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English breakfast tea sweetened with sugar and milk; a Hawaiian macadamia nut cookie.

English breakfast tea sweetened with sugar and milk; a Hawaiian macadamia nut cookie.

Harold watched two cubes of sugar dissolve into his tiny cup of tea. He dipped a gilt spoon into the cracked cup – the two really didn’t match very well, he noticed distractedly.           

            Everything about Harold’s life was somewhat mismatched. Shiny golden silverware and chipped china. Hawaiian macadamia nut cookies every day and a chest full of ribs. A daguerreotype camera in the living room and countless London Underground tickets to Bickerton-Astbury Engineers. Harold and Marion.

            His life was constructed perilously and almost entirely from thin sheets of irony.

            Harold heard the low roil of a dying engine faintly from his good ear. The left one had been nearly blasted to deafness by the constant clanging and bustling of civil construction.

            Twinings English breakfast tea. The smell was delicious and hardly describable. It smells almost exactly like Winston Churchill, thought Harold. Winston Churchill was a cat that, after spending countless hours in Uncle Thurmond’s kitchen, smelled faintly of powdered sugar, honey and cardamom.

            “Hm,” said Harold to nobody in particular. Then, more to himself on account of the room being empty besides, “Is it odd that English breakfast tea reminds me of Winston Churchill?”

            He took a sip of the steaming tea. The porcelain cup was warm around the outside, belying the scalding nature of its contents.

            It tasted milky and sweet: perfection. Even in mid-afternoon, without bacon, fried eggs, toast and black pudding, it held its own.

            Harold heard a gravelly click. If Marion kept hitting the mailbox, she’d leave a dent in the place where all the paint was shivering off. 

            “Full-bodied, rich and robust,” boasted the tea manual Marion had bought for the coffee table – oh, the irony – which had since been surreptitiously piled by the fireplace, then even more surreptitiously swept, then kicked, under the couch.

            Some say the tea and its name originated in a faraway land called America, where a transplanted Englishman called Richard Davies set up shop to sell tea in 1843. The tea merchant’s blend of Congou, Pekoe and Pouchong sold at 50 cents a pound in New York City.

            Black patent leather Mary Janes clacking on worn pavement sound oddly musical, like after years of abuse, the gravel has decided it’s giving up the fight, it’s going to join the orchestra after all. Harold felt much like the pavement. Nobody, really, is a match for black patent leather Mary Janes.

            Something grumbled. This sound Harold did not immediately recognize. The metallic, hollow twist of the doorknob should have followed the clacking, not this strange grumbling. But it was no cause for concern – just his stomach. Perhaps some fried tomatoes and black pudding would be nice after all.

            Black pudding is a sausage made of congealed blood. It’s really sort of disgusting, except that it’s delicious. Black pudding and black tea. Blood and caffeine. Tried and true.

            The metallic twist, then a heaving, grating, irritated whine from the door as it swung open at the hands of a tired and tousled woman. Marion was officially home.

            Harold downed the rest of his tea and set the cup on the coffee table. Really, it was the tea table. Nobody here drank coffee, except Marion.

            English breakfast tea left a numbing taste of Ceylon, Assam and Kenya on Harold’s tongue and lips. The sweet and spicy undertones of foreign escape, the remnants of which lingered in his mouth when he looked up to find Marion standing in the doorway.

            “Tea?” he asked.

            She nodded. She looked flustered, exhausted, puffy and at the same time impossibly thin. She looked cold.

            Harold stood and his knees cracked in protest at the unexpected movement – except it really wasn’t unexpected because every day at 4:37 in the afternoon, Marion came home looking worn and withered and Harold offered her tea and she nodded and he stood and his knees cracked.

            In the kitchen he stared at all the chipped china and chose one at random. At the bottom of the cup he plunked three sugar cubes and  lay on top of them a bag of blueberry green tea, thinking it was complete rubbish. Blueberry green tea? What a joke.

            Marion’s escape wasn’t nearly as desperate as his.

            Harold doused the tea and sugar with hot water and brought the cup and saucer into the living room, where Marion had settled into the slouchy dent in the couch Harold had left in his wake.

            “I’ve got business,” he said blandly. “I’ll be back.”

            The doorknob on the inside was newer than the one on the outside – it made a brassy ringing noise. More people came in than ever left this place.

            Harold’s brown loafers hardly disturbed the pavement and the change in his pocket for a tube pass sounded much more promising than the abuse Marion’s car inflicted on the mailbox.

            At Waterford, he settled into a corner table, squeezed between wall and window.

            A too-bright waitress arrived and asked in an unidentifiable accent what he’d like.

            “Full Monty, please,” said Harold. “With English breakfast tea.”

            The waitress smiled skeptically, barely revealing too-white teeth. “English breakfast even at 5?”

            As if she knew anything about tea.

            “Especially at 5,” he said.

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