The Gift

Deborah Hendrick on Thursday, April 6th, 2006

It wasn’t the sound of the coffee grinder that woke her, though sometimes it did. That rhythmic whirring as he gently shook the grinder, helping the spinning blades. It wasn’t the aroma of the freshly ground beans, or the brewing coffee that woke her, though sometimes it did.

But what always woke her was his tug on the door to the china cabinet. A door wee crooked with a latch too strong, so the force to open it jingled the silverware in the drawer like a thousand tiny bells, and the stacked pieces of china rattled against each other and on the glass shelves. It was the tiniest of sounds as he placed the cup and saucer on the counter, an aural haiku that traveled from the kitchen, across the den and down the hall to their bedroom, into her ear and brain. A personalized alarm.

It pleased her to speculate on which cup and saucer set he’d chosen because he favored certain sets. Of course they all pleased her, for she alone had acquired them through the years. Not a collection exactly, because if she’d ever said that she collected cups and saucers, all the people who loved her would be giving her cups and saucers as birthday gifts, or souvenirs from a trip.

A few of the sets were clearly decorative, not truly meant to be used, but she did. The gorgeous Russians, deep blue and ornate with gold. Dainty hand-painted violets, with eyelash strokes of gold to tempt the eye. And always the roses. What would artists have painted without roses to inspire them, with their secret folded petals?

Her favorites were the ones from ordinary sets of china, not that there was anything ordinary about Wedgwood, or Royal Worcester. But it made her happy to think her pieces had been a beloved guest at someone else’s table.

She rolled and stretched in bed. The room was always too cool for her comfort, winter or summer. But it was one of those compromises made long ago. Seven days of the week she woke up cold, but every day of the week he brought her coffee in bed. And on Saturday and Sunday, they indulged themselves with fresh-ground coffee, and every weekend, she drank it from a thin china cup, instead of an ordinary mug. It was a small satisfying ritual.

She could hear him coming with his precious cargo, bonhomie, and coffee-flavored kisses because he managed to get in two or three good drinks before bringing hers to the bedroom.

Ah. It was the Haviland. Wide shallow bowl with the barest of swirl, the handle thin and curved like a swan’s neck, and so sheer and pale pink that it looked white unless it was sitting on a white tablecloth.

It was a gift, when she was twelve. She’d stopped at the rambling Fife estate on the edge of her neighborhood, selling candy for the junior high school band. Mrs. Fife (the old one, the grandmother) bought a box, then invited her to stay for tea, explaining that she was just about to begin and would enjoy the company.

Tea with Mrs. Fife was not like tea at home. The silver tea service and delicate china were like something out of a book. She had never seen cups and saucers so thin and fragile, she told Mrs. Fife. “Like a potato chip,” she said artlessly. “I’m afraid that I’ll break it.”

A few days later a courier delivered a small box with the pink cup and saucer carefully packed inside. Overwhelmed with gratitude and delight, she spent hours composing her thank-you note. Never knowing that to this day, that the envelope remained tucked inside the drawer on a leggy escritoire sitting in an antique gallery, where the shop owner found every reason in the world not to sell it.

She reached out and took the cup—her hand a little shaky, and took a large swallow of coffee. That was the beauty of a wide shallow cup. The surface of the coffee cooled just enough that she could actually get a whole mouth-full of very hot coffee. “You can’t do that with a mug,” she’d explained to him when they first met. He’d been bringing her coffee in bed for a long time now.

With the second swallow, she offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the mountain that rose from the sea. And for the trade winds that gently laved the mountain-sides with rain, where in time the bushes gifted man with rosy berries, to be roasted, bagged, and shipped across the ocean.

With the third swallow she drained the cup. She found her slippers, shrugged on a robe, and went in search of a refill. He was reading the paper. “Darling,” she said, “I think it’s time we took a long vacation. Let’s go to Hawaii. We could drink Kona everyday.”

“Kona every day?” he replied, smiling, “You’d get spoiled.”

Topics: Short stories

2 Responses to “The Gift”

Kelly Says:
April 11th, 2006 at 9:19 am

Aaaah -now just keep going. If you could fill a whole book, people would buy it. Honestly, I would. Kelly

lori Says:
April 14th, 2006 at 12:02 pm

Oh wow, i love this one. What an elegnat way to describe such a simple ritual. Way to go!


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