The Teapot Moved (3)
posted Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Written today and first published here
I sat up beside the teapot. It had been placed there by a servant and I’d been told to let it ‘stand’ for a few minutes. Steep? Infuse? Draw? Brew? No, ‘stand’ was the word I was sure I heard the girl in the pinafore say as she plumped the teapot down on my bedside table – rather rudely, I thought, in hindsight.
And now I noticed she’d forgotten to leave the tea-strainer with the cup, saucer and teaspoon. I called out: "Strainer!" in my long drawn-out high-pitched voice which I’m sure the servants found irritating, but I had not told the servant girl to forget something, had I? Indeed I wondered if she had forgot it at all but deliberately didn’t bring it. Again: “Strainer!”
It was then I noticed the teapot moved. Only slightly but clearly enough. I was staggered. I stared at it to make sure I was not mistaken, willing it to move back to where it had moved from, in an illogical hope for its previous standing as the status quo. I might then have been able to imagine it had not moved at all.
A teapot moving of its own volition was certainly an anxiety that a bedridden person like me would find difficult to cope with. It was best I did not believe it at all. “Strainer!” I shouted again, in an attempt to cloud my misperceptions with a recognisable routine rather than to elicit the missing strainer. This was not the first time that the strainer had been ‘forgotten’.
“Stop your whining!” the teapot suddenly said with a righteous gurgle of its innards.
“Pardon?” I said automatically, thinking that the servant must have returned with a different voice.
“Just stop your whining. The stew I’ve got inside me today doesn’t need straining. Get on with the pour!”
I was more upset by its distasteful reference to ‘stew’ than by the fact the teapot was talking to me at all. This represented more of a certain settling into a customary mindset of denial, I suspect, when I now look back at the events. I had also forgotten that the servant girl had forgotten the dunking-biscuits.
Was there a ghost inside the teapot – a ghost capable of moving it as well as speaking for it? This was not a question that occurred to me at the time. Only since.
I put the eiderdown over my head, hoping to blot out not only this single segment of time encompassing the teapot incident but also the whole of reality itself now and forever.
But the voice persisted: “I’ve got good quality stuff inside today and the longer you leave it the more it will stew.”
My head re-appeared over the top of the eiderdown like a bedraggled puppet or worried clown. It was easy to imagine myself as this downbeat figure through lack of any mirror in my room. Only the tiny curved bowl of the teaspoon gave any chance of a reflected image.
The spout of the teapot waved in the air like a tiny snake with, I imagined, a certain wild desperation to perform its duty of pouring: its only reason for existence.
I hastened to do its business. I can’t now understand what possessed me. I picked up the teapot. At least it could not now move of its own volition without me feeling it wriggling or twitching in my hand. I thought that pouring out tea – a generally tasteful art-form of upper class people like me – would expunge any remnant of uncouthness in the creature that I had earlier considered as out of my control. Civilisation is all to do with control. Taste and good breeding, too.
But instead of a golden shaft of healthy infusion, the spout exuded a syrupy blood-like substance into the teacup. I heard myself cackling with uncontrollable delight. I snatched up the teaspoon in haste. But it dropped to the floor. My head wagged from side to side like a funfair target and shouted: “Dunk it!”
I had obviously let things stand too long. They’re still standing now: waiting for hindsight to kick in – or waiting for a dream strainer.