Tea and Rosemary

She stood at the bottom of the escalator for some time. When she first approached it, she stopped directly in front of it, dead still. The people behind her, a teen boy and girl, didn’t noticed at first and jammed right into her. She caught herself before she fell and her head came into contact with the sharp ribbed steps that are supposed to keep you from slipping, but always worried Mara for this very reason. If she fell and hit her head there would be blood, lots of it. But she was able to remain standing as the two pushed her aside with a snide remark.

Mara didn’t see herself as a duster. But she understood how they would think so. Only a loser would stop at the very edge of the escalator and refuse to move. That’s what escalators are for, to move you. And she was stopped, frozen, unable to move.

She watched the two rise to the upper level of the mall ready to disappear. They looked back at her and flipped her off. She didn’t understand why they were so upset.

Mara just stood there, now smack in the middle as the flow of people continued up the escalator on her right side and down on her left. It was as though she was inside a giant metal aorta carrying blood cells through the veins of a brick and mortar goliath.

It was then she felt him. Later, as she was trying to remember she couldn’t remember if she actually felt something physical or just sensed something. Regardless, she turned around and met his eyes.

If she trusted her reading, the one where the astrologist promised she would find her soul mate, the one she’d been looking for, the one who would fill her not with flattery and mush but real substance, the kind that excited her in all the ways, the kind that made her think deeper about things that mattered and not the color of her skirt or how pretty she looked, she would have turned with a confident smile. This would be the soul mate who would know her from within, know that she had something to give.

If she could stop worrying about the second reading, the one with the angel cards that said she needed to forgive herself for all those things she blamed herself for. That always tied a knot in her stomach.

She was to blame. She was to blame for it all. If she would have only walked the other way, turned right instead of left, it wouldn’t have happened. Life would be going on and no one would have gotten hurt. She was to blame.

So she did the best she could to set the angel reading aside in the dark cool place in her mind where it could sleep until she could deal with it. Later. She promised herself she would. One day, but not right now.

He was taller than Mara with blue eyes and a soft expression, not like the ones on the faces of the people hustling onto the escalator. He smiled and held out a paper cup.

“I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of stalker or something, but I noticed you when you came out of the tea shop. You looked lost and when I saw the kids bump into you, that wasn’t very nice of them, I went back into the tea shop to get you a cup of tea. I took a chance that you would still be here when I came out.”

Mara just stared at him. He continued, “They said this is what you always drink. Here. We can go back into the shop so you can check me out with them. Really. I just wanted to be of help.”

“Thank you.” Mara took the cup and walked back into the tea shop. The man followed her.

They knew her well in the tea shop. She came in every day for tea and twice a week for readings. She walked through the shop toward the front by the doors that led to the street outside of the mall. She decided to sit in her favorite spot. It was open.

It was a small round wooden table painted a pale blue and sat in a cove with a window looking out into the street. The table was chipped and cracked in places and you could see the dark wood underneath. Mara liked that. There was always a round crocheted doily in the center sitting under a small vase of flowers. Today the frosted green glass held a bit of lavender, some peachy achillea, and rosemary. That’s odd she thought. Rosemary was new. Rosemary. Rosemary for remembrance. What was she supposed to remember?

He pulled out the chair before she could reach for it. It startled her. She forgot he was there. Maybe she hoped he hadn’t followed her but she was glad he did. This time when she looked at him, she saw his smile. It was gentle and curved sweetly. His eyes seemed to dance a bit. They both sat down.

Mara took a sip, swallowed and let out a sigh. “That’s right. Perfect.” Looking back at the man, she thanked him.

“You’re welcome.” He nodded slightly and leaned back in the chair. He crossed his long legs and looked relaxed. Just the opposite of Mara. They sat for a long time without saying anything.

Finally, after Mara finished her tea, he introduced himself, “My name is David.”

He waited. Mara looked up from the cup, she was never good at reading leaves. Her eyes focused on a blur outside the window across the street. She chose not see anything clearly right now.

“I’m Mara.”

“I know.”

The bus stop came into focus. Keeping her attention on the old woman sitting on the bench, she asked, “How do you know that? ”

“I know what happened. I want to help.”


She took one sip, or maybe it was two sips, before it dawned on her to look at the glass of warm Pepsi she picked up just seconds before.

It was a plastic tumbler, not glass. And it was stamped with pastel blue and green, pink and yellow kittens playing with fuzzy yarn balls. Long strings unraveled into a big knotty pile circling around the bottom of the glass.

She shook her head in disgust knowing it was meant to be cute. In her eyes it was sentimental tripe. All those little balls of fluffy fur rolling on their backs or laying on their sides balancing the rounds in their paws or batting them away.

But the ends all met in a big ratty pile at the bottom, just like her life. A big ratty pile of shredded yarn covered in drool.

“Well done.” Connor congratulated herself. “Well done, like a piece of tough beef, your life and your heart.”

Connor was born Constance.

She was Connie when she was young. By the time she was a senior in high school, she was tired of the way Connie sounded. Like some sweet thing from a cornfield in Kansas milking cows and baking bread all day long pining for her man to come home.

She tried using her middle name from her grandmothers, both of them. Florence was on her dad’s side, Julia on her mom’s. Neither fit.

She kept Constance for a short while after she told her parents she wasn’t going to college. They told her it was college or the road. She chose the road.

Her first stop was Grams. Julia let her stay the first summer while she made a plan. Constance was good at devising plans and carrying them out. The trouble was it never fit in with other people’s plans. She was always doing it at the wrong time or in the wrong place or for the wrong reason, in her parents’ eyes. Although that wasn’t a hard task to accomplish. Constance knew that Grams Julia would give her the space and time she needed to make a new plan.

It was the first Sunday at Julia’s Constance remembered as she rolled the kitty glass in her hand. Hot and muggy. It was after church and lunch with the neighbors. It was quiet. All the stores were closed. Most people were sitting on their porches “wasting time watching the flies” as Julia would say.

Constance stretched out on the couch looking up at the ceiling trying to connect the little star patterns sparkling in the afternoon sun. It was a new decorating fad her mother loved. White plaster with glitter in it rolled into the ceiling with a special kind of paint roller.

Constance’s parents took it upon themselves to update Grandma Julia’s house. They did that kind of thing. They always thought they knew what other people needed. They also covered the creaky wood floors with thick carpet so it would be warmer in the winter for Julia. They removed all the glass doorknobs and “updated” them with shiny “gold-tone” ones. Constance thought that her dad probably was able to get a good price for the glass knobs at his cubical in the Antique Mall, his weekend hobby. Julia agreed and they both laughed. She told Constance that she should deduct it from her son-in-law’s inheritance. They both laughed. But Julia never complained to them.

Later, after all the work was done and her parents were quite pleased with themselves, Julia let Constance in on a secret.

“You pick your battles.” It was something Constance immediately understood and never forgot.

Constance’s eyes were getting blurry from starring into the white while the ham and scalloped potatoes were being properly digested. As her lids started to shut down for a glorious afternoon nap, Julia slapped a book onto her stomach.

“Here. Make good use of your time. You’re only staying for the summer. I’m counting down.” And Grams Julia left the room.

Constance stared at the book slowly rising up and down on her stomach. This was not a battle she was going to fight.

Flannery O’Connor. A Book of Short Stories.

From that moment on, she was known as Connor.




Author’s Note:

Today at sunday Afternoon Writers at A Church of the Holy Family we gathered together for a prompt that led us in many directions.

We used Take Ten for Writing by Bonnie Neubauer. The prompt had us choose a word we liked least from a list of paired words. Mine were:

plastic (glass)
cats (dogs)
Pepsi (Coke)
Jump Right in (Baby Steps)
well-done (rare)
carpet (wooden)

Then we choose a number from one to ten and used the story starter that fell at that number. Mine was: She took one sip, or maybe it was two sips, before…

Instead of writing for ten minutes, we write for thirty and shared.

I hope to convince the others to share their pieces here, too, one day! Just a nudge right now.