“Afternoon Tea” by Carolyn Sandler
I’m sitting across from you in our usual low‐key haunt. Myself, bent natural light, a cup of black tea and your seemingly crooked good looks. You smile, and tilt your head like a confused terrier. I smile and quickly pull my lips back. It’s mid‐day Tuesday, and you’re folding your napkin into an origami rose as a childish attempt to make me laugh, but for now my face has grown cold.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” you ask
“I don’t really think that I have another choice”
“But we work”
“So do you and your wife”
‘I don’t love her like I love you”
“So then leave her”
“I can’t right now, you know that I can’t make any promises”
“So, then we have no choice”
I study you for a moment.
Boyish good looks highlighted by strips of graying hair parted methodically to the left. Small understated features, and that forever‐surprised open mouth gaze you give me when I say something that you think holds no value. Your hands tell a story. A well‐worn, calloused pair of hands that have seen work, and whenever they were pressed up against my body, I could feel each ripple of skin that had been worked off.
“But why now?”
“Because it never goes anywhere”
“But can’t we share in the moments together?”
“No you selfish bastard, that’s just you having your cake, and eating it too”
You let out a disappointing sigh.
“Look, I know I can’t give you what you need right now, but I can’t stop loving you,
and wanting to be with you”
“So, I’m supposed to put everything on hold, until you make the final decision that you’re not leaving her? Do you see what I mean? I will forever be stuck in limbo. Some place between raunchy text messaging and elaborate rendezvous’ in alleyways. I will never be able to fully move on and have someone shout my name from the rooftops. My heart will forever be captive, and then one day when I least expect it, we will be sitting here, and I will be ordering the organic burger with avocado and you will reach over with a butter knife and stab me in the heart purely for human sacrifice. No thanks, I like my heart and would like to keep it safe within the confines of this body”
Again with that goddamn tilt.
I take a sip of my tea, and wonder how I ever found myself here. The movie projector starts rolling through old relationships, a troubled home life, desperation to fit in, but in the end all I see is you, and your determination to have half of the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I could never understand the theory that having only a bit of something was better then having nothing at all. I mean technically I understand, but even with that little bit, aren’t you always going to want more? Isn’t that human nature? To over indulge? Or is human nature to exercise restraint?
“Please talk to me,” you mutter
“What would you like me to say?”
“I dunno. Tell me what’s on your mind, what are you thinking?”
I hate that. Like a needy teenage girl. “Tell me what you’re thinking”
In my mind I’m thinking of how this tea tastes more like Earl Grey than Orange Pekoe, and how the waiter looks just a bit like that guy from the slap chop commercials except with an ironic mustache, which isn’t considered ironic here, because on this side of the tracks irony is actually the opposite of itself. I’m thinking that I can be a fat kid in a cake shop sometimes, and how I’m scared of the world collapsing when I still haven’t learned Japanese, and how I still can’t understand how a camera works…. It captures a live moment? And why I am drawn to married men, and how this is going to be my last hoorah, and how I know that I have a defective Father, but that can’t be my only excuse. This is years of pent up chaos and destruction that was born out of a dysfunctional home life, it flew beneath the radar and manifested itself into relationships that are never able to work. From Long Distance to unavailable, I’ve covered the spectrum of unhealthy love.
I pause to gather my words, and find myself thinking that I would love to send an email to his Wife, and finally let the monkey on my back know that the vacancy sign has burnt out. The letter would read.
Dear Linda, Joan, Nancy, So & So,
No disrespect to you, and I’m sure that you’re a lovely person, but just so you know your Husband and I have been engaging in a highly emotional and sexual relationship for the last Six months. It started at work as friends, but then quickly grew into the golem that it has become. He is convinced that he loves me, but has no intention of leaving you. I knew about you when it first started and that didn’t stop me from carrying on. I have no malicious intent. I just find myself lost sometimes. I’m sure there are going to be a lots of questions, so here’s my email… you can ask me whatever you like and I will do my best to answer with candor.
I could never actually go through with the email. She doesn’t deserve this, and I don’t deserve it, but he holds the puppet strings until I can find a pair of scissors, and I’m pretty sure they’re hidden in my kitchen drawer. No one deserves ill treatment, but people are generally out to do from themselves. Seems like honesty went the way of the Dodo as soon as the Internet became popular. It made it far too easy for people to have secret lives and romances in an age where everything seems disposable. It’s not like our parents generation where you held the same job and the same wife until you were collecting your pension and playing shuffleboard in Florida. No, now if you stay longer than 5 years at the same job you could be considered crazy. It’s the remote control syndrome of our generation. MTV rotted the patient part of our brains. It’s just easier to flip through the thousands of HD channels that are being beamed in through our wall mounted cheese grated TVs while super poking someone on facebook and sending a pin when you’re in the next room then it is to focus on face to face communication.
Now, I’m not blaming my actions on Bill Gates or Billy Idol; I fully take my share of responsibility for what happened. No one made me sleep with this Man; I just had a lack of self‐control. Like a cat watching a fish tank. I just had to stick my paws and stir up the tranquil waters even though my food had already been put out.
“Can I still call you?”
“You’re not understanding me. If we can’t be together, I don’t want to have any communication with you. No calls, no emails, nothing. I do love you, but this is not reality. This is not day‐to‐day life. We are not paying bills and having arguments over tile grout. This is perma‐honeymoon. Where I get the best of you all the time, and your wife gets all the other shit that I don’t want to deal with”.
“I love you so much, I don’t know what’s going on with me. I can’t stop thinking about you, and missing you. It’s like a curse. I have never met anyone like you before. You challenge and engage me in this way (brief pause). I have never felt sexier or more wanted by anyone”.
“I just don’t know what to do anymore. I have no answers. I want love. Full blown, earth shattering, soul shaking, disemboweling love. Almadovar film making kinda love. Sid and Nancy, James and Lily, Kerouac and the road. Epic fucking romance!!”
I shift my eyes down to the oval rimmed made in Sweden coffee cup that has been shaking beneath the sound of my breath for the last 10 minutes. I’m contemplating whether or not I should take a sip or whether or not the once piping hot masquerading Earl Grey will now be as cold as a vodka on the rocks… I lift the cup to my mouth and let the mildly warm liquid hit the cracked edge of my bottom lip. I take it in, and wince at the now spoiled tea.
‘This tea is cold”
“Would you like another?”
“No, what I would like is an end to this conversation”
“Why do you have to say it like that?”
“Like I’ve ruined your life”
“ Look, I’ve never been able to draw, or solve math problems, but I have this talent of being able to break men down into bare skeletons. Strip them of basic human goodness, and essentionally have them fall in love with me in 10 days or less. Ironically, because I am in the ironic force field, I’m the one that always gets fucked in the end, because in the end I start believing. I start to actually believe that we or me and Johnny, or Brent or Juan Pablo will actually suspend reality for a moment and create a normal functioning honest relationship. Then when you pull the anchor to set sail I’m left on the dock with a broken bottle in hand, and you leave with a bust of me nailed to your bow.”
You furrow your brow in an attempt to follow. Like some idiotic way of trying to understand my metaphor.
“What we had was great in the moment. The days and nights that we could tuck away in our own little microcosm are times that will always be kept in the little lock box of my heart, but I don’t want you in snippets of time. I want you whole and intact, and able and willing to give me the world when I ask of it. I want to fly kites on top of the CN Tower and outline the moon in Morocco. Launch rocket ships to the stars from the comfort of a fort that we built out of Dilly Bar sticks. Daydream the Pacific Ocean’s swell in the claw foot porcelain tub we bought off of EBay, and have Fake Latin nights where we dance Tom Wait’s Banjo Tango and eat black beans from a can. These are ridiculous requests that I will make, and I will expect you to deliver on them”.
“Then it’s good‐bye”
You take my hand and cup it in a cliché kind of way and look me in my Tiger eyes and love me like you always do. Full on, sweetness defined like rock candy from the pier we once visited. Where Carney tattooers let sea tramps come alive and the tilt o whirl only cost a quarter. Remember? When you told me that you would love me forever over waffles on sticks and the best cup of English tea I had ever tasted. When you took that silly picture of yourself with a fake mustache and monocle, and I fell in love with your ability to be just like me under salted skies with the flickering lights of the ferris wheel lit up behind you like a halo. Remember?
“ Just one question, why don’t you love her anymore?’
“I do, it’s just… it’s complicated. I’m not in love with her like I am with you. I never planned on this, and I don’t know why it happened, but it did and who’s to say what’s wrong and what’s right?”
“This is wrong. Not being able to be fully together is wrong. Don’t I deserve something better?”
“Everything you’re saying makes sense. I get it”
“I guess this is it then” as I stir the cold tan liquid.
“Please, please don’t go. I don’t want to be without you”
“But you’re not with me”
I nervously remove my hand from your calloused grip, and know that this won’t be the last time that I see you. I lean over and kiss your lip that fits perfectly within mine, and for just a brief second I reconsider my movements, but then your phone rings and the word “Home” lights up like a Greek house on Christmas and I know that I have been saved.
As I take a step back I leave a five on the table and motion to the waiter that I’m leaving. He tilts his head forward and looks at you while you watch me disappear into the cold Toronto air.
“Now” I say quietly to myself
“Where can I get a cup of tea?”
This piece was a labor of love written in the dusty haze of a life break in the sleepy town of Mal Pais, Costa Rica.