Having Tea

Mother insisted Rachel to go to Mrs Livingston's house to offer condolences with baked cookies done this morning. The ten year old child refused vehemently saying, "I don't like talking about death, such a dreary subject to dwell upon!"

Mrs. Livingston's husband had passed away nearly a fortnight ago and the child hated widows, a feeling which she must thank her mother for and bless her father's demise. But that's not important in this story.

Being a neighbour and all, 'good society ladies' baked something for Mrs. Livingston and praised the late Livingston as a half-hearted and half-believed comfort.

Rachel, in her red pinafore dress, made her way up the street towards the comfortable Livingston dwelling, number twenty-three, to deliver her mother's cookies. All Rachel felt at each step was impending doom; doomed to sit and listen to three hours of widow chatter and teapot stories! Now it was pertinent that all 'good society ladies' had teapots, and Mrs Livingston, at an age of 83, would have a great collection at hand to fill the afternoon talk.

Rachel opened the white picketed fence and paced her way up the front steps to reach the well flowered patio completed with straw chairs. She lightly knocked, but there was no answer for nearly ten minutes. The impatient child did not want to wait and so decided that she could sneak in and put the cookies in the kitchen and leave immediately. Her mother, so busy with socializing, would never find out her cheat.

Slowly opening the front door, Rachel peeped her head inside. It was dark and smelly, but this did not matter. All the houses in the suburbs were nearly identical and she would know her way to the kitchen, even in darkness.

Stepping across the wooden threshold and passing the red carpeted staircase, the child eased her way up the hallway until she came to the dimly lit kitchen. Although there were windows, vines and leaves almost covered them completely which created a greenish luminescence as the sunlight crept through. Nothing was visible and everything was dusty. Plus, it smelt awfully putrid.

Just spotting the breakfast table in the centre of the dark room, the child held her breath and went up and placed the tray next to a seaweed green teapot with two teacups aside.

"Thankyou dear," said a voice coming from very close to Rachel's side, giving her quite a jump. She turned and peered to the left and found an old woman dressed in a green sweater and pearls, sitting at one of the breakfast chairs and smiling at her.

"Sorry Mrs Livingston, I'm Rachel," the girl quickly curtseyed, "the cookies are from my mother and she sends her condolences."

Mrs. Livingston continued to smile. Rachel stared impolitely.

"A very nice setting you have Mrs. Livingston," said Rachel, steeling her eyes away from the old woman and looked at the teapot.

"Thankyou dear," said she. Rachel glanced back; the old woman was still smiling a very warm smile.

A whole minute passed with silence and Rachel started to fidget with nervousness. Her first impression of the old woman wasn't at all good, although she smiled nicely, she didn't offer her a chair or to have any tea, which is completely rude!

"May I sit Mrs Livingston? I would dearly love to hear all about your teapot collection," asked Rachel untruthfully.

Mrs. Livingston smiled and nodded. Rachel sat down and poured some tea from the green teapot. The saucers were very well decorated with little gold plated dandelions around the rim which matched the cup handle. They seemed very expensive and precious.

The girl sipped a very disgusting liquid from the cup and forced a "Very well brewed" compliment.

"Thankyou dear," said Mrs. Livingston who raised her hand and indicated the cookies. Rachel took three, gobbling them hurriedly to rid her of the terrible taste in her mouth. After recovery, the girl felt quite embarrassed and begun her questioning.

"Mrs. Livingston, did Mr. Livingston give you this elegant tea set?"

Mrs. Livingston smiled and nodded and sipped her tea. But then she was silent. Rachel felt angered by this old woman's obvious remote effort to answer her. Was she still in shock over her husband death? Surely, it has already been a fortnight so there was no need to still sulk, thought Rachel. The girl pretended to sip and bit a fourth cookie. Mrs. Livingston smiled.

Rachel assumed Mrs. Livingston was still in grief and so decided to talk about other gossip. Mrs. Livingston just nodded and sipped her tea. Eventually the girl thought the old woman was a great listener and she gradually appealed to the widow. Not once in Rachel's life had anyone paid any attention to her opinions and her comings and goings of childhood play. Rachel kept at talking for nearly an hour, about teapots, her neighbours and what she thought of their children, of school, of her cat, her uncle's family, last Christmas, and, of course, the weather.

"It is my mother's birthday next week, but I have nothing to give to her nor do I have any money to get it with. It is troublesome Mrs. Livingston, what a daughter I am!" said Rachel, "I shall earn some money by selling some lemonade with Suzie, or perhaps I could put on a play and earn money from admission, no that will not do. What do you think?"

The enthused girl looked gleefully at the old smiling woman. Mrs. Livingston held up her saucer and teacup and was about to take a sip when Rachel exclaimed she had the perfect idea.

"Oh dear Mrs. Livingston, you've given me such a wonderful idea! A lovely teapot for my mother! She really does need more, she only has six you know, and she'll be so delighted that she'll brag about it to the other 'good society ladies'."

Mrs. Livingston laughed a hearty laugh. Rachel smiled charmingly.

"But you know Mrs. Livingston, I still have the problem of money. You have plenty Mrs. Livingston, a great collection indeed, do you not?" Rachel fluttered her eyes.

"Thankyou dear," Mrs. Livingston nodded.

"Then, can I have one?"

"Thankyou dear."

"This green seaweed one?"

"Thankyou dear."

"Oh thankyou Mrs. Livingston!"

They continued their tea for another half an hour before Rachel said that it was almost tea time and she had better leave. Rachel collected the green seaweed teapot and teacups up in her arms and gave Mrs. Livingston her salutations. Mrs. Livingston nodded and Rachel hurried out of the putrid smelling kitchen, down the dark hallway, out through the white picketed fence and down the street to her house.

At home, the good society ladies from the Book Club, of which Rachel's mother was hosting a meeting for today, were just leaving. A spirited Rachel skipped up the stairs to her room, avoiding her mother and her friends so to hide the tea set. Rachel placed the gift on her bedside table and changed into her dining dress.

At the dining table mother was very disconcerted. She asked Rachel where she had been all afternoon.

"Having tea," replied the child.

"Darling, please tell one of the maids where you have gone off to next time," said her mother.

"But – "

"No Rachel, please do not make excuses. I wouldn't have minded if you were to have tea with Suzie, but I must know where you are at all times. What would your father say?"

"But – "

"Now, did you and Suzie eat all those cookies? If you did I will be very disappointed, you would have ruined your appetite for dinner."

"Mother, I gave them to Mrs. Livingston, as you instructed me to."

"Do not try to lie to me Rachel. I have learned from Mrs. Davids today that Mrs. Livingston had passed away last night. Grief it was. It happened in her kitchen when having tea. Her body is being collected up tomorrow morning. Poor Mrs. Livingston! But her tea set collection was extraodina – where are you going young lady?"

Rachel excused herself as she left the dining room, ran up the stairs and faced her bedroom door. Her heart was racing. She twisted the knob and entered slowly.

"Thankyou dear," said Mrs. Livingston who was sitting on Rachel's bed with her green sweater and pearls, drinking tea from the seaweed cups.