Steep

by Dar Jeeling April 1, 2016

It was the kind of day that made Everett want to curl up like a three-banded armadillo. Before work, a parking lot seagull missed pooping on his head by a centimeter, a semi-truck splashed water on his pants at lunch time, and worst of all, by 3 PM every coffee shop in town was somehow, mysteriously out of tea. Each time Everett asked for a mug of Earl Grey—or any tea, really, he always added when the barista glared at him—the other people in the coffee shop would lower their cups in tandem and look away. The Price Chopper on Simpson Ave. had shoved cans of Yoo-hoo in the empty spaces where the Celestial Seasonings was usually stocked, and the manager at Whole Foods acted like “caffeine” was a dirty word when Everett queried why that entire aisle was blocked off with yellow tape.

Everett went home to brew his own cup of tea. Opening the cupboard, he took out the tin of Mariage Frères that he’d bought in France last year; he usually saved the good stuff for when he had company and was trying to impress people. But after today’s particularly aggressive crappiness, he felt the universe owed him this one small gift. He pulled the lid off the tin—oh! how he loved the soft thunk of the canister releasing its airtight seal! The tea’s earthy aroma awakened Everett’s senses, and he noticed for the first time that his kitchen was strewn with dead animals—dead animals hanging out of the cupboards, stuffed under the oven, chilling in the fridge. The tin of tea clanged to the floor. Everett’s stomach heaved, and as he grabbed the counter to keep from passing out, his fist closed around the small stiffening body of what could only be identified as a Eurasian pygmy shrew. Sorex minutus, his stunned genius brain whispered, battling valiantly to bring some kind of order to his besieged mental state.

Suddenly panicked that this new development was going to ruin his one shot at tea, Everett slapped the lid onto the Mariage Frères, and with no explanation (other than his possible failing mental health) the kitchen returned to its much preferred dead-animal-free state and the shrew in his hand became the pair of socks that had been missing since Easter, the ones that perfectly matched the scarf his mother had given him on his birthday. It had been her last gift to him before her lapse into dementia, and then suddenly he knew the ache behind this vertiginous caffeine crash—scarf, mother, mother-to-be, Katherine—his Kat. How he had found Kat well into her second trimester in that tepid water, darkly clouded, with a trembling efflorescence in her eyes as if to say I’m sorry, I’m sorry

streaking

spinning

sinking

in the boreal light that cascaded through the high, small bathroom window.

Yes, he knew that ache. It was simple, like a clean image of the moon, or like a crisp trail of footprints. The ache of something gone missing—poof—just like that. How could she?

All those dead animals?

All that dark water?

Steeping. That was the word for it—for Kat’s body clouding the water, for the Mariage Frères, now in his mug (his favorite, plain white, purloined from the dining hall attached to his college dorm, kept intact, all these years). And steeping, the way he feels, like climbing up a slippery hill the way you do, feet set sideways for traction, breath short, and then nearly cresting the top, leaning over to take in the sharp decline, no good strategy for descent.

His head swam, then his body right behind it; the descent was taking care of itself. Falling, he felt lighter, simpler, calmer, exempt, all those things. Falling, he didn’t need to keep the memory of Kat intact or separate from his mother’s (which felt creepy). Falling, he felt released from sipping this expensive, murky tea (when all he really wanted was a smoke). Plummeting, Everett let go of the mug and reached for the socks-cum-pygmy shrew. He twisted the lifeless mammal into a ball like his mother had taught him and shot it at the full moon. A three-pointer.

About the Author:

Dar Jeeling was born and raised in India and lives in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. She has been described as “wonderfully complex,” “pleasantly astringent,” and “less bitter than some.” Her writing often channels the minds of Megan Giddings, Eshani Surya, Tara Laskowski, Shasta Grant, Annie Bilancini, Virgie Townsend, Gay Degani, Josh Denslow, Brandon Wicks, Ashley Inguanta, Karen Craigo, and Christopher Allen.

About the Artist:

John-Mark Kuznietsov's photos can be found on Unsplash.