The Tea Party


No invitations were sent.  The anteater and the cat just came to the door of my jewelry shop at 4:00 in the afternoon.  I couldn’t see.  It was dark.  But I heard talking, talking. 

“No lights?  No lights?  It’s dark in here.  Light the candles,”  demanded the cat.

I set about lighting all the candles, the short squat candles and the tall spires of candles.  The flame of the match  burned my fingers.  I set the spent match aside carefully and then forgot where I put the match.  

The anteater talked.  Its long, hard nose hid its mouth.   The anteater stuck its nose under my arm, nudging, nudging.

“I’m so glad you asked us for tea,” the anteater said, breathlessly.  “I brought everything.  Butter, yes, lots of butter.  And some ants.  That’s for me.  I should be on a special diet.  And butter, did I say butter?  Some nice white beans for the cat.  Cat likes white food.  Just show me where the stove is and I’ll put the water on to boil.”

"In a jewelry shop?”  I answered, swallowing all the other things I wanted to say.  Especially, I did not say, “I never asked you to tea!”

The cat found its place next to a string of white pearls.  A mirror on the shelf reflected the cat's soft beauty and the luminous pearls.  

“More lights,” the cat said.  “I can see, but I need more lights.”

I continued to light candles.   I lit the wick of the votive candle in the Czechoslovakian crystal bowl and the crystal shed prisms of blood light.  I lit the beeswax candles standing in the Chinese silver candlesticks.  

“What did you say?” asked the cat.

“Nothing,” I murmured and blew out another match.

“Tea will be ready in a moment,” said the anteater.  The anteater set a table in the middle of my jewelry shop.  The anteater put my plates of diamonds and cups of amber on the table.  In the middle of the table, for decoration, the anteater placed a spray of amethysts.  The anteater hummed and mumbled as the anteater moved about my jewelry shop.

“More light,” sighed the cat, as she posed and then peered into the mirror.

I only had two matches left.  I brought the flame to the hurricane lamps and adjusted the wick so the lamp burned cleanly.  Finally, I lit the ancient oil lamps which were my treasure.

“Those oil lamps are no good,” said the cat.  “No light to speak of.”

“Tea is ready, dears,” cried the anteater.  

I stood in the center of my jewelry shop.  The cat sat beside the diamond plate of white beans.  The anteater sat on its haunches and surveyed the scene.

“Oh, this is lovely, dears.  So nice of you to ask us to tea.  Cat, the beans are for you.  Butter for you, my dear.  And ants for me.”

The big, black ants walked off the plate towards the butter.  The anteater put its long hard nose on the table and sucked the ants up its mouth.  The ants marched fast in the other direction, their six legs moving so fast.  

“These beans aren’t cooked,” hissed the cat, sotto voice.  “She thinks she can cook but these beans don’t taste like anything.”

The anteater moved its nose along the table top in search of black ants and the diamond plates fell on the floor and broke.  The light from all the candles was caught in the broken diamond pieces.

Another swipe of the nose, and the amethyst centerpeice and the amber cups fell and broke into pieces.  Purple and amber light filled my jewelry shop.

“It’s time to go,” I said.

“I think I’ll stay,” said the anteater.  “We can have dinner next.”

The cat was gone from the table, washing now, beside the display of coral and crystal necklaces.  

“You really need more light,” the cat said.  “I don’t know why she thinks she can cook.  She can’t.”

The anteater poked its nose under my arm.   “What about the advent wreath?” the anteater asked.

“The advent wreath,” I answered blankly.

“I’ll light the advent wreath,” said the anteater.

Before I could cry, “No,” the anteater lit the three purple candles on the advent wreath.  When the anteater lit the fourth candle which was  pink, the candle flame blazed up into one giant crown of light.  The light caught the tip of fire in the votive lamp, then danced lightly across the tops of the beeswax candles.  

Flames flew everywhere.  The pearls melted first, a little pond of molten oyster milk.  Then the amethyst and crystal fell into the milky pond, leaving creeks of violet and ice.

“We’re closed,” I said and pushed the anteater and the cat out the door.

“We could go out to eat,” said the anteater.

I took the anteater’s nose and shoved it into an ant hill.

“Mmmf,” the anteater said.

I could not tell if the anteater was happy or sad.

The cat sat at my feet and looked at me.  “She can’t cook, you know.  She thinks she can but she can’t.”

I stroked the cat's lovely black pelt.  Then I turned to my jewelry store.  The fire was out.  Lumps of candle wax clung to charred display cases.  The smell of burning was like tears.  I walked through the rubble.

I saw one jewel whose silver base and diamond crown had streaks of amethyst, lakes of blue.  I picked the jewel up and slipped it onto the silver chain about my neck.

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“I think I would like a cup of tea, now,” I said.  And fingering my jewel, I sat down to drank my tea.




The Tea Party

Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm

May 25, 1994


Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm

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Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm 2017