Tea Time in British Occupied Chelm (InkWellPrompt #19, TEA)


She shielded her eyes from the sun and peered across the garden, where the sumptuous marble pool was still as glass. Suddenly, something SHATTERED behind her.

Poised before the spread of afternoon tea, Elizabeth and Eunice pretended Harold was not having one of his fits.

Still, the violence of the crash resonated in their collective limbic system.

Years of training at finishing school and debutante balls meant that at the very moment Harold furiously smashed the Chinese vase to the floor, two mythological cords, from tailbone to crown, simultaneously, mysteriously and violently hitched the posture of both Elizabeth and Eunice upwards, like two preposterous puppets, leaving the two women in an awkward state of muteness.

Abruptly, the mid-morning sun felt unbearably harsh.
Elizabeth forced her eyes open, eluding squinting which would induce catastrophic wrinkles in her fine porcelain skin.

Unfortunately, that gave little protection from the unmistakable glower now emanating from Eunice Milford. The haughty stare and acutely arched eyebrows made it clear that, even if politeness precluded saying so, this latest episode was, categorically, noted. Elizabeth almost wanted to blurt "I say Eunice, no need to stare."

But, she said no such thing. Instead, locked into her corrected and rigid composure, Elizabeth raised the teacup to her dainty lips. Her neighbor followed, delicately sipping premium, first hand Earl Grey.

Across the garden, a bird swooped from the bushes and glided over the pool, its feet skimming the crystal water. Ripples cascaded through. The bird sashayed up, landing on the sundial, from where it proceeded to observe the two women on the veranda and to incline its head inquisitively at the chaotic sounds that continued to resonate from the living room behind them.

Harold Chrysanthemum, lead importer of upcycled Early Grey tea in British-occupied Chelm, was not done yet.

"I tell you, I don't need you. I don’t need this. You had me over, you bastard" shouted Harold down the telephone. "I won't forget this" he added. As if Germaine could be in any doubt.

Germaine, ten miles away and perched on the edge of a wooden fence, decided then and there that he would stand his ground opposite Harold. Perhaps it was a subconscious annoyance as a splint from the fence pierced his thigh; or maybe it was because the moon was pointing that way, because every man has his limit.

These tousles with Harold had become a regular occurrence.

Germaine was in charge of shipments of upcycled Early Grey tea from China, It was an arrangement that had originally suited them both. Harold, as gruff and swarthy looking as he was, had no desire to dirty his hands with the packages at the docks.

And Germaine, tall, angular, angelic looking Germaine was prepared to muddy himself in operations, because he loved his wife and the farm and wanted a quiet life, with a modest but steady income.

But as Harold's orders started picking up and his wealth accumulated, the troubles started. Seven years on, it was a regular occurrence- every week, Harold would explode with fantastical accusations and complaints. Any excuse to cut into Germaine's modest margins and standing. And maybe cut into Germaine, and the farm whose lease he held in partial collateral, as payment for letting Germaine take a small cut of his profits.

It had taken him a while to realize it, but now Germaine knew- he caught in a bind. Were he to give Harold's tantrums and yearly renegotiations continued leeway, with his own income now at a minimum, he would be forced to cut into the wages of the port-workers in order to save the farm.

And Germaine Jackson was shrewd as well as honest; he knew in his bones that were he to cut his workers' wages, he would lose first his authority and then their loyalty. And that would be dangerous.

For Harold Chrysanthanum was a complex man, inept at most social reasoning, but unusually talented in just one aspect – in increasing his own power.

Germaine felt it in his bones- if he did not stand his ground now, he could find himself out of a living and Harold would have no hesitation in promoting the lead foreman in the port in his place, even if Vladimir was a mean bastard who cost Harold more than Germaine, except for the ferrous taste of victory.

So really, Germaine had no choice. This could not this continue. Germaine cleared his throat. His response startled even himself.

"Harold" said Germaine. "Never, I have never been so furious, so white-hot, out-of control angry as I am now." There. He said it. There was no going back.

The clash in the background of Harold's furious pacing across the living room floor suddenly stopped. There, thought Germaine. That got his attention.

"What" said Harold in a whimper, a confused whimper.

"You heard me" said Germaine, his voice gathering up a tone in nerves..

"That's it. I'm not going to cover for you anymore. “

And all of a sudden, Germaine heard himself yelling so loud in fact, that anyone close to Harold’s telephone could hear his words.

Germaine shouted:
“I'm going to tell the Mayor! You’ll see! I will tell him about the bribes. That upcycled Early Grey tea is nothing but dishwater! I will tell the Mayor about the hareem of prostitutes you gave for me! For the real tea!"

Harold wanted to scream but he could not. Unbeknownst to him, the previous moment had been preceded by the icy steps of Elizabeth entering the room. And right now he was very well aware of his wife standing before him.

Elizabeth, who had lived in stony matrimonial tolerance of him for fifteen years. Elizabeth, who had avoided his eyes, his touch, his bed. Elizabeth, who had now drawn level with him and was looking at him straight in the eye.

Harold's breath drew in like a rocket. He no longer knew who he was.

He had heard Germaine's bombshell. Truly, he had never anticipated it, not from Germaine.

But right now, with Elizabeth's physicality torturing him, drawing him so closely in front of him that he could not look away even if he wanted to,

Harold found himself mute. He could muster nothing to her except to lip speak, as hoarsely and desperately "not the prostitutes, not me." But no actual words came out.

Harold’s silence suspended Germaine, at the other end of the phone, in shock.

Germaine had fantasized for so many years that he would finally stand his ground opposite Harold.

He had never expected he would have the courage to say the unspeakable. And now that he had said it- that he would be met by silence?

Violence yes, but not silence.

Not from Harold.

Elizabeth's steely gaze held steady.

As she had suspected for years. Prostitutes. And the upcycled Early Grey- it was dishwater? So the rumors where true.

Harold’s voice was so soft that Germaine could barely hear it.

"I'll call you back" he said.

And, before Germaine had a chance to respond, Harold disengaged the phone.

Elizabeth's face hardened. "Harold, we need to talk. The Mayor. I heard."

"Someone mention my husband?" called a sing-song voice from the garden veranda.

Eunice Milford, first Lady of British-Occupied Chelm, wife of Germaine Wilford, swept into the room, her face as sweet as a daisy and icicles in her heart.

Hello I am a new user , hope I am posting correctly here.

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