The wrinkles in her brow are heavier than usual as her eyes glaze over the Chatelaine magazine neatly resting on the coffee table. She turns the pages automatically and sitting back up, Lily twists her back gently from side to side hoping to loosen her tightened lumbar muscles. Looking up at the ceiling Lily drops her chin back lengthening her neck and trying to release the weight of her husband's illness and the bleak prospect of him ever recovering.
Tea has always brought solace to Lily during difficult times. Maybe its because she remembers sipping it during her childhood when she lived on the farm in New Brunswick. Before weekly suppers, Lily's mother Mary made their otherwise drab house delightfully enchanting when they arrived home from school. Mary taught at the local school in Sussex and offered piano lessons a few days a week. Lily and her sisters would rush home to their homework at the old oak kitchen table where mother had set out the full regalia of tea complete with cups, saucers and biscuits. Perhaps this is why, when Carter traveled for long stretches of time on the road - gone for weeks that sometimes dragged into a month, Lily always finished her hectic day with a warm cup of tea and good book while resting in bed.
Many cups of tea had comforted Lily through some sixty years spent raising a family of ten children. As the years passed, Lily now saw that the chance to travel and indulge in the fruits of her tiresome life as mother and wife were slowly evaporating like the steam wafting up from her kettle as it whistled on the stove top. The days streamed into each other like an endless tide of water rolling onto the shore. The current moved relentlessly in only one direction now, only interrupted by the children's phone calls, doctor updates and brief moments indulging in a good book.
Years ago, when all but Frank and Maggie had left in the nest, Lily and Carter had sold their last house in North York and moved to downtown Toronto. Lily reveled in the personal freedom and accessibility to the arts; she could walk just about anywhere to shop, dine or visit art galleries or museums. Her appreciation for fashion, architecture and decorating was satiated by the bustling city and its plethora of offerings.
Living now in this rented one bedroom condominium, Lily was locked in a new reality of caring for Carter who had the mental capacity of a child. Lily was happy to finally leave the assisted living apartment that the kids had established for she and Carter, even though they had lived there just six months before Carter's incapacitating stroke. Feeling crushed under the weight of so many old people living together and devoid of any real life outside the facility, Lily refused to continue living in that suburban jail now that Carter required full time care. She could walk to Sunset Home each morning from her new condo but still be close enough to hop the subway line and escape downtown. While she had yet to do so, knowing she could made her feel more alive.
Cupping her cold hands around the warm tea pot, Lily began to pour the english breakfast blend into her floral patterned wedgewood cup. The sound was smooth, fluid, simple. Instead of a relaxed ritual, however, Lily's senses were unexpectedly assaulted by the strong aroma hitting her nostrils. She gagged. She felt alone and sick to her stomach. The tall big ben clock, one of the few cherished antique items that she had not given away, struck 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Its past the time for napping.
Instinctively reaching forward to turn the page of overwhelming sadness, Lily's elbow brushed the magazine sideways sending it sliding onto the carpet. Before she realized her mistake, she tried to retrieve the magazine but spilt the hot tea across the table. A small puddle pooled and began to drip over the side. Lily watched paralyzed by the rich liquid as it trickled down while her eyes welled up. The tears began to wash over her face but Lily bathed in them with strange relief.
Without cleaning up the mess in front of her, Lily refilled her cup and sat back against the sofa taking a sip. As the tea drenched her lips and slid down warming her throat, she knew that time would heal. She had weathered the scars of a difficult marriage - secrets kept between them full of anger, resentment and forgiveness. She had stood the test of motherhood, supporting her children even when their choices and decisions worried her late into the night on so many occasions. She had survived her own physical ailments, the cancer scare to her ovaries and the knife that repaired her heart giving her new passages for breathing. She was strong enough.
Ring, Ring. Lily placed her cup back onto the saucer and answered the call.
"Hi dear. Yes I'm fine. Your father had a pretty good day today. (Pause) No I brought him some fruit this morning so he liked that."