tea break with a.s. byatt

               “Afternoon Tea,” by Clement Micarelli

(Mrs. Jesse) poured tea. The oil-lamps cast a warm light on the tea tray. The teapot was china, with little roses painted all over it, crimson and blush-pink and celestial blue, and the cups were garlanded with the same flowers. There were sugared biscuits, each with a flower made out of piped icing, creamy, violet and snow-white. Sophy Sheekhy watched the stream of topaz-coloured liquid fall from the spout, steaming and aromatic. This too was a miracle, that gold-skinned persons in China and bronze-skinned persons in India should gather leaves which should come across the seas safely in white-winged ships, encased in lead, encased in wood, surviving storms and whirlwinds, sailing on under hot sun and cold moon, and come here, and be poured from bone china, made from fine clay, moulded by clever fingers, in the Pottery Towns, baked in kilns, glazed with slippery shiny clay, baked again, painted with rosebuds by artist-hands holding fine, fine brushes, delicately turning the potter’s wheel and implanting, with a kiss of sable-hairs, floating buds on an azure ground, or a dead white ground, and that sugar should be fetched where black men and women slaved and died terribly to make these delicate flowers that melted on the tongue like the scrolls in the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah, that flour should be milled, and milk shaken into butter, and both worked together into these momentary delights, baked in Mrs. Jesse’s oven and piled elegantly onto a plate to be offered to Captain Jesse with his wool-white head and smiling eyes, to Mrs. Papagay, flushed and agitated, to her sick self, and the black bird and the dribbling Pug, in front of the hot coals of fire, in the benign lamplight. Any of them might so easily have not been there to drink the tea, or eat the sweetmeats. Storms and ice-floes might have taken Captain Jesse, grief or childbearing might have destroyed his wife, Mrs. Papagay might have lapsed into penury, and she herself have died as an overworked servant, but here they were and their eyes were bright and their tongues tasted goodness. 
                                   ~ from “The Conjugal Angel,” by A.S. Byatt

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