Tea Time, Interrupted

Jennifer Walkup

I set the dishes at the garden table, feeling very much like the mad hatter amidst the overgrown and dripping ferns. Oval-shaped, wrought iron and heavy, the table’s piled with dishes; colorful, mismatched and chipped, vibrant against the saturated day. 
My feet slip on the mud-slick patio. The rain is perfect, cool drops rolling down my scalp like marbles, gathering on my neck like old friends. Typically, I watch the rain from inside, standing at the stove, preparing endless meals for guests that just won’t leave. They sit in my dining room, leaking on the carpet. Rotting against my good chairs. 
One by one, I usher them out now, an arm around them for support, all but dragging. Well, with Herbert I do drag, but I’m gentle when I prop him in his chair. And I’m nice. I give him the head seat. Even put the ashtray beside him, pipe tucked in his breast pocket. 
I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, I didn’t kill them. 
Why would I kill them and then care for them this way? Applying rouge to Aunt Mae’s sagging face, the way she liked? Sitting my sister and her allergies far from the blooming lilacs? 
After pouring tea in cups already brimming with rain, I pass out scones that are admittedly stale, but nonetheless pocked with chocolaty goodness and a perfect twinge of orange, and that are quickly becoming soggy. 
“A make believe tea party,” I mutter. 
“Stop that.” I tsk. “You have friends. You have family.” 
I do, don’t I? I’m not nearly alone. 
Not unloved at all. 
The rain smells good, earthy and dirty and clean. I pause, scone halfway to my mouth, considering the rain dripping off Herbert’s chin. 
“Ridiculous.” I laugh, bending to wipe it with a sopping, pink cloth napkin. When I touch him, his mouth falls into an open half-smile. 
“Really, now, Herbert. Mouth open at the table?” 
“Humph,” Herbert says. 
My head snaps up. 
But Herbert merely stares, mouth still hanging in a sloppy O. 
With my jagged pinky nail, I pick chocolate from my scone until the whole thing crumbles. 
“Isn’t that wasteful?” Herbert drones. 
He hasn’t moved, but I detect a sparkle in his eyes. 
“What do you care?” Defensive. I can crumble scones if I want. 
Herbert grunts, low. The way he used to, like a growling dog. 
I roll my eyes, settling into our old routine. “Give it a rest,” I say. 
Well. Isn’t that just funny. 
I giggle. And then I can’t stop. I’m laughing, really laughing, tears rolling on my cheeks, mixing with rain that drips from the sky like something thick. Ink rain and salt tears, mixing on my shirt. 
When I look up, Herbert’s laughing too, because, God, isn’t it funny? I mean, isn’t it just ridiculous? 
“It is!” he answers, reading my mind, which only makes me howl louder. Around the table, everyone’s still lifeless, but Herbert slides forward in his chair, barking his smoker’s laugh and slapping a decayed hand on the table. 
Oh no. 
Josh’s here. 
I nearly knock the table over in my haste, gathering dishes and cups in one swoop, crashing them to the patio. In my panic, I even knock Herbert to the ground, where he lies face down, shoulders still shaking with laughter. 
“Shhhh!” I shout, quietly as I can. 
But here’s Josh, hands on my shoulders. 
“Mother.” He says it firmly, like his tight grip steering me toward the house. “You’re going to catch pneumonia. 
“But…” I trail off. Why is he letting me off the hook about his dead father, laughing on the patio? And what about the others? 
In the kitchen, I pull open a drawer and select a long carving knife. I try to twirl it in my hand like I’ve seen in movies. 
Josh’s eyes soften. 
“Mom.” He says, gently holding my wrist, plucking the knife from me like it’s a blade of grass. “You need help. Let me help.” 
I look over his shoulder. Herbert still lies on the flagstone. The others slump in their chairs. 
“My party,” I say. 
“You can’t keep having parties by yourself in the rain.” 
I’m not alone, I want to say, but I can’t push the words past the stitched seam my mouth has become. 
Outside, Josh pushes the party into garbage bags, even my good dishes. 
When he’s done, the patio’s empty, save for the rain.


Award-winning author Jennifer Walkup is most often found writing, reading, and spending time with her husband and young sons. She is the author of the creeptastic young adult thriller, SECOND VERSE and the young adult contemporary, THIS ORDINARY LIFE. She can be found online at www.jenniferwalkup.com
Carole - 10/25/2015 1:09 AM
Way creepy and cool Halloween read!
Jordan Drew - 10/25/2015 1:23 AM
Great story, so creepy! Thank you, Jennifer!
Matt Roberts - 10/26/2015 11:51 PM
Very cool story! Love it!
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