I never was a tea drinker.  Double espresso from the CoffeeTown drive thru every morning to the office.  But one morning the barista gave me the wrong order, and I found myself drinking tea.  And liking it.  So I started making my own.

It’s a simple process. Heat the water, add the tea, then wait.  I got an electric kettle that would heat the water for me.  Toss in a teabag of Lipton or Tetley, then I was good to go.  But after a while, I found myself wondering if it could be any better.

I spent some time in the tea section of Earth Organics, where a helpful young lady got me to drop the mass-produced stuff in favor of fair trade, loose organic teas from India, Japan, China. Made a few other changes. Told my boss at corporate to take a flying leap. I swapped the electric kettle to my neighbor for his battered old tea pot his ex-wife had left behind.  The water took longer to boil now, but I didn’t mind.  I felt more grounded.

Unfortunately, I bounced a couple checks at Earth Organics and the tea girl told me to go to hell.  I started getting my tea from a hole-in-the-wall bodega up the street, trading them stuff from my apartment.  The teas they carried had labels in languages that made my eyes cross if I tried to read them.  Some tasted like sunsets when you were twelve and in love, others like black licorice and a punch in the nose.  I liked those better.

It was about that time the gas got cut off.  Heating the water was tricky, until I picked up a pamphlet lying in the street.  Pyrokinesis Made Easy, it said, but it still took me staring at my kettle for three days, eyes unblinking, focusing until the water molecules finally began to heat.

The night I left my apartment for the last time I dreamed I floated upon a dark ocean that smelled of cloves and cinnamon while a voice like steam whispered a secret I could only half-understand.  Each night the dream came to me again, and again, and I understand it now.  I will walk until I find enough water to let my body steep in it, and I will become one with the infinite, one with the tea.

Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote: “Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote that a crazy, angry monkey squatted in the banyan tree, plucking and eating figs from the vines and getting fat. He read his beautiful, rice-paper composition aloud.

” ‘I am not a crazy, angry monkey and I’m not fat,’ said the crazy, angry monkey who was getting fat, which must be so because it was written on rice paper. The monkey paused to listen, then let out an angry monkey shriek, ripping out a banyan branch. The monkey hurled the branch at the cherubic essayist. The branch smacked him in the head and splattered blood all over the beautiful, rice-paper composition.

“Hopping gleefully up and down in the banyan tree, the monkey proved the essayist’s point. He lived long enough to scribble a few more lines.

” ‘That’s it. I want a divorce,’ the monkey said, climbing down. But it could not resist grooming the beatific essayist’s bloody scalp.”

“Most ghosts, when all is said and done, do not do much harm.”–E.F. Benson, “Caterpillars”

She liked NASCAR via surround-sound speakers:  the rev and whine of engines rattling the china cupboards in their little Italian villa, echoing across the hillside village.  He liked gaudily colored knick-knacks–doilies, ceramic dolls, figurines of farmers and barnyard animals.  These held them together because these kept away the ghosts.

It hadn’t always been this way.  Ambitious young sculptors, they attended University of Texas during the “DotCom” bubble.  They squirreled enough to sculpt the rest of their lives in Italy, eying villas outside Rome where they’d haunt great works of art on a whim–especially the Italian Renaissance, which they felt they had a foolproof plan to reinvigorate.  All they need do was invest aggressively for ten years, and they’d live happily ever after.

In ten years, the housing bubble banqueted upon their savings.  Enough remained to redeem for a remote Italian villa, far from Rome.  “Villa” was too kind:  gargoyles falling off the rooftop at the hint of wind, a battered if tasteless cupid water fountain, moth-eaten draperies, decrepit furnishings–a haven for wandering ghosts.

Into these quarters, ghosts slipped in and tipped over alabaster sculptures or knocked the half-formed granite gulls from a windowsill–how had it gotten there?–or whatever the couple had been working on.  Critics, no doubt.   The car noises and atrocious crafts warded away most ghosts, but not altogether.

The villa’s decay and their art’s attrition infected waning late-night caresses.  They cohabited together alone, in separate bedrooms among the rubble of their sculptures.

One night leaning out on the veranda, smoking a cigarette and sipping smokey whiskey, he spotted something below, glowing in the water-fountain’s basin.  He fetched and cradled the foot-long grub into the light of his wife’s bedroom.  A ghost banging a shutter caught sight of the creature and fled.

He laid the grub upon the sheets between them.  Water slicked its satiny carapaced belly.  His wife cooed, stroked its abdomen which squished and sloshed as though it held a chunky, viscous liquid.  Its pincers squeezed his finger hard enough to tickle out a trickle of blood.  He babbled in a prehistoric tongue.

She laid a hand on his cheek, brushed his forehead with the backs of her knuckles.  She thought of days soaking up the sun on Padre Island, of blueberry sno-cones and beignés, of ridiculously floppy straw hats, of his warmth next to hers.   He spirited her hand to his lips and kissed the open palm.

They sat in the duck blind, a little dizzy from the beer. Homer and Dan pointed their rifles lazily skyward while Les tried the duck call.

“That’s the best goddamn duck call I ever heard,” said Homer.

Les looked at Homer sideways and slowly put the duck call down.

“That was a good duck call, Les,” said Dan. “You got anything you want to tell us?”

They were interrupted as quacking rang out over the reeds and ducks burst into flight all around. Homer and Dan raised their shotguns, squeezing the triggers at almost the same time. Over the rushing and flapping sounds they could hear the hammers click, but neither gun fired.

Dan gawked at his gun while Homer swore and cracked his open, crammed in two cartridges of #2 duck shot, and snapped it shut. When Homer raised it again he saw Les rising into the sky, his arms straining and flapping at the air, quacking.

“Damn it, he fooled with the guns. He’s gone native!” said Homer. He brought the stock to his shoulder and sighted Les.

Dan gently pushed the barrel of Homer’s gun off target. Homer grunted, but he let the gun droop.

“If he wants to be a duck, let him be a duck,” Dan said. He snapped open a new beer and took a long pull.

“We’ll get him next year.”

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