Murray was aware that his merry expression was starting to show strain even as Wynona shot him a warning look. He was an unwilling participant in this skirmish of her family’s ongoing conflict, cousins striving for supremacy in Aunt Letitia’s will. Letty had been the winner in her generation’s version of the same struggle, and was now custodian of the residual furnishings and chattels of some more capable Gilded Age ancestor. Residual, as a century of pawning and carelessness had taken such a toll that it could all fit in her little apartment, but in the eyes of his wife’s family, still worth the effort.
Contemplating the Eastlake chairs they all sat upon, he thought perhaps Wynona was right. They would fit in no worse at home than they did here, and might class up the joint.
“Murray, dear,” Letty said in her slightly distant way, “would you bring in the tea things? I really cannot manage that whole big tray anymore.” He nodded, rose, and left with his expression now authentic in its happiness. A minute away from the nattering would be joy itself.
The tea service was also part of the prospective loot, a fantasy of silver and translucent china done in the slightly organic curves and jags of Art Nouveau. Murray, whose experience of these things ran more to cows that whimsically vomited cream into chipped stoneware mugs, took a moment to revel in the mere spectacle of it. “Definitely class up the joint,” he murmured as he bent to lift the matched tray, getting his fingers under it rather than trust to the spidery handles. Even if he wouldn’t have gotten in deep trouble with Wynona for any damage, he didn’t want to risk smashing the artistry represented there.
The chatter in the living area had come around once again to a long-dead uncle neither of the women had really liked, but who had apparently worn an amusing toupee. Murray, putting his head down to watch the placement of the tray, took advantage of the posture to roll his eyes. When he focused again, fingers clear of the tray, he saw the teapot was moving away from the tray’s edge. It was moving on a multitude of translucent china millipede legs, which folded up under it even as the bottom fell away from his heart.
He looked at the women. Wynona was smiling at Letty. Letty looked at him, the slightly reserved expression she generally wore taking on an overtone of genuine concern. “Good heavens, Murray, what’s wrong? You’re so terribly pale!”
“Um.” A quick glance at the utterly immobile pot. “Just a little dizzy.” Sitting down, probably too hard for the old chair, he looked at the pot again. Still just a tea pot. On the far side of it, Letty looking human and his wife looking covertly furious. “I’ll be fine.”
“Well,” said Letty, the distance almost entirely absent from her voice, “there’s nothing like a nice cup of tea to set you right up. Wynona, would you pour, please?”
Wynona reached for the pot. Murray, unable to quite close his mouth, waited for it to do something as she took the handle. She poured into all three cups, and set the pot back down. She applied milk and sugar under direction and handed a cup to Letty. Nothing happened.
“Murray,” she said and, when he didn’t look at her, a little more sharply, “Murray– milk and sugar?”
She was, being turned away from Letty, looking daggers at him. He really, in his innermost depth, wanted nothing to do with that tea. If free from consequence, he’d have run screaming from the building, never to return. But he had been brought up with a good foundation of politeness, he was willing to be convinced he hadn’t seen the pot move, and knew that a long lifetime of living with his wife, whom he honestly did love, was on the far side of the current moment. “No, thanks.” He reached for the cup, and didn’t even quiver.
“Ah, yes.” Letty was smacking her parchment lips. “That pot really does make a better cup. I don’t know why I don’t use it more.” Murray was about to lift the cup, when he saw the pot had its spigot pointed at him. That was not how Wynona had set it down… was it? He let manners and decades of adult mastery over infantile fears take control. He lifted the cup, trying not to feel it snuggle into his hand and gently squeeze his finger in its handle. Nothing but his imagination, the front of his mind insisted.
He took a sip. Letty smiled at him, and he smiled back. The taste was everything he had expected it would be.
“The Unspeakable Inheritance” ©2013 Dirck de Lint