Resurrected, by Wife
-Billijean Martiello, 2013
Afternoon tea was an elegant affair for Helen Brightly, whether it was held on a Tuesday afternoon alone, or during a special holiday celebration with a group of friends. Each day, Helen prepared the tea the same way. First, she laid out the tablecloth, freshly pressed and smelling like lavender fabric softener. Next, her grandmother’s china was carefully placed, dainty saucers and rose-patterned teacups finding homes near the matching dessert plates, and pretty pink napkins folded like fans were placed on top. Then, she placed the silver, which was always freshly polished. Helen liked to look at herself in the spoons as she made them sparkle and shine, smiling her red lipstick smile, pleased with her appearance. Before she brought out the plump little teapot, nestled in its cozy, and a tray of whatever cake, cookie, or biscuit was to accompany this daily ritual, she arranged the flowers. The flowers, Helen thought, were the perfect touch. It was the little personal things, her grandmother always said, that really mattered. Nothing could be more personal than home grown flowers, prettily arranged in a crystal vase, and Alan was sure to appreciate it.
Alan pretended not to enjoy afternoon tea, but Helen knew that he was just bluffing. Alan was a masculine man, unaccustomed to delicate things, and it was her job as his wife to introduce beauty and gentility into his life. After nearly twenty years of marriage, Helen could not be fooled. Underneath her husband’s engine grease and sawdust mechanic’s exterior, was a gentleman. “Just give me a damn sandwich, woman!” he had always grumbled, if he was at home during teatime. “I don’t need none of that fancy-schmancy tea cake crap!” He was such a joker, her Alan!
“I hope you have washed your hands, dear!” Helen called from the kitchen, in her soft, songlike voice. Men loved a lady with a sweet, soft voice, and Helen made sure that hers was just that. She placed the lemon bars she had baked that morning on the silver serving tray, atop little paper doilies. She had to make some extra effort today. Alan hadn’t been to tea in such a long time. Helen knew that he had been busy; supporting a wife and a home was no easy task. He needed this small respite from the stresses that plagued a man’s life, a sort of relief that only a good wife could provide. Helen arranged the serving tray on the teacart, alongside a perfectly brewed pot of Early Grey, Alan’s favorite variety of tea. She straightened out her well starched apron, and gave her visage a once over in the mirror that hung over her kitchen sink. She smiled warmly. There was not a hair out of place, her curls were neatly pinned, and the new blue dress made her eyes stand out. The dress was a worthwhile investment, in celebration of Alan’s special afternoon tea.
Alan was already in his favorite seat when Helen pushed the little cart into the parlor. “It is so nice to have you home for tea, Alan.” She told him, picking up a lemon bar with tiny silver tongs, and putting it on his plate. “I have missed you, dear. As you can see, I baked some lemon bars, with fresh lemon from the tree in the yard. It was clever of you to plant one there, it has grown quite a bit since you’ve been gone.” Helen gestured out the window, where a scrawny lemon tree was growing in the middle of the well clipped lawn.
She poured Alan’s tea, skipping the sugar at first, and then deciding to treat him after all. It was a special occasion. “One lump shouldn’t hurt, and the doctor doesn’t have to know!” Helen smiled at her husband, and patted his hand. Alan had always been a man of few words, and Helen didn’t care how quiet he was, not so long as he was there.
Helen took sugar and milk in her tea, always had, ever since she was a little girl. Three small stirs, and it was done. She took a sip, enjoying the peace and the company of her husband. She glanced over at his plate, his dessert remaining untouched. “You know, dear, I am watching my figure, but if you don’t want your lemon bar, I am tempted to take a little nibble!” Helen reached across the table with her fork, and cut off a small corner of the sweet confection. The tartness of the lemons was perfectly balanced by dusting of powdered sugar on top. She patted her husband’s hand again, feeling so glad that they were together for tea once more.
“You always did have poor circulation, Alan” Helen said, “I had quite forgotten until now.” She glanced up at her husband’s face, shrouded in the shadow of the winged chair. “You should get some more sunshine. I don’t mean to be a nag, but you really do need a bath, Alan. You smell simply awful!” Helen wrinkled her nose as the sour, foul smell rose up toward her tea. She would have a hard time getting used to it, but that is how things were with a man. If she bossed him around too much, he would crack under the pressure and she would lose him again. Helen’s eyes left his face, and trailed down to the floor beneath his feet, dirt and maggots writhing on her antique Turkish rug. Helen sighed. The things she did for love!
“I think this tea has been very successful, Alan. I am so glad to have you back.” Helen brushed the dark hair on her husband’s temple, ignoring the buzzing of flies and the smell of corpse, “But tomorrow I am going to set up afternoon tea in the garden. The fresh air and sunshine are just what you need.” With that, she smiled her blood red smile, and began clearing the table of china and crumbs.