by Terri Pray
A sharp crack rang through the air as Maggie turned away from the soft warm light coming from the kitchen window, her gaze fixed on the scattered shards of white and rose colored china danced across the floor. Cold sweat formed down the length of her back and her throat tightened as she moved toward the broken remains. She reached out, crouching down as she approached the small disaster only to yank her hand back, pressing it against her breasts. She clutched one hand against the other, twisting them, denial warring with the undeniable presence of the scattered shards. “No, oh no, not my tea-pot.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think I’d touched it.” Peter raised both hands, backing away from the scattered shards. He gestured at the broken pieces. “Love, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know it was there.”
Maggie blinked, tears burning in her eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. “That was my gran’s.”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, shame coloring his cheeks. “God, I’m sorry love. I didn’t mean - I didn’t think.”
“That’s your problem, you don’t think.” She snapped, instantly regretting the words. “Damn it, I know it was an accident, it’s just that…” she turned away from the broken china, swallowing past the lump that had formed in her throat. “I didn’t mean it that way. Sorry, I just - it was hers and…”
A strong hand touched her arm, stroking lightly up and down before he rested it on her shoulder. “I should have been more careful. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even realize it was there. I thought you’d packed it away a couple of months ago.”
She had, hadn’t she? Maggie closed her eyes, trying to make sense of what had happened. The tea-pot, rose and cream, with delicate flowers painted on the sides, hadn’t been used in a long time. Three years, maybe four. They’d been tidying up the kitchen, going through drawers, cupboards and shelves when they’d stumbled across it. What had happened then? Had they used it, or had she wrapped it and packed it?
What had she done with it?
“The big trunk, the one with all of your mother’s quilts and needlework, didn’t you pack it away with those? Yes, I remember you saying something about the extra protection.”
The sounded right, but then why had it appeared on the counter? Had they pulled the trunk down from the loft? No, she’d remember something like that. The trunk wasn’t easy to move at the best of times and the last time it had taken both Peter and their daughter to get it safely down the steps.
“Love?” He squeezed her shoulder again.
“I don’t remember when we brought the trunk down.” She shook her head, pausing for a moment as the twinkling, warm glow of sun through the window caught her attention, only to turn away from it as she let him pull her into his arms. “It was safe, I know it was safe, so what was it doing there?” It didn’t make sense, not the tea-pot, not the mess on the floor, nor the memory of packing the trunk away. What had she forgotten? A visitor? Family? There had to be a reason why the tea-pot had been on the counter in the first place.
“It’s alright, love. Breathe, just breathe through it.” A strong hand smoothed over her hair before he wrapped her up in a tighter hug.
She closed her eyes, nestled in his arms, her thoughts jumbled. Pieces missing, parts of the picture that she couldn’t quite work out. Age, it had to be age, the shock of losing the tea-pot, the loss of everything that went with it. Dinners, teas, visits, friends and family gathered, the tea-pot in pride of place despite the lack of matching cups and saucers. Something carefully carried from England to the US when she’d moved, the pot wrapped in layers of tissue paper, cloth and two boxes just to make sure that it would survive the trip. Their first apartment, then another, a move across country and it had survived every single one.
Children. The first time she’d let their daughter pour from that pot, two hands holding onto the crocheted pad, adult hands over a child’s hands as Maggie had helped her daughter through that afternoon.
“It’s just a silly tea-pot.” Tears trailed down her cheeks, leaving salt heavy patterns on her lips.
“No, it’s more than that, we both know it.” He lifted her chin and rubbed one finger over her lips. “I won’t say I’ll buy another because it wouldn’t be the same. I know that.” He leaned in, touching full lips to hers, claiming hers in a kiss that stole her breath. “All I can do is apologize.”
She swallowed past the tears, blinking her vision clear. “I love you, you know that, don’t you?” Sixty years together. Love, loss, moving, children, grandchildren, broken plates and glasses, second hand items and then new as they’d become more comfortable together. She let her gaze shift to the broken pieces of china. Fifty years, moves, children, grand-children, perhaps it had been too much to think it would survive every challenge, yet she’d hoped - wasn’t that why they’d packed it away, ready to be passed on to their oldest grand-daughter? Why had they brought it down from the attic?
“Yes, I know - love is what keeps us here.”
She frowned, not quite understanding. Love, marriage, their life together, is that what he meant?
“What was that?” Wild brown curls tumbled around a heart shaped face as the young woman walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Did something…oh no.”
Maggie stepped out of her husband’s arms. “Susan, when did you get here?”
The young woman didn’t answer, didn’t even look at her as she marched toward the scattered pieces of broken china. “Oh no, no no…”
“Susan?” Maggie took a step toward her granddaughter, her brow furrowed.
Susan reached for the dustpan and brush. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s alright, love. It’s just a tea-pot.” Maggie paused at the thought of her husband’s hand on her shoulder. “Gran’s tea-pot. Oh god, how am I going to explain this to Mom?” Susan paused, shook her head and walked back toward the mess.
“Your mom will understand,” Maggie stepped into Susan’s way. “It’s going to be…”
Susan didn’t stop, didn’t blink as she walked through Maggie. “Shouldn’t have left it on the counter.”
Cold sweat washed over Maggie, her hands pressed to her chest, clenched over her heart.
“You forgot again, love.” Peter pulled her back into his arms, wrapping her into his embrace. “They can’t see us.”
They? Maggie looked down, moving her hands away from her chest until she could clearly see her fingers. She was here, this was her home, the place they had finally claimed as their own after years of moving around, building funds, dreams, and plans. Tears trailed fresh tracks down her cheeks as she turned into his embrace, the background of her granddaughter, the broken pieces and the soft sound of the brush as Susan swept up the small, sharp shards, faded as she nestled against his chest.
“It’s going to be alright, love. They’ll be fine, they’ll pick up the pieces.”
She didn’t look up, not wanting to remember. She didn’t want to go, didn’t want to turn her back on her family. “They’ll be looked after.” He brushed one hand over her hair.
“I don’t want to lose you,” she lifted her gaze to his and nodded toward the glow. The light she hadn’t wanted to acknowledge, the same light and warmth she’d known was there from the start.
“You won’t, not now, not ever. Nothing will ever part us, you have my word on that.” He tugged, pulling her further away toward the light. “We’ll be together. Death and beyond, remember?”
Yes, she remembered. For a moment she remembered it all as she let him pull her into that soft doorway of light, holding her close to his side. Courtship, wedding vows, children, homes, faded photographs but not faded dreams. Broken shards, broken tea-pot, but not broken promises.
About the Author:
Originally from England, Terri Pray now lives in Minnesota with her husband, children and service dog. Her work ranges from the mild to the wild, including sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alt-history, romance, erotic romance and rpg material.
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