Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brushes by M. Christian

Finger slipped carefully into the handle, heat passing through the delicate ceramic from the recently boiled drink, losing degrees of temperature to become comforting warmth, she brought the cup up gently, carefully. One inch. Another. Another. The ritual of a sip, the elegance of patience: finger in handle, cup up to mouth, a pause of fragrance, then lips touched gently to rim. Taste. Savor. Taste again to compare.

The British used it as the cornerstone of a lion-emblazoned empire. The Japanese had made it a religion. Sitting in the lounge of the Pont Royal Hotel--immaculate linen tablecloth, Lennox kettle and cup, silver service, velvet drapes parting the view of the Saint Germain district of Paris, a waiter at the door prepared to do whatever was needed to ensure the pleasure of her stay--Constance could believe that tea was, indeed, something to fight wars over, to pray to.

Steady and refined, careful and graceful, charming and poised, it was ballet with a cup and saucer, opera with a kettle, chamber music with sugar and cream. Tea, especially tea in the lounge of the Pont Royal Hotel, was perfect, or as near to it as anyone could come.

Then the waiter wasn't waiting by the door. Passing between her table and the window with its rich maroon drapes, he gestured to a corner table. Behind him, moving slower through the linen islands--having less of his skill in navigating the room--came the man, followed by the woman.

He was young, his body lithe and fluid, yet with the hesitation and stumbling that comes from some uncertainty in life. His hair was brown, but not common. His was a mixture of many shades, making it changeable with every turn of his head, every shift of his muscled body. His face was expressive but not comedic, handsome without being cut from cold marble. Like his shifting hair, his eyes also became many kinds of brown as he looked around the room.

She was young, her figure tight, supple, and limber, but with the hesitancy and awkwardness that came with trying to understand her own body. Her hair was blond, but not from a bottle. Hers was true shine that glowed with every movement of her lissome form. Her face was animated but not loud, pretty without being from a mold. Like her bright hair, her eyes glimmered and shone as she surveyed her surroundings.

Watching them come in and sit down, Constance swallowed hot tea--through a cold and tense frown.

* * * *

Finger slipped carefully into warm, golden metal on a hot summer day. That sensation had lingered more than many other details. More than the perfume of roses. More than what her friends--or his, for that matter--had said to her before or after the priest heard the vows. More than the butterflies that had fluttered in her stomach. More than the champagne in a flute, with its jeweled bubbles streaming up from the bottom.

Other things were long forgotten, but the ring sliding onto her finger had remained--a faithful memory of her wedding day.

Hot tea to her lips again, she scowled at the tan liquid in her cup. The beverage was excellent--as only something served in the lounge of the Pont Royal Hotel could be--but the remembrance wasn't. Faithful, yes, because it remained close at hand, even when not wanted, but its flavor was bitter.

On her left hand, on that meaningful finger, she still had her ring. On days like today, she wanted to pull it off, leave it behind as a generous tip for superb service, but she never did. Turn it, yes, around and around, but that was all. Tarnished and cold, it still meant something. Even if it was a tarnished and cold meaning.

It was different for her husband. Clearly, for Escobar, his matching gold meant nothing.