A Chipped Tea Pot

There was a man, it seems like a long time ago, who lived by himself. He was quiet, but particular; he worked for a printer cutting letters and making type. He liked to make paper on his spare Saturdays. He made many kinds, many exotic and beautiful sheets, speckled with gold, marbled with raspberry and lime leaves…

He never wrote or drew on them. He filed them away in a mahogany chest that had once belonged to a ship’s doctor. He only wanted to make a perfect one. Why? So it would be his. His own. He wanted something beautiful. Something perfect.

The favourite of his things was his tea pot. It was cast iron, black, when he looked at it his heart would melt just following its lines with his eyes, to swallow its squat bulbous fruitful shape. He would have thought the spout like a nipple if he could have remembered his mother’s. But that image stayed where he could hardly feel it, like unboiled tea leaves sealed in a dark jar. After making paper one Saturday he was brewing the Lapsang Souchong with his tea pot as he always did. Watching a little steam wind up out of the spout, when he became afraid. What if someone took his tea pot, what if he dropped it on the hard stone floor? It was perfect — it was the only perfect and beautiful thing he had. If it went what could be left behind him?

He poured the tea as soon as it might be ready. He drank quickly, wiped the usual drips from the table. Wiped the next drip from the spout, with a gentle flourishing upward movement, got up and left without his coat.

Today though, it was not cold, the magnolias in the square were almost finished, the stones underneath marbled with white and red, and blackbirds were practising for the evening chorus. He walked directly and quickly to the market. he looked on all the stalls of china. He found an almost perfect marble and pocketed it for a small coin. But no tea pots.

That was the first of many visits, he widened his search to other towns, he started going on other days than Saturday, he changed his job so he could travel more.

As the beeches were losing their fire that year he came back with another matching tea pot. It was also perfect and beautiful, he couldn’t be sure it was identical, but it looked perfect, certainly the same style, almost the same size. They could be brothers — if not twins, and as he walked up his steps he wondered if his tea pot had been stolen and now he had found it again. But he still had one, No, he had used it for tea this morning it was definitely there.

It was. He put them together on the table in the light from the window. They were both perfect and beautiful.

No. The new one, was different! The spout was chipped underneath, where it should be gently wiped. He felt he was being swept up like the old beech leaves outside, like warm tea leaves being scooped up by a hand. He had wasted all that money. Wasted all that time. He was no nearer to safety after all. After a long time gazing through the window, then sitting in the corner while the light drained from the sky, his thirst roused him. He would make tea. With the new tea pot. At least the other would be safe if he dropped it.

He poured the tea, not concentrating, silk handkerchief at the ready.

No drips.

No drips. He looked again. No puddle on the table, just a chipped tea pot and a cup and a satsuma in a black bowl.

He saw how precious this new tea pot was. He wondered who could have been so stupid as to sell it to a decrepit market trader more used to selling trashy dog-eared romantic novels and third-hand socks than perfect crockery.

It could have been himself, yesterday, a week ago, even last spring.

He went to the cupboard by the door, found the hammer. Took the old tea pot and smacked the spout a glancing blow. There was a ringing noise and he felt a chip graze his forehead. He put the two tea pots together on the table and watched as if a huge tea chest had been taken off his back and its contents shot into the sky.

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