A short story by Tina Konstant
I make the tea. That’s what I do. I don’t do the clever things these young people do nowadays. I’ve never done that. What I have done is raise four children. They’re all good in their own ways. All mostly happy and living their lives. That’s who I made tea for. My children and my husband who worked too hard and died too young.
It feels like everyone left at the same time. Like I woke up one morning and I was alone in our little house that held so many stories and conversations and laughs and tears and hugs and sadness and joy. So much life. I can look at every stain on the carpet and crack in the kitchen tiles and I remember the day it happened, I remember the tears and I remember the cup of tea that fixed it.
We moved into this house when Bobby and I got married. We planned on two children and had four. So we extended the house and decided never to leave it. Why move? Bobby had said. Can we take the door frame with Sarah’s height compared to Calum?
Oh my goodness, they used to giggle every birthday and stand on each other’s toes. Sarah and Calum; born two minutes apart. Who was taller this year? For a long time Sarah outgrew her brother making him to eat more bananas and baked beans than any boy should. Why he thought bananas and beans would make him grow, I’ll never know. He had a different reason every time I asked. His explanations ranged from “It’s what athletes eat, Mum” to “Bill The-Stretch Shanks down the road eats them and he’s almost ten foot, I swear!”
It must have worked because when they reached 13, Calum shot up. My heavens, poor Sarah was mortified. There was a cup of tea right there.
All those stories. All the love and memories. Then there was nothing. Bobby died. Quite suddenly. His heart. Funny that for someone with such a big and magnificent heart, it was the thing that should go. But it did. It happened at work. One minute I was tidying up thinking about putting the kettle on and the next, the phone rang. Just like that.
A year later Sarah and Calum went to university. Six years of education with plans of what to do next all set. So clever. So tall and beautiful and bright. Just two years behind the twins are my other two. Jack and Bobby the Younger. That’s what Bobby called our youngest lad.
They’ve all left now. Finding their own feet, their own partners. Jack is travelling in India somewhere. Oh Lord, sometimes I can’t breathe when I think of what might be happening or I see something on the news. Then I get an email saying he’s working on a farm somewhere and he’s met a girl. A girl? Travelling like he is? Send a picture. Send details. What’s her name? Where is she from? Are you bringing her home?
Home. This is always home, no matter how far away they go. This is where the kettle is. Come in for a cup, why don’t you? That’s what I’ll say when I meet the lovely, clever girl who has travelled and speaks languages and will think me a little silly for worrying, but that’s alright. As long as she brings Jackie home.
Not like Bobby the Younger. He’s the wild one. So much like his dad. Looks like him. Speaks like him. Same wonderful smile. Same wonderful energy. I sometimes wonder how Bobby and I ever met. There he was, a big man, all strong and adventurous, wanting the world, wanting to grow and be all he can be. And then there was me. Happy to be at home and cook and clean and make tea. I think sometimes he wished he’d met someone else. Someone with more ambition. I don’t know. We never talked about it. Too busy being a family.
Until we weren’t.
Now here I am, rattling around with lifetimes of memories and not much else.
“Get a job, Ma.” That’s what Sarah said.
Get a job. Oh my. What a thought. I’ve never had a job. Never. But she came round and we put the kettle on. We had a chat and a catch up and she showed me pictures on her phone of her friends at lectures looking all serious, and at parties all dressed up. It’s okay, she laughed, everyone dresses like that. It was a Halloween party. I smiled. She used to dress up like a pumpkin when she was little. She loved to roll about the garden in the big, padded orange suit.
Then she pulled out the newspaper. She’d been looking at job adverts already. She knew I wouldn’t, you see, of course I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have known where to start. She’d circled one. I smiled. I had to. Then I started to laugh. “A tea lady?” I said. “There is such a thing?” She nodded and brushed away crumbs from the carrot cake I’d made because I knew she was coming for a visit. It was for a legal firm. Quite a big one. So busy that people didn’t have time to make their own tea. Imagine that.
So I applied. Well, Sarah did. But I went to the interview. Can you believe it? Me? Bobby must have been with me because I didn’t get all nervous and leave. I went in, and do you know what I saw? Young people. Scared people. Alone people. Old people. Everyone in their cubicles. Everyone on the phone or with their heads buried in piles and piles of paper and computers. And here’s me thinking I was the lonely one. Here’s me thinking it was me who was stuck. Here’s me feeling sorry for myself.
First thing I did when I met the young lady who was interviewing me – her name was Yvonne – was said she looked like she needed a cup of tea. She smiled. Such a tired, sad, smile that I just stood up from the chair she’d offered and I said – just like I often say to my Sarah or the boys when they need it most – “let’s go through to the kitchen and put the kettle on.”
So we did. Me and Yvonne.
We made a fine cup and we didn’t talk about the job at all. She told me all about her boyfriend who she was sure was thinking of leaving her and her boss who gave her too much work to do at the weekends and her dog, Juniper, who she missed so much, who lived with her parents in Portsmouth, who she missed even more, and how she’d always wanted to be a lawyer but she didn’t know it would be so hard and scary. And I listened.
After she wiped her eyes we decided that she needed to talk to her boyfriend about where their relationship was going. We talked a bit about getting her boss to review her work load but decided he would just tell her to attend a time management course. She laughed at that and said she was always late for everything. Even her birth. Two weeks overdue! We were sure a course couldn’t fix that. Finally we got chatting about Christmas and we decided a visit home would help her clear her head. Maybe her boyfriend could join her? Some quality time? Maybe.
She squeezed the warm mug in one hand and ran down all the numbers in her phone with the other until she came to one called “HOME”.
As her thumb hovered over the little green button she asked if I’d like the job. I said I would. She smiled and said thank you. For the tea or the chat or taking the job? I wasn’t sure. So I said, you’re welcome.