthink it. Don’t take the word “intimidation” as a flirtatious device. Don’t see it as anything other than fatherly admiration. Than belief in you.
Don’t look at his lips. Don’t think about his body beneath his clothing and how different it may look from the bodies of boys you’ve loved. Don’t compare it to your father’s ravaged body, shorn and torn by illness. Ask about his kids. Remind yourself of his kids.
Don’t think about your disbelief in morality. Don’t think about life being short. Don’t look at his lips.

Some Instincts

Shivering through space, Daley tiptoed across the library in her overcoat, gloves and woolen hat. Every cough ripped through her throat like ice chips going up rather than down, the reverse of her favorite summertime treat, crunching posicles in the yard before they melted.
Her body was a nesting place for germs and it made her uncomfortable to be around people who could catch her diseases but she had no choice. The world hadn’t stopped when her fever had risen to 102. The shelf she was searching for was being elusive, skipping around the library and purposefully evading her.
Terry’s blue and black coat flashed in her peripheral vision and warring instincts kicked in. She didn’t want him to see her like this but she wanted him to see her, to remember she existed outside the universe of beer pong and lax boys sucking on helium balloons for a laugh. Terry wasn’t above that sort of thing – Daley liked to think she was – but he had something to him that was more than that as well.
She couldn’t decide what to do quickly enough, and so he was gone, slamming out of the library like everyone seemed to do, as loudly and disruptively as possible. The sound reverberated in her head and she still couldn’t find the shelf mark she was looking for. She wished she could ask for help but her voice was reduced to a crow’s scratchy caw and whispering hurt even worse.
It was time to give up, she realized, surprised that her body had already figured this out and that she was falling to the floor, knees buckling, hands pulling some books off the shelf with her just to make sure that someone would hear and come running.
At least, she thought before everything went black, some instincts are still working.

Cornered

I am blinded by the light fracturing against the small glass figurines that are set up in long, well-ordered rows on the cabinet shelves. The sparks in my eyes hurt and I shut them, instinctively, and wonder why my instinct would make me do something so dangerous. What if the light were a sign of hostile intent? But evolution, perhaps, didn’t know that light could be used as a weapon, since the only thing relevant to it was the sunlight.
“Who’s there?” I ask. I get no response, but the light goes away and I open my eyes to see Mr. Clairmont, the next-door neighbor, peering at me through slits in his eyes. His cheeks are sunken and his hair stands up in white tufts on the sides of his head.
“How did you get in here?”
He doesn’t answer. He turns around and puts his face into the corner. The flashlight he was holding drops from his hands. He moans and begins to rock back and forth. I don’t know what to do. Should I try to comfort him or see if his caretaker is at home or, if she’s not, call an ambulance?
“Let me stay!” He shouts at the top of his lungs, into the corner, without looking at me. The sound seems to travel up the corner and reverberate across the ceiling towards me. I remember wishing I could stay away from my parents when I was a kid. It was sometimes heartbreaking to leave my friends’ houses where, it seemed to me, everything was so much better. I wonder if Mr. Clairmont can possibly feel the same way. He’s mumbling into his fingers now and he’s turned half towards me so that I can see that his eyes are darting at me with quick, short glances.
“Okay,” I say. “Tea?” He shakes his head. “Hot chocolate?” He shakes his head again. “Warm milk?” I try once more. He shakes his head again. Okay then. I don’t know what he wants, but if he wants to stay, I suppose he can. It’s not like he could attack me in my sleep. For one thing, he’s about eighty and I don’t know how much strength he’s got in those wobbly arms and skinny legs of his. He still refuses to look straight at me, so I sit at the table and wait.
But not for long. I get impatient. So I go to my room and lock the door. I can’t sleep well, though. I keep imagining him out there and I wonder what he’s doing and whether or not he’s lonely. His wisps of white hair make me want to cry when I remember how I saw him on the street the other day trying to make them lie flat across his head, when they insist on flapping about in the wind.
I try to turn the radio on, but then I realize that it’s not plugged in and I don’t feel like getting out of bed to stick the thing in the socket. It seems like so much effort, and I can’t help but think that I should have made up a bed for Mr. Clairmont on the couch. But I don’t think he would actually down.
I must have fallen asleep because the clock now says that it’s five in the morning. I get up and slowly go to see if Mr. Clairmont is still here. I have this horrible feeling that he’s still standing in that same corner, waiting for something that he can’t put into words. Why didn’t I go to his house and see if his caretaker was there?! How could I have been so irresponsible? If he’s lying dead on my kitchen floor, I’m going to get sued. Or worse. Maybe I’ll get accused for neglectful murder? Is there such a thing? Is it like third degree murder or something?
I’m not sure how I get myself out of my room but I do, somehow. And – Mr. Clairmont is in the kitchen, but he’s not in the same corner he was in. He’s humming and wiping down the counters. The moment he sees me, though, he drops the sponge and looks guiltily at the floor. As if he’s expecting me to chastise him or something.
“How are you doing, Mr. Clairmont?”
He looks up at me and smiles. He has a tooth missing. It suddenly seems as if he’s looked like this – exactly like this – since he was a six year old kid who just lost his first tooth. I think he’s had an okay night.

Raccoon

A Massive Attack song played and Jonathan drove faster and faster down the freeway. It was two in the morning, he was slightly tipsy, and he knew this was a bad idea. But the freeway was empty, so at worst, he thought, he would careen into the concrete divide and kill himself or else he would run over a raccoon. And he had a beef with them anyway. They’d dug into his garbage can so often that he’d realized that the animal control department wasn’t heeding his phone calls. His date – Tanya? Or Tina? – had said that raccoon were adorable.
“Adorable my ass,” Jonathan muttered and hit the steering wheel hard with the palm of his hand. He jumped as a honk sounded. Then he giggled at his own surprise. Then he stifled the giggle and glanced sideways, just to make sure that no one was watching him make such a stupid face. And then he remembered that he was alone, tipsy and driving on the freeway and he quickly brought his eyes to face front again. He had to straighten the car, which was veering into the right-hand lane. When he managed, he felt very proud of himself.
Tanya or Tina had been pretty. They’d danced together for a couple hours but she hadn’t agreed to come over to his apartment. “You’re drunk,” she’d said, frowning. “And I am too. Let’s go to a cafe and sober up.” He’d ask her if she’d agree to come to his apartment after they did that and she laughed very suddenly and said that probably not. Then she’d punched him on the arm, lightly, in a brotherly guyish kind of way that turned him off. So he’d invented a dog that he remembered he had to walk – because it was good to keep a good impression and not to close any doors with rude remarks, and everyone knew that girls liked guys who liked animals.
Jonathan wondered if he should actually get a dog. Then he realized that it would mean two things. First, he would need to walk it, pay for its shots at the vet, and in general stand having it around. Second, it would mean he wouldn’t be able to bring home girls who were allergic to dogs. And what if the girl of his dreams would be allergic to dogs?
Not that he was a romantic. No, he had no false notions of love or tenderness. He knew what he wanted and how to get it. His older brother was married and claimed to be happy, but Jonathan was pretty sure that he was actually miserable.
He wasn’t a complete bastard. He had friends who were girls, and he knew that women were people, too. But he didn’t really think that he wanted to have one around all the time. He’d been in several relationships in his life, but he always got tired of the girls he’d been with and so he’d ended it. His big brother told him that he was an immature man-child. Jonathan took that as a compliment.
He got home without causing an accident. There was a raccoon digging around in the trash can again. He tried to kick it and fell, swearing. So he went inside and tried calling animal control again, forgetting that they weren’t open at three in the morning.