Tea on the Train

In Newburgh the tea is too hot for even sipping.  The cup knows it as soon as the tea is poured, can feel the heat radiating through its bone china bones.

A mouth pulls in air and hot tea with a breathy ‘hoop’ sound.  Lips and tongue are scalded, and the bone china teacup is set back in its saucer with a hasty clink.  The train rumbles and shakes along the track and the teacup rattles in its place on the table in the dining car.  The tea sits in the teacup, breathing steam, choppy with little golden hot waves.

In Poughkeepsie there is clear water in a stainless steel teakettle and a cellophane-wrapped pouch of gauzy paper filled with dry leaves.  Before that there is rain and a seed in the ground.  In Newburgh there is hot tea scalding lips and tongue and in Yonkers there is yellow urine pushing against the round of a bladder.  In New York there is a seat on a toilet and a satisfied groan.

A man with a newspaper flips his business section like an old maid snapping a clean sheet across a half-made bed, and the crease in the center of the paper stands at attention.  In Poughkeepsie it is the sports section.  In Newburgh it is business and in Yonkers it is the obituaries, where the amn sees that his high-school sweetheart was killed last week in a car accident.  He feels sad for a moment, and then congratulates himself for riding the train.  Across the way he sees a woman sipping her tea, her face a hasty grimace as she sets the cup back in its saucer.  In New York he tosses the paper in the trash.  The paper is a tree.  The paper is a blanket for a homeless man.  The homeless man is a boy, a father, a corpse.

The woman sipping tea has cold hands, has always had cold hands, will always have cold hands.  She wraps her fingers around the teacup, wincing at the sight of her knuckles, which she thinks are too bony.  The heat of the tea through the bone china warms her hands.  Her eyes close and the warmth creeps into her too-big knuckles.  Her too-big knuckles stretch against the heat and expand larger still.  The knuckles swoop and close fingers around metal jacks and open fingers again to catch a rubber ball.  The knuckles hold fingers tight around needles to pull thread and stitch fabric.  The knuckles swell and creak with arthritis.

The woman opens her eyes and sees the man with the newspaper watching her.  The corner of her lips arc in a smirk and the man’s lips do the same before he rustles his paper and feels the dry smell of ink rubbing off on his fingers.  His knuckles are small, too small he thinks.  In Yonkers there are lingering glances, in New York there are words and cards exchanged.  There are calls, dates, too-big knuckles and too-small knuckles interlaced, bodies interlaced, babies, laughter, tears, and a sunny breakfast nook where morning newspapers are read and hot tea is sipped.

The woman lifts the teacup off the saucer and holds it against her lower lip, breathing out air across the surface of the tea.  The golden tea ripples with hot little waves.  Steam rises and condenses on the window, beads into droplets and rolls to the sill.  The woman sips cautiously, making a breathy ‘hoop’ sound and funneling the tea through the circle of air inside her lips.

Copyright © 2008, Kevin Hobson


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