Monday Morning Tea

two old ladies drinking tea

The widow Eloise reached for the glass of water from her bedside table and sipped it slowly, the water moistening her papery tongue. The pink plastic pill case, divided by days of the week, was right next to where the water had been. She picked it up and looked down at the filled squares, pills of various colors and shapes all nestled together. On Sunday, when she filled the week’s supply of medicine, she counted eighteen different prescription pills. She thought to herself, How many pills will I take if I live to ninety?

She had turned eighty-one two months earlier. Her mottled, ropy-veined hand replaced the pill case on the nightstand. Slowly she scooted up from the pillow and lowered her legs over the side of the bed. They reminded her of umbrella handles, thin, covered with crepe-like flesh, and with very little muscle left, sticking forlornly from her light blue flannel nightgown.

In the bathroom, she flipped on the light switch and stared at her face in the mirror. Gravity had pulled her mouth down at the corners so that she looked sad at the start of every day. She wasn’t sad. She was tired, yes. Always a bit tired. She practiced her optimistic expression in the mirror. If she formed a half smile and left her lips parted and thought of something happy, she definitely looked more welcoming. “Good morning,” she told herself.

Her visitor would be here in an hour for morning tea. The young college student was named Meg. Meg lived across the street in a rented garage apartment. They had met once when Meg jogged by, and Eloise had called out a greeting from her porch. They became friendly and now Meg came by once a week, on Monday morning, for tea and scones. This ritual probably meant free breakfast to Meg, but to Eloise it was the most interesting thing to happen to her all week.

These talks made her eagerly anticipate coming days. They gave her purpose and satisfied unrealized curiosities. At first she and Meg discussed everyday things, like the roses Eloise nurtured, how they were prone to mildew in the wet weather and bloomed best in colder months. They both favored the Old Blush roses, with their fluttery pink petals. Eloise allowed Meg to clip as many roses as she liked.

As they became more familiar with each other, Meg complained to Eloise about how hard it was to find a good boyfriend. The last suitor had cancelled plans right before dates more than once, and Meg and Eloise analyzed all of his excuses for veracity. The last time he broke a date, when he said he really needed to study for an exam, was when both of them agreed he had another girlfriend.

Today, Eloise was aware of Meg’s shiny pink skin and toned firm arms as they hugged in greeting. Eloise’s eyes were dull and watery as her mind skipped to her past.  She thought of herself, prettier, young and vibrant, many decades ago.  Meg’s vital presence always gave her the sensation of being thrown back in time.

This day’s conversation was lively. Meg admitted that she and her friends all used birth control pills they obtained from the campus infirmary. Pregnancy was the one thing they feared the most. Pregnancy led to marriage, which meant the end of any of their plans and dreams. They wanted to succeed in professions first, for personal independence and strength. Motherhood, that most important role, would come once they proved themselves.

Meg looked up occasionally to see how Eloise was reacting to these latest confidences. Eloise kept her face as still as possible and she nodded with assent, her eyes opened attentively, so that she showed no judgment at all. She just wanted Meg to keep talking.

Finally, Meg looked directly at Eloise and asked, in an almost whispered tone, “Eloise, were you ever promiscuous?”

A soft hint of a smile formed at the edges of Eloise’s mouth. Her eyes cast downward and she gave the question a few seconds of thought. “No,” she started slowly, pronouncing the word in a drawn-out way. Then she looked earnestly at Meg. “I wish I had been.”

April 2022 Issue

El Ojo del Lago – Home Page

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Katina Pontikes
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