Jane MacDonald

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Tea--For Two?

                                                                                                                                2000 Jane MacDonald

by Jane MacDonald

Coffee bars are all over the place, but on Newbury Street in Boston
people sit at little marble-topped tables outside on the sidewalk,
and they actually drink not coffee, but tea. Different kinds--teas
I'd never heard of, like Golden Tippy Assam and Mim First Flush
Darjeeling. Of course, I've heard of them now, because sometimes
I sit and read the little catalogue they give all the customers. I've
tasted most of them, too. I like to relax at one of those tables and
read a magazine and hope that maybe someday I'll meet a man who
doesn't sit around swilling beer all the time.

God knows I'm old enough to know better. Two-time loser, that's me.
I'm not bad-looking for nearly forty, which is a miracle considering
what I've been through, but I just don't seem to have the knack. I'm
honest. That means I tend to say what I think, not what somebody
wants me to say. If I try to put on an act, I feel all dirty, and the
hell with that. So I say what I think, or I just keep quiet. I've been
called compulsive, too, but that's wrong. I have standards, and some
people don't.

Take this afternoon, for instance. It was warm, the kind of October
day you just dream about most of the time around here. I'd decided
to try something new, so I was sipping a cup of something called
Young Hyson. They brew everything for three minutes, and Young
Hyson is only supposed to brew for two--it says so in that catalogue.
They uselittle three-minute timers, like egg-timers, and they
don't pay any attention to their own instructions. Unfortunately, I
hadn't noticed that before. I was sitting there being irked
when a rather neat, pleasant-looking man sat at the next
table, alone. He was wearing polished oxblood loafers, a dark
blue, maybe purple, dress shirt, and pressed chinos--quite proper
for the time and place.

He ordered Irish Breakfast tea. Now, I like that in a man. First,
he knew what he wanted; he didn't dither. You think men don't
dither? They dither all the time, only you're supposed to admire
them for it. They call it being judicious or something. Well,
this man didn't dither, he just ordered a nice, familiar tea
that he knew he'd like. Then he waited calmly for it to come.
None of this trying to look important by pulling out a cell-phone
and yammering away at some other damn fool.

"You live around here?"

I wasn't surprised that he talked to me. Why shouldn't he? I'm not
fat, and not too skinny, either, and I was wearing my black linen
suit. He even smiled, not much, but a little, when he looked at me.
About that time the little-girl waitress brought the tea and told him
it was ready, so he thanked her and pulled the strainer out of the
pot. Then he looked back at me, expecting an answer.

"Yes, I do. About a block from here."

"Nice neighborhood, but a little busy," he said.

"It's a city," I said. "Noisy, dirty, sometimes crowded. I love it."

"Well, I can see your point. I live in Needham, and it's way too
quiet."

This fellow was seriously making points with me. He didn't ask
whether I was scared of muggers or any of that other suburban
nonsense.

"If you don't like it, why do you live there?"

He gave it some thought, killing time by taking a swallow of his
tea, which I could have told him was still too hot. He put up with
that without turning a hair. Men. One strike. He didn't have to
spray it all over the table, but an honest person would have
looked pained, at least.

"It's a long story," he said, "but, in a nutshell, I used to live
there with my wife, then she left."

"Why?" I knew that was the wrong thing to say, but I figured I
might as well be up front.

He took another sip of tea. Smaller, that time, and it didn't
burn. He turned to face me, and looked me square in the eye.

"She found herself. Then she announced that she was a lesbian
and moved to Seattle. You aren't by any chance a lesbian,
are you?"

"No. I gave it some thought once, but no, I'm not." Tea that's
brewed too strong tends to make me make faces, and my Young
Hyson definitely was too strong, so, when I drank a little, I
frowned. Maybe even scowled.

"What's the matter with your tea, too strong?" The smile this time
was maybe just a little superior. I reserved judgment.

"Yes. It's supposed to brew for two minutes, but they can't tell
time here. It brewed for three. It might be good if they'd brewed
it right."

He picked up the little timer on his table and looked at it, turning
it upside down so the sand would begin to run through again.

"They could get a two-minute timer," he said, looking thoughtful.
"That's some engineering job, getting the time exactly right."
When the sand was all done, he put his left wrist on the table,
looked hard at his watch, and flipped the glass again. "We'll see
if they did."

We watched the sand flow through for two minutes and fifty-nine
seconds. That's assuming his watch was right.

"Close enough, I suppose," he said. "Better than I thought it
would be." He looked rather pleased, as if he'd been the engineer
who made the mold. He took another drink from his cup.

"How is the food here?"

"Good," I said. "The sandwiches are excellent, and the salads are
unbelievable. Better than most of the expensive restaurants
around here. But they don't serve full-course dinners."

"Are you going to be here tomorrow? If you are, at say five-thirty,
I'd like to buy you supper. Or we could go down the street to
Davio's."

"Davio's. By that time I'll want real food. The salads there
aren't bad, either."

He waved at the waitress and gave her a ten-dollar bill. Big
tipper. The tea costs $3.75, plus tax. Then he turned to me.

"You're not planning to move to Seattle right away, are you?"

I like a man who thinks ahead.

"Not for a while, anyhow." Then I smiled. "I own my condo.
I like it here. I might move to Chicago someday, but not right
away."

He stood. "I'll see you tomorrow, then." He gave me a little
wave and turned to leave. I watched him walk down Newbury
Street.

So I'll get there around five tomorrow afternoon, and drink
something light, like the Evergreen Estate Ceylon. He might
show up. There's a chance. If he doesn't, I'll switch to Lapsang
and have a sandwich.


(This story was first published in LoveWords, the e-zine,
in the March, 2001 issue.)