Tea with the Queen This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 11, 2014
I sat in a chair, rimmed with gold filigree and pinstriped cushions. It was beautiful, but not like her. She approached my seat, setting down a silver platter with two floral printed cups, a pot, and a bowl of shiny sugar. She sat across from me, smoothing out her signature skirt with vintage fingers that touched the wings of an angel, I’m sure.
Glasses sat on her nose, edges lined with tiny roses and gold flecks. I can’t recall a day in my life that I’d ever seen her eyes not framed by those circles that she saw the world through. How I wished to be those glass circles, how I wanted every day to understand how she saw the world.
She rolled her hair with bobby pins and wire cylinders every night before bed, the aftermath of that ritual outlined her face and laid on her cheeks, naturally pink.
I told her, every time I saw her. “You are beautiful.”
And she would laugh at me, and ask, “Did I ever tell you, I won a beauty contest when I was 16?”
“No.” I would lie. Every time I lied.
And she would stand in her shoes, with a grip on her wine glass half empty but half full, and she would tell me the story I had memorized.
And I would drive, every Sunday afternoon at 1:45, right after church, to her house. The purple one she convinced grandpa to paint, but he didn’t care, he just wanted to make her smile. He’d paint the whole town purple for her. Little did she know, I would’ve too.
I never knocked, I just opened the door and she opened her arms, blanketing my shoulders with the arms that held so much, but never once threatened to break.
I would sit, at her table, she would sit, at her table, and I would say, “You are beautiful.”
And she would ask me, in all curiosity. “Did I ever tell you, I won a beauty contest when I was 14?”
“You mean 16?”
“Oh yeah, 16. That’s right.” She would giggle and I would clutch to each quiver of her vocal chords.
I shook my head, “No, you never told me.”
And she would say, “Well I wasn’t the prettiest, but I had nice legs. I shouldn’t have won, but I did.”
I would just smile, because I knew she should’ve, and I was glad she did.
“I love you Grandma,” I would say, every time before I left.
“Do you know how much I love you?” She would ask.
“No,” I lied. Every time I lied.
“I love you more than life itself,” she didn’t just say it, she sung it, and it made the flowers grow.
My eye would curl up with my mouth as I smiled at her. Hers did the same. She let out a giggle that made the bird’s sing, and she would turn around and shut her purple door. I would turn and shut my purple heart, the one I opened just for her.
The day came that she stopped opening the door, so I stopped opening my heart. Sometimes I would remember the way her voice sounded when she laughed, sometimes I would forget, usually the day I needed it the most. Sometimes the birds would sing me back her song, and the flowers would bloom with the pieces of her I gave away that were trapped in the pieces of my heart.
But sometimes isn’t often enough to feel alive when you’re living for someone who isn’t.
And coffee is never satisfying, when you’ve had tea with the queen.

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