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Six Cups and a Door
When I died there wasn’t much surrounding me.
There was my husband, a pile of old, pleasantly scented books, and a candle.
As my eyes closed, it was snuffed out. Each time I blinked, it dimmed, but struggled back to life. During that last half hour I had left, the candle repeated a vicious cycle of burning brightly and going out completely.
Eli held my hand the whole time, and I knew he was trying to be strong. Strong for me, and strong for himself. I had a feeling I was going, and I think he did too. It wasn’t too terribly different than other nights, but there were a lot more hurried things said, and broken words. I only finished half of m sentences before forgetting what I was trying to say.
When the time did come, Eli was still gripping my hand. His wrinkled face dissolved and all that I saw were those deep, loving brown eyes, now smudged with tears. I wheezed out a goodbye through the cracks in my lips, gave the last little bit of effort I had left to squeeze his hand,. and then I was gone.
I didn’t feel Eli shaking me, checking my pulse, or desperately trying to revive me. I saw it, but I didn’t feel it. He threw his hat onto the ground and screamed for someone to help and save me despite the fact that he knew no one could. I was beyond help then. I was beyond help months before then too.
Still he tried, and it broke my heart. If an entity could cry, I would have. Instead, I felt a ripe sort of raw emotion bubble up and fill the room. I wanted to console him, but the world soon faded away and all that was left was a rocking chair, six cups of tea, and a blue rug.
Now, I don’t know what you yourself believe to be true, but I was raised to have faith in God, and I stood firmly that I would reach a cloud-covered island in the sky complete with the big golden gates and an angel to escort me to the Lord.
That was not what awaited me.
No, it was the tea, the chair, and the rug placed neatly inside a cabin-esque room. I had no form when I first saw this place, but soon one began to take shape, and formed around the empty space that was my soul, or spirit, or whatever else one may call it. It was my consciousness.
I didn’t look like I used to, or like I ever have or will. I slipped into a humanoid figure that branched out from the air like a wind nymph or some sort of faery creature. No wings, just a fluid range of motion. I seemed freer in this body, and it felt right. It was almost as if the previous carcass had been haphazardly arranged to shield this one.
I think back to the way I felt on Earth; had I really been so uncomfortable for so long?
The six cups of tea were arranged neatly on the floor, just in front of the edge of the rug, beside the chair. All of the handles were facing the right wall, pristine and delicate ovals with sloping curls to rest your fingers. I somehow knew that I had to drink one of those cups to continue on, wherever I was going, but I wasn’t in any hurry to get there. I observed each and every one carefully.
I recognized the floral pattern detailed onto the sides of the vessels, and the sediments of tea leaves left on the bottom. They brought back the nostalgic smell of my grandmother, of her rose-filled kitchen and bay-windowed rooms.
Inside the first cup I saw red tea. It was warm, looked like rainy afternoons, and held a smile in its cinnamon-rich scent. I called to mind the first time I had met Eli. He was chewing cinnamon gum on a drizzly september morning. He seemed to be telling himself ‘stay awake’.
Standing beside a book shop, his wild dark hair askew, I had laughed and told myself he was only a nerd. I changed my mind later that day when he rescued my book bag from my jammed locker. An everyday hero with a heart of gold. He walked me to class, even though he ended up being late to his own. I wondered if I’d ever get to see him again.
The second cup of tea was earl grey. I could detect that subtle flavour of lemon before I even took a good whiff of it, and the complimentary bergamot shot my father straight into my mind. Both the bold, bitter personality he portrayed to his peers, and the sweeter, spunkier inside. All the walks through central park, and the surprise visits to the ice cream parlour. My heart warms as I brush my finger across the rim of the glass. I hear him whisper ‘I love you’ for the first time in twenty years as I do so. The crystal song echoes through my skin, and I turn to the third cup.
This one isn’t as pleasant as the first two, but it’s important to me anyway. I notice a crack in this cup, careening over the candle and around the base. It looks fragile, easy to break apart. The tea inside is light, airy, and sweet all at once. Like december rain, I recognize the underwhelming fragrance of vanilla and lavender. My sister’s sweet face, her hands clasped together as she took what she had to. The marks on her arms, on her thighs. I remember the perfume she always wore, so easily overpowered and staunched out by the other girls’. I feel the tears renew on my skin as I read her letter once more in my head “Dearest Margaret…” I pick up the cup and I kiss the handle. The crack seems to fill with my love as I set it back down. It’s caught in the shadow of the fourth cup.
It’s easier to look at this one than the others. Not muted, but not vibrant either. Deep, yellow-green. A combination of coconut and green tea flits up to greet my nose. April sunshine, muddy toes. Scraped elbows and knotted hair. Lillian, my daughter. She shines like the carbon copy of my sister, but brighter. More willing to stay strong and hold on. Her blonde hair, braided back into coils, and the late night ‘I had a nightmare’s’ burst open into my thoughts. The day she told me she felt differently than the other girls. That she just didn’t fit in. Hugs, smiles. Pure sunshine in a cup. Her heart was rivaled only by her father.
Number five isn’t what I expected it to be, maybe a reminder of another relative, or a special person. It represents all that I was when I was young, a speedy teenager with locks of gold and eyes of green. What I wanted. It smells like mint steeped in rose petals, alive, beautiful, and sorely about to die down. Late night beauty tricks, trying to make it as a model and a news anchor. I smile at the cup with tenderness. Dreams change, but some of them make it through. I ended up as a journalist. Eli helped me land the job as an editor, and I took off after a few years. This cup feels the most genuine, like an original thought instead of just a memory. I turn to the last cup.
This one doesn’t have anything attached to it. Just a soothing aroma of chamomile, perhaps a bit of honey. I don’t think of much when I smell it, maybe a dusky afternoon spent watching the sunset, or some chapters of a book I finished once. It’s relaxing, full of closure, and I feel ready to take a nap when I breathe it in.
So I stand watching the cups as they begin to cool, some faster than others. I pull the rocking chair closer, and ask myself what I want. Do I want to be with one of these people, or do I want to pass on without waiting for them? I don’t actually know what each cup of tea will do, but I believe it to be so. It makes the decision hard.
A final, seventh cup is hidden below the rug. I gingerly take it up, and place it alongside the others. It does not line up as properly, or feel as precise, but it seems comfortable. I take an ounce from each of the other cups and fill up the new one. No matter how much of each I add, the cup never reaches its maximum capacity. When I realize this, I add the rest out of them all, sure that getting every last drop will make it feel more whole.
I take my combination of teas with me to the rocking chair and begin to sway. There isn’t much around me, just like when I died. The cups have vanished save the one in my hand, and the rug is the only colourful blotch in my vision.
Unlike the magnified scents of the teas, this one has a small wafting blend. Perhaps all of them and none at once come through, filling and savoury, and sweet, and light. I don’t really care that it isn’t what I’m used to, because it’s good. So, so good.
I sip until it’s almost all gone and soon see what appears to be a door forming out in front of me. I tell it not to rush as I finish off the last few drinks. A simple door.
Now, I will tell you that I walked though that door no sooner or later than I wanted to. I’ll also tell you that it’s okay to take your time when finally see it. Maybe you’ll be in a mansion, or a forest, or an outhouse. I don’t know.
I’m not going to tell you what comes after the door. That's for you to find out. I bet it’s different for each one of us, just like the teas. But one thing I think will be the same is that we all have to go through the door, whether we want to or not.