There was never anything nicer, you know, than when you would make me milky tea. I was just a child, small and wide-eyed, sitting at the table after school in my scuffed Mary-Janes and ruffled dress. You knew I never wanted to wear pants like the boys did.
You would be there after school, waiting for me when I came through the door, off the bus and down the road like a shot. You were my mother then, doing what mothers were supposed to do. It was when you were still tender, before you broke; before we broke together; before I wanted to kill you and before I wanted to die.
You talked to me like I was somebody. Asked me questions about my day – the petty playground grievances that are only interesting to someone who is seven and even if you feigned your interest it didn’t matter. Because in those moments, you were my world and I yours. It was too early for cocktail hour and you weren’t so sad then, or if you were it didn’t show, didn’t bleed metallic into the very fabric of our lives.
My feet kicking the rungs of the chair, adding more marks to my sturdy shoes, I’d watch you boil water in the big copper kettle on the stove and feel the steam warm the kitchen, keeping the November chill at bay, pushing shadows back from the house as they crept silently in from the forest that surrounded us. You were a witch of sorts. I know you were, in that house in the hollow at the edge of the swamp, buried behind a cloak of leaves and brush and branches that piked up toward the autumn moon.
Water into the cups and the tea would steep while I showed you my work and eyed the cookies that were still warm from the oven. You made yours strong, but only let the bag be washed gently in my cup – I was too young for tea, of course, but you made sure I felt like a grown-up little girl. With creamy milk and two whole spoons of sugar the ritual was complete and we would sit, companionably, two ladies at table with their tea and their talk.
Magic exists in this world, I know it does. And if ever anyone needed proof, then milky tea would stand above any grimoire or incanted spell, any trick of smoke and mirrors. The steam off the cup, the light in the kitchen, the smell of warm sugar – these mundane ingredients came together willing the dark out of the corners, out of your own body – if only for a little while. I could be seven and I would be safe and I knew, without words, that I was truly loved.
You continue to exist for me in that simple cup – not the mother you thought you were, or the mother you became, but the mother I choose to remember. So many years later, I conjure you up in that kitchen with the kettle, when my husband, that gentle man, brings me a cup just as you made it, for no other reason than he always knows when I need to be seven.