Chocolate for tea

Sarah had been to the house only once before and then the visit had been short. They had met at the walking club, and one of those funny connections-things had happened.

At the end of walk when the trainer had been running the women through their stretching exercises, Kay had addressed one of the women in a knowing way, “You’re background is Dutch, isn’t it?” .  With a name starting  van der, it was certainly Dutch, but then with married names, it could have been her husband’s. Kay was proud of her half-Dutch origins and was always trying to make connections.

The woman agreed, yes, her parents had immigrated in the ‘Fifties, just after the war.

A third woman who had been walking and talking with Kay the whole way, spoke in Dutch to Kay leaving Kay with an “I-didn’t-get-it” look on her face.

The third person was Sarah. “Do you speak Dutch?” she repeated, this time translated to English, with a broad smile developing on her lovely features.

“Are you Dutch too?” exclaimed Kay, astounded.

“No but I went there in my twenties, and married a Dutchman. It only lasted five years, but I learned to speak Dutch fluently. I loved living there; and I loved the language.”

It was one of those small-world phenomena. There had been four of us walking. None of us knew each other; it was the first time we had met; and three of us had this strong Dutch connection. Only Keenan, the fitness instructor was not. With a name like Keenan O’Reilly, she was of  Irish decent.

Then Sarah had joined Kay’s writers’ group. They exchanged their short literary drafts. Sarah came for tea and they had  become great acquaintances, but there was a deep friendship to be had. Both knew it. There were too many connections of interests and personal histories.

And so Sarah called on Wednesday asking if she could come for tea. She arrived late afternoon at Kay’s door, cheeks all aglow, her eyes shining with life, carrying a bakery box and a glazed muffin.

“Sorry, I’m late,” she apologized as she crossed the threshold into Kay’s little house. ” My director came in just as I was leaving work. I couldn’t put her off; and she went on and on. I just got out of there ten minutes ago. Here. I thought we might like something to eat.” And she handed over her gifts of food.

“You must be ready for a bite, then,”  and without pausing, “the kettle is hot, just waiting to know what kind of tea you would like. I bet you are hungry.”

As Kay finished making tea, she unravelled the string on the bakery box and lifted the lid. Inside were two exquisite pastries, cookies really, made in the shape of tea cups.  There was a perfectly round disk of oven-browned sugar cookie for the saucer and a spherical-half  cookie for the cup. It was filled with chocolate truffle just short of the rim and the handle was made an add-on of pure dark chocolate.

“Oh Sarah! This is beautiful! It’s so very beautiful!” said Kay. “Just look at them!”

“But I’m allergic to chocolate! Oh Sarah! I’m so sorry. I won’t be able to eat them.”

Kay had already transgressed the first of  politeness rules. One never refuses a gift; one always accepts it graciously.  And she was about to continue on making it worse and worse.

“Oh Sarah! ” she said in increasing distress. “Why don’t you take them to your family. I’m sure there is someone there who could really enjoy them. Your daughter, maybe.”

“No, no. Keep them. You will have a visitor coming, maybe. ”

And so a tug of war ensued as to the fate of the two exquisite chocolate cups and nothing was decided, except Kay took photographs of the cups shining in the afternoon sun that was streaming through the kitchen window.

It was hot and sunny. Kay and Sarah took their tea to the garden and the tray of sweets that Kay had already prepared for the visit. They sat talking over several cups of tea, as if time had been suspended, until Sarah’s cell phone jangled. It was her husband. Was she not coming home for dinner?

Sarah gathered her belongings in haste and they promised to find another time to visit. Sarah waved from the car door as she got in and sped away, back to her familial responsibilities.

Kay turned back into the house. There on the counter was the box of pastries. They were now hers. How long could she wait until she found the right person for those beautiful little tea cups? And with a engulfing wave of etiquette guilt, her heart sank. “There were only two of them. I bet Sarah was hoping to indulge in one, herself, over tea!”

Kay beat herself up for a few minutes; but what was done, was done.  There would be a perfect reason for having these teacup pastries.

The next day, Heather and her husband came to stay for a week. Lizbet arrived the same evening. At dessert time, there were four at table. Kay could not serve two pastries. It wasn’t like you could cut a tea cup in half.  Besides, the dinner had been mundane and there were the strawberry man’s strawberries to eat up.

The visiting family left on Tuesday, and still no perfect occasion had arisen to serve her chocolate tea cups. The house returned to a blessed silence.

Kay spent the next few hours catching up on herself – washing sheets, putting away dishes, making beds, reading e-mail, writing a last minute birthday card to Nephew Ron, preparing the recycling to put out in the evening.  All the chores were done in a Zen-like peacefulness. She was alone with her thoughts, absorbing all the familial chatter and gossip of the last few days. She was  tucking it away, just like she was doing with the laundry, to be brought out and used on another occasion.

It was about four in the afternoon when the telephone first rang. It was Rose.

“Could I come over? I have the kids’ report cards. I want you to take a look at them and advise me what to do.”

Rose is about forty, looks thirty. She has two teenage children and Nicola who has just finished Grade Four. Nine? I calculated, but she looked more like six or seven. She was a tiny waif of a thing, blond hair straggling over her shoulders in light-white strands. Her mother was petite, but Nicola even more so, and she was shy.

“She’s brought some chips, I hope you don’t mind?” said Rose, half apologetically. “Nicola said she would rather eat them than cookies.” Nicola was holding a foil bag of tortilla chips proclaiming to be EXTREME! in the advertising. Flames licked at the edge of the tortilla pictures and clichéed  little devil with pitchfork stood gloating on the upper right hand corner of the package.

“They’re not too hot, spicy, are they?” Rose asked, trying to engage the little waif into the conversation. Nicola spoke in a whisper as if the quiet of her voice could help her disappear altogether.  Nicola’s head turned from side to side.

I gave Rose her tea and brought out a can of  cola for Nicola.

“Would you like ice cream in it? Then it will all foam up into a float. Would you like that?” The waif-like head nodded up and down and a tiny wee “yes” came out.

“Ooooooooooh! I know what I have for you. It’s perfect!” said Kay.

She brought out the box and put it down low for Nicola to see. She opened the box and there inside were the two tiny chocolate tea cups.

zz 403 small

Nicola’s eyes went wide. For the first time, she raised her eyes to Kay’s. They were shining in wonderment. She didn’t say a thing but the eyes held the question, “For me?”

Would you like one?” offered Kay. Her mother looked down, enjoying that special moment of her child bubbling with excitement and anticipation as only a child can do.

“Yes, ” she peeped, as if it took all her effort to break the spell.

“Yes what?” prompted her mother gently.

“Yes, please,”  came the ever so slightly raised voice of Nicola.

They took all their food treasures – Extreme tortilla chips and chocolate tea cups – to the living room. Kay settled Nicola with a low nesting table to put her pastry and coke float upon. Rose gave the report cards to Kay and Kay began to read. As she read, she watched  as Nicola demolished  the cookie with reverence and awe.

The handle went first. She snapped it off and popped into the mouth to melt slowly. Then she detached the saucer. She cracked it in half and gave the other half to her mother. Like a mouse, she nibbled at its edges and slowly, savoring it, reduced it to a crumb.  Next came the cup. Nicola, it seemed, was not too good with chocolate either. She handed it to her mother and watched raptly as her mother bit off little chunks and let them dissolve on her tongue.

Rose and Kay came to an understanding about tutoring for the eldest boy for the summer without giving any details away to the little waif with pitcher ears.

“Well, that’s it, ” said Rose. “We’ll talk again tomorrow.” Her cell phone jangled and after a short conversation which ended in “Stir fry,” Rose stood to leave.

“That was Kevin. He wanted to know if we were coming home for dinner.”

They left.

As she stood at the door, her mother bent down to Nicola’s ear and whispered, “And what do you say?”

With shy, happy eyes, Nicola looked straight up at Kay, locked onto her eyes and said quite audibly with a shy smile, “Thank you.”

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