Hers — a short story
Just as Mrs. Beauregard requested.
Folded out beige tables were organized in jagged lines ‘round the house. On top of them, there was an arrangement of tagged jewelry, tagged mirrors, tagged lenses, and tagged valuables that had been passed through the Beauregard family for generations. The untouched furniture she once sat in was tagged. The rustic metal table that once held her tea and saucer was tagged as well. I felt a sharp pain of anxiety as I scanned what some of the volunteers called our ‘inventory.’ My train of thought was broken when I noticed my daughter stretching to hand me her washing rag. I moved my eyes from the rag to meet hers, and they looked tense. Kneeling down to her, I grabbed the rag and smiled, “Honey, go dip your feet in the the pool out back and take some steam off. You’ve done good, baby girl.”
I have worked since I was her age, paying off the financial issues that my father was too drunk to deal with. When I began assisting Mrs. Beauregard as an aide, she despised me. I needed someone to aid me in aiding her, that’s how stressful it became. You see, our social classes do not see eye to eye. People like me work for people like her in hopes to make it in the world. Mrs. Beauregard came from a family of well-off folk who gave three-figured tips to waitresses. Her whole life, she’s been sitting on generations of wealth. The knowledge of her worth made her bitter. She had more comebacks than liver spots, and she could argue that the world was square until the cows came home. Her hair draped across her left breast like a blanket of white snow, tied secure with a polished barrette. She knew her money gave her power, and made a point to shove her dominance at me, especially whenever I would screw up her directions.
She had a collection of recipes in a file folder. Recipes 1–5 were for Mondays, 6–10 for Tuesdays, and so on. It was my first Sunday operating under the command of Mrs. Beauregard, and the whole week had elapsed without one false move. I wheeled her out to her back patio at exactly 1:20 PM, when a shadow would cast down from a tree to shield her from the sun. She would sit and converse with the plants, as if she exhaled words to give carbon dioxide to them and waited for their oxygenated reply. I brewed her afternoon tea, following the step-by-step directions. Start with a stovetop pot of two cups of water, heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Scatter one tablespoon of imported chai rooibos loose-leaf tea across the water. After three minutes, slowly pour the water and loose leaf mixture through a mesh strainer and collect the hot tea in a stainless steel bowl. Clean out the strainer and re-sieve the tea to ensure no leaves are in the flavored water, then transfer the tea from the stainless steel bowl to a China tea cup. Place cup on matching saucer, then add a teaspoon of squeezed lemon juice and sugar cubes to taste.
Gently clenching the thin edge of the saucer, I carried her afternoon tea to her and placed the China carefully onto the arm of her wheelchair. As I turned to walk back inside, I heard her lips purse the edge of her tea cup, then suction off it as she spat the tea out into her pool, and poured the rest in as well. I rolled her back inside as she coughed and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. She refused to make eye contact. When I inquired about her well-being, she snapped, “Are you out of your mind? You can’t even manage a cup of tea? These were simple instructions!” I responded cautiously, sensing her angst, “Ma’am, I followed them line by line, exactly as written. Did the tea not taste good?” She wheeled herself over to a vast office desk, and grabbed a napkin from under a multicolored, glass paperweight. She cleared her throat into it, then folded the napkin into a square. “How many sugar cubes did you add to the tea?” I paused, interlacing my fingers in the pocket of my smock. “Uh, the uh…the recipe stated to add the sugar cubes to taste-” “To taste!” she emphasized, “One sugar cube.” I pressed, “But Mrs. Beauregard, I am very sorry but the recipe did not specify an amount-” She lifted her hand to stop me. What was the big deal about the tea anyway? Couldn’t she bear a little sweetness in her mundane lifestyle? She then instructed me to clean the pool of the tea immediately, and I did so. Because authority is authority. Mrs. Beauregard’s demands left me muttering to myself most days, in a constant state of negativity. But I neglected to see how isolated she was.
Widowed and childless, her money was not used for anything other than a manipulative tool, and she reminded me much of old Ebenezer. Every Sunday after that, at 1:20 PM, I brewed her tea correctly, as she wished, and things began looking up. She disclosed her background to me as we sat on those afternoons conversing, the plants eavesdropping in. Her husband and her had always dreamed about building a private, immaculate house for themselves. It is that reason that she does not like anyone in her house. Every since cancer took her husband’s life, she has lived alone with no one to turn to. All of her relatives, she confessed, were narcissists and would see her visitation as a bother to their own happiness. Whenever I’d leave to spend holidays with family, I beseeched her to join me. She dismissed the idea every year for the two years I served her. But one year, I invested a portion of my savings to gift her a golden Swarovski snowflake ornament for Christmas. I have no trouble believing that she got rid of it once I left for the night, nor would I have trouble believing that she owned Swarovski. However, I like to think that she admired me awhile before she passed. After all, I was all the family she had.
The door bell chimed. A volunteer in a radiant yellow blouse jumped to answer the door. I pulled the glass screen door to call my daughter in, and stared outside. It was 3:30 PM on a Sunday. I missed our conversation by two hours and ten minutes — the pool area shadowless.
I walked inside to embrace a swell of clamorous noise. Peering over the kitchen, I estimated 30 strangers perusing the items in the auction. Their bargaining filled her once empty living room. Her personal items. I thought to myself. If I had the money, I would purchase everything because it holds much more sentiment to me than to these vultures.
I held myself from criticizing the treatment of her property. I stood as a bystander to a crime of violation. Her memories had vanished from the objects that lay before me. A couple pointed out the chip on the edge of the saucer. An apprehensive woman shunned the lack of trending style in the jewelry. A man inhaled the aroma of the high-end perfume, priced at much less than the personal value. As I gazed across what was left of her possessions, the corner of my eye latched on a glimmering object. Behind a box of used postcards was the golden Swarovski snowflake ornament. Exactly the same, and all the passion and meaning flooded through me like a tide of emotion. I flipped it over, and saw the precise engraving, just how I ordered it: to taste.