Friday, February 03, 2006

Odd Ducks and Tea

     
(Odd Ducks and Tea is the first in my Odd Duck series. Read on to meet an unusual old woman named Aunt Molly.)

“Look, there she is.” Krystal motioned for her husband to join her at the window. “She’s an odd duck, isn’t she?”

Krystal pulled the living room drapes back just enough to peek through the crack. The object of their interest turned toward them from the sidewalk. Aged laugh lines crinkled around grey-blue eyes, and a gloved hand rose in greeting.

Krystal groaned. Busted.

The couple side-stepped into full view and waved back weakly.

Ron frowned. “You’re so nosey!”

“I’m nosey? You didn’t have to stand there with me.”

“Why can’t you leave the poor woman alone? She may be odd, but you act as if she’s committed a crime. You need a hobby. Ever since you lost the baby…”

There it was—again.

Krystal sucked in an automatic response as Ron rubbed the back of his neck. His image blurred, and she ran from the room, brushing away the tears. When she reached her sanctuary that would have been the nursery, she heard Ron yelling at the children.

“Shut off that video game and go play outside!”

A door slammed, cutting off Sarah’s whiney voice. Krystal cringed. She knew she overindulged the children ever since the miscarriage. Still, Ron shouldn’t have yelled.

She heard the garage door open and the mini-van back out of the driveway. They would never solve anything at this rate.

An hour later, Krystal pulled the slightly burned pizza from the oven as Ron pulled into the driveway.

“Kids!” Krystal called the children, hoping they would turn off the game before their father walked in the door. They made it to the table as he entered the kitchen.

He glanced at the set table. “Just in time, huh?” He rubbed his neck and avoided looking her in the eye.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll go wash up.”

“Sure.”

Her heart pounded. She should tell him how much he hurt her, but not in front of the children. Later.

A knock on the door interrupted any thoughts of reconciliation.

“Hi. I saw the van pull in from across the street, so I figured someone was home.”

“Come in, Harry.” She turned to her daughter. “Sarah, why don’t you make a salad for Daddy? That will make him happy.”

Harry ruffled the top of Sarah’s head. “I’ll bet you’re a big help to your mom. How old are you now.”

Sarah smoothed where he had mussed up, and rolled her eyes. “I’m eight.”

Krystal gave her a look, silently communicating that she had better behave herself. Sarah must have taken the hint because she left the room without another word.

“I’m sorry, she thinks she’s older than she really is, and she’s got her little brother believing that she’s really the mom around here. But she can pour a salad out of the bag like a pro.”

She motioned toward the couch and they both sat. “So, what do you need, Harry?” Krystal figured it was to borrow the electric hedge clippers or something. That is, until he began fidgeting with his hands.

His next words came out with an adolescent crack. “It’s about my great-aunt.”

The odd duck. Krystal placed a smile on her face.

Harry continued. “She’s just moved in with us.”

Her plastic smile began to melt. He’d better get to the point.

“Bev and I have to go out of town for a week.” He cracked his fingers. “Aunt Molly doesn’t fly.” Where is this going? “I was wondering if you and Ron could keep an eye on her. You know, make sure she doesn’t burn the house down or something.”

She tried to sound diplomatic. “Can she take care of herself? I mean, does she cook and…” How could she put this delicately? “And bathe herself and all?”

“Oh! Yes, she’s very self-sufficient, but she doesn’t know anybody here. We were wondering if you or Ron would be available if she needs anything.”

Was that all? “Sure. Not a problem.”

Harry relaxed. “I’ll tell her. You don’t know what a relief this is. You’re a God-send.”
As Harry left, Ron came down the stairs. “What was that all about?”

Krystal told him.

“You didn’t even consult me? What if I don’t want anything to do with that old lady?”

“You’re at work all day. What do you care?”

Krystal knew the arguing would continue until bedtime.

The next day, Krystal watched Harry and Bev load up their car. She should have gone out to introduce herself to Aunt Molly, but she hoped the old woman wouldn’t need her for anything. However, the couple hadn’t even turned out of the neighborhood when Aunt Molly’s gloved hand gave a muffled knock on the door.

A wrinkled face with grey-blue eyes stared up at Krystal. “May I come in?”

After a brief introduction, Aunt Molly glanced toward Sarah and Petey in front of the television. “I’m about to give a tea party and would love it if you and the children could come. I would have made formal invitations, but it was a spur of the moment thing.”

Krystal hesitated. “Who else will be there?” Had Aunt Molly made friends at the local senior center?

“Just us.” Those eyes—clouded with age, yet with a piercing clarity that seemed to look into the very core of a person.

Sarah and Petey put their game on pause. “Please Mommy? It sounds like fun!”

Who are these children? Only an act of God would pull those kids from their game.

She looked down at three pairs of hopeful eyes. “Okay. But not for too long. I have things to do around here.” She didn’t. She just wanted an out in case things got weird.

Aunt Molly clapped her gloved hands, not making a sound. “Come, children.”

Sarah and Petey went to hug the frail matron and Krystal gasped. “Be careful, kids. You might hurt her.”

Aunt Molly wrapped her thin, bird boned arms around each child. “I might be tiny, but a hug never hurt anyone.”

* * *

Krystal looked at her watch and nearly dropped a cookie in her empty teacup. Where had the past three hours gone? Aunt Molly was fun! She told stories of the English court, explained her fascination with glove and hat collecting, and confided that she’d never been quite the same since Stuart passed on.

I wonder if that’s why she’s so quirky.

“Stuart loved cookies. We’d eat them at high tea in the garden.”

“You must miss him very much.”

“He was a wonderful companion. You never realize how much you love someone until they’re gone. It’s a precious gift to care for those nearest you while they’re still around to care back.” The purple feathers on Aunt Molly’s hat quivered as if they were a part of Aunt Molly herself. The woman, though feeble in appearance, seemed to percolate with energy. That image struck Krystal as ironic, since Aunt Molly had made peculiar faces at the mention of Krystal’s love of coffee. But, she obviously knew everything there was to know about tea.

“You always steep tea slowly,” she told Krystal. “Never use a tea bag. That’s not the queen’s way. And never in the cup itself. Always use a separate pot for steeping. Why, if you offered tea to royalty the American way, you’d be thrown out of court.” The wrinkles near her mouth nearly met her ears as she smiled. “Love is like tea, you know. You choose only the best you have to offer, put it in a special pot, and let it steep slowly. Always linger over love. Let the flavor of your love always be on your tongue, so no matter what you say, love is given in return.”

Had Aunt Molly heard the arguing? She and Ron never spoke with love anymore—only accusations and anger.

That evening when Ron walked in, the succulent aroma of roast beef filled the house. Krystal had laid out his favorite home cooked meal on her heirloom tablecloth. Scented candles graced the dining room table, their reflections dancing in her best china.

“What’s this?” His look of surprise pleased her, but then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why aren’t we eating in the kitchen?” His gaze trailed into the living room where the television sat, dark and abandoned. “Where are the kids?”

Krystal smiled, flavoring her words with love. “They’re upstairs reading a book Aunt Molly gave them. They’ve already eaten. Tonight is our night.”

She took his briefcase, loosened his tie, and led him to the head of the table.

That night they talked about the baby, her feelings of hurt whenever he blamed her, his feelings of inadequacy that he couldn’t have done something to save their child. Tears were shed. Love steeped slowly, creating a flavor to savor forever.

Within a week, Harry knocked on the door again. Both Krystal and Ron greeted him, holding hands.

After small talk Harry began massaging his fingers. “I hope my aunt wasn’t any trouble.”

Krystal placed her hands over his to keep him from cracking the knuckles. “We love your Aunt Molly.” She then patted him gently and scolded. “You never told us your family was English.”

Harry blinked. “I’m not, and neither is Aunt Molly.”

“Well, she talked of the court.”

“My aunt has a vivid imagination.”

“But, she and Stuart would have high tea in the garden.”

He shook his head. “She told you about that odd bird?”

“Is that any way to talk about your deceased uncle?” Krystal didn’t know her neighbor well, but she certainly didn’t like this side of him.

Harry burst into robust laughter. “Uncle?” He wiped his eyes. “My aunt is a spinster.”

Krystal looked at Ron and they both shrugged. “We don’t understand.”

“This is too good.” Harry cracked his knuckles, hard. “Stuart was a big white duck!”

Dear Reader: If you enjoyed this story, read how Aunt Molly reveals the beauty in a weed of a man in Odd Ducks and Periwinkle, and how she brings tradition to its knees in Odd Ducks and Clotted Cream.



Copyright: Kathleen E. Kovach, 2003. All rights reserved.
If you wish to share my work, please do not copy without express permission, but I do invite you to send the link to those you feel will benefit from my stories. Thank you for understanding.