Dahti Blanchard

Another short story I’m quite fond of. Much different than Normal Development but it seems there’s always a pivotal teenaged girl in my stories, even if she’s not the main character.

The Rose Tea Ritual

Rose was almost gone. Only a little pinch of her left really, but enough for what she’d asked me to do.

Rose Goodrich had been my best friend for seventy-two years. Still was, for that matter. A little thing like death doesn’t end a good friendship. We’d grown up in the same town, been in each other’s wedding parties, shared the joys (and horrors) of each other’s children and grandchildren, and outlived our husbands.

And now, I’d outlived Rose. One year ago, to the day, we had our last tea together as my old friend laid out her wishes to me and extracted my solemn promise to carry them through. “Adele,” she’d said, “I don’t plan on sticking around to be tortured to death, but I don’t want to just disappear either. There are things I wanted to finish in my life but haven’t gotten to it, and there are things I just plain want to be part of still. You’re going to help me do that.” There was no question in my mind that I would help. That’s what friends do.

She’d gone to bed that night, knowing she wouldn’t wake up in the morning. “A blessing, really,” her children hastened to tell each other and anyone else in the vicinity. “We know mother didn’t want to suffer through the ravages and treatments of her horrible illness.” Most people assumed they meant the cancer she’d been diagnosed with, but old age was the more likely “illness” they alluded to.

Rose had left very specific instructions with a lawyer about the dispersement of her estate. She was not wealthy, but her son, two daughters and five grandchildren received possessions and money enough that should have kept them, if not happy, at least satisfied. There was only one slightly unpleasant moment when it was discovered that I was also to receive a couple of mementos: namely, her Royal Albert rose pattern china teapot and cups, and Rose herself. I was designated the keeper of her ashes.

The unpleasant incident didn’t involve Rose’s remains oddly enough. Her daughter Judith was—shall we say—rather disappointed that the tea set was to leave the family. She gave me to understand that she expected me to “do the right thing.” I did. I brought the set home and placed it on a prominent shelf in my living room, right next to Rose.

I spent a great deal of the following year spreading bits of ashes in some of Rose’s favorite places: her backyard, my backyard, on a cherished rock in the woods where we’d played as children, under the second seat, sixth row at the Roxie Theater where she was sitting when Jack, her second and favorite husband, had proposed. I even did some traveling so I could leave her in places she’d wanted to go but had never gotten the chance.

And so here we were down to the last pinch and final request: a tea party whose guest list had been dictated to me one year ago. It included myself as the hostess of course; Judith and her sixteen-year-old daughter Jess; my daughter Hilary; Anna Henderson—Rose’s sister-in-law and worthy opponent through the years; and Arthur Woodman—her not so worthy neighbor. Six Royal Albert tea cups, six guests invited to the tea. The stage was set.
The doorbell rang just as I added the leaves and buds of the rose mint tea to the pot to steep. I took the time to breathe in deeply—the better to appreciate the heady scent of the flower and herb that were so delicious together when brewed properly. Umm—the taste of a blooming garden in late summer—Rose’s favorite time of year.

I cast my eye over the living room. The sofa and chairs were arranged in a circle with a lace-covered tea table in the center. The pot and cups, sugar and milk and a tray of clotted cream biscuits shared the table with a single red rose and an ornate little bowl with a lid on it. Though it was not particularly cold outside, a cheery fire was blazing in the fireplace directly behind the sofa. I nodded in approval and removed my apron. “Okay old girl,” I said to the bowl. “Showtime.”

The first two guests stood in front of me as I opened the door. Judith was dressed nicely but looking quite sour. Behind her, Jess, swathed from head to toe in black, smiled sweetly.

“Hey Auntie Adele.” Jess waved a hand in greeting. I had just time enough to notice the jaunty purple color of her nails before her mother cut in.

She’s not your aunt," Judith said primly. "We’re here, Adele. I got your invitation addressed only to Jess and myself, though I still don’t know what this is all about.

“Oh Mom, lighten up, it’s a tea party. The invitation was pretty clear.” Jess rolled her eyes at her mother’s back.

“So, does this little tea party mean that you invited me to gloat over the fact that you have my mother’s tea set or that you’ve realized that it rightfully belongs to m—, in my family?” I tried to remember a time, even in her childhood, when Judith hadn’t been pompous. I couldn’t do it.

Neither one, dear." I motioned them through the door and closed it behind them. "Jess is quite right. This is a tea party with a few specific guests. You can hang your coats in the closet right there and then come on in. I have everything set in the living room. That’s a particularly interesting shade of black lipstick, Jess.

Thanks Auntie Adele.

Judith pursed her properly pink-colored mouth. "This horrible black phase is not something she should get attention for. I’d rather you didn’t… "

Mercifully the doorbell rang again. “Oops. I need to get that. Jess, take your mom on in. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Okey-doke.” The younger woman led the way with the older one sulking in her wake.

Opening the door once again, I was gratified to see the remaining guests were here. Anna stepped inside as Hilary came up the walkway. At the end of the drive Arthur was slowly unfolding himself from his car. I greeted Anna and gave Hilary a hug. As they made their way to where the others were waiting Arthur finally shuffled through the door. I was frankly surprised that he had accepted the invitation, but Rose had known he would. “If there’s food involved and it’s free, Arthur will be there,” she’d informed me.
“Glad you could make it Arthur,” I said pleasantly.

“Don’t know why you invited me. Came anyway. What’s this all about?”

What a grumpy old man, I thought, ignoring the fact that he was only two years older than myself. “You’ll see. Come in and we can get started.”

We were now all assembled. Arthur made his way to the rocking chair while the others looked at me expectantly. I studied their faces for a moment. “Thank you for coming, all of you.”

A tea party is nice, Mom, but the invitation said this was in honor of Rose? Are we the only ones that were invited?" Hilary smoothed the pillow that guarded the space between her and Judith on the sofa. They were only one year apart in age, but had seldom gotten along either as children or adults. "Why didn’t you invite the rest of Rose’s family— or ours?

You are the people she asked me to invite, Hilary. She wanted a tea party with the Royal Albert tea set…," I put my hand up to stop the tirade I knew Judith would start if I let her, "… and there are exactly six cups in the set. She chose each of us to be here because we represent parts of her life. She wanted each of us to carry on her memory for everyone else.

That is so cool," Jess enthused. "It’s just like Grandma to set something like this up.

“Isn’t it though.” Judith was less enthusiastic.

What do I represent?" Anna asked. 'I mean, we hardly agreed on anything over the years.

"Ah, but you made her think. She told me not to lay it on too thick, but that I should let you know that she actually changed her mind about one or two things because of what you had to say. She said not to let that go to your head though.

Anna smiled as I continued. “Hilary and Judith, you’re here to represent the second generation in each of our families. And Jess, you’re here not only to stand in for all the grandchildren, but because I believe Rose thought of you as the one in her family most like herself.”

Really?" Jess looked pleased at the thought. "Grandma was the equivalent of a Goth in her day?

Not exactly," I told her, "but a little wild, a little rebellious and a lot of being her own wonderful person.

“This is all touching and—I might add—girly, but what in blazes am I doing here?” Arthur might have felt more than slightly out of place but I couldn’t help noticing he’d already helped himself to a generous portion of the biscuits.

You, Arthur, represent the rest of the world. Plus Rose thought you could do with something sweet to eat.

“So, she thought I needed sweetening up, did she?” He ate another biscuit.

“Before we drink the Rose mint tea, I have a little ritual I’d like us to perform.” Picking up the bowl from the table, I lifted the lid and put it aside. “I’ve spent the year since Rose’s death scattering her ashes in as many of her favorite places as I could think of. I’ve saved a little and want you to help me finish up today. I have only about a half a pinch in this bowl and I’d like each of us to put a tiny bit into the fire and let Rose’s spirit float up the chimney and off into the world.”

“Only half a pinch? Where’s the other half?” Jess joked.

I looked at her sharply. “It’s just an expression, dear.”

“Isn’t this a little corny, Mom?” asked Hilary.

“A little?” Judith simply refused to have a good time.

“Maybe,” I agreed, “but it’s what Rose wanted, so be kind. Let’s gather round the fireplace and send her off.”

And that’s exactly what we did—some with more enthusiasm than others. I was certain that Judith only pretended to touch the ashes, but at least she participated. Even Arthur willingly threw a bit to the fire.

Thank you," I said. "Now let’s have our tea.

That’s it?" Anna looked disappointed. "No solemn words or big send off?

No," I said. "Just this. And our tea, of course. Let’s have a seat and I’ll pour. Rose mint in rose cups. Fitting, don’t you think?

Isn’t life strange?" Hilary pondered as I made my way around the circle, handing each one a cup and pouring the fragrant blend into it. "The last of Rose is gone, now.

Oh no it isn’t," I said hastily and then caught myself. I offered her a biscuit. "She’ll always be a part of us. That’s what this is really for. Now drink up everyone. Here’s to Rose.

Everyone lifted their cup and drank except Jess. She glanced at me and then at her tea. I held my breath until a huge grin spread across her face. “You’re really wicked, Auntie Adele and so is Grandma.” She laughed and drank a big gulp.

“What in the world are you talking about?” Judith wanted to know.

“Nothing, Mom. Drink up.” Jess’s eyes met mine again. I smiled serenely and knew I would pass the Royal Albert on to her when it was time for the Adele tea ritual.

© 2008 Dahti Blanchard
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