In January, Elsa got new neighbors. She greeted them with apple cinnamon tea.
It gets so cold here, they told her, shivering in overstuffed parkas. Snow had turned to mud in their front hall—an unavoidable side-effect of moving in winter. Elsa nodded along to their complaints and observations, silently brewing the tea in their kitchen. They were young; they had big plans. Allison and Steve, newlyweds, just starting out. They sat on the cold floor together, sipping with chapped lips. The house filled with cinnamon.
In April, Allison knocked on Elsa’s door. We’re pregnant! White tea in a china teacup; the taste of flower petals and champagne. The last caffeine for the next eight months. Elsa let her keep the cup.
In May, Steve bought a carseat and a crib. Elsa helped him carry it inside. Flat-packed, but heavy. Sturdy. Allison and Elsa sipped celebratory peppermint, watching Steve fumble with wood glue and a hammer. His mother was sewing a quilt, green and yellow because they didn’t want to know.
In June, it was Steve. His face was stretched, too tight in some places, sagging in others. Elsa gave him chamomile (soothing, with a hint of earth) and sat him at the kitchen table. We lost the baby. Elsa didn’t speak. She’d known before he walked in the door.
In July, they sat on the stoop, watching children ride bikes and run through sprinklers. Elsa brought pitcher after pitcher of cold green tea. Sometimes it had lemon wedges, sometimes oranges. On the hottest days, she added mint. By August, Allison stopped coming outside.
In November, Elsa joined them for Thanksgiving. She hadn’t been invited—no one had been invited—but she refused to let them be alone. She brewed blackcurrant, for warmth and sorrow. Steve chattered about nonsense for hours. Allison didn’t speak.
In December, they rang the doorbell. We’re moving. Elsa bought them a teapot, stuffed with apple cinnamon and white and peppermint and green and blackcurrant. She left out the chamomile. Steve seemed relieved.
When they left, Elsa made African rooibos (roots and sunshine and all things lost), and drank it sitting on the kitchen floor.
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Catherine McCabe-Strong lives in Rochester, New York. She is the author of “Julius Constantine Chang,” available through amazon.com. You can catch more of her work at www.deviantart.anapests-and-ink.com.