Afternoon Tea

Read along with the author in this screencast.

In the sitting room of our Budapest palace, my mother often reviewed the day’s correspondence during her afternoon tea. As she poured from a tall, curved spout and sipped from a rose-spotted cup, she alternated between reading the letters of the day and glancing through a window at the peonies and lilies that bloomed in our courtyard garden. 

My mother bequeathed the set to me after she passed away last year. In my American apartment now, I alternate between reading the day’s mail and watching the dog walkers out my window, stroll toward the avenue. As I stir and sip, my eye often lingers on the shiny porcelain and the gold-lined rims and handles.

I’d prepared a strong brew that day, and at the end of a second cup, rich with cream, I turned to the mail on the table and spotted a letter from my doctor, from my former doctor. At the thought, I added sugar to the cup and rubbed an ache in my neck before tasting the tea. The reasons that I left the office were almost too many to list.

Initially, I had to wait weeks for an appointment, and then, in the waiting room for over an hour. The doctor spent a mere minute examining me. Then, the receptionist felt quite comfortable, requiring that I, an ailing woman, pick up the medicine myself. If that weren’t enough, she made arrangements, without my consent, for a complete stranger to visit my home.

“We scheduled a Mr. Disame to stop by your place for samples on Friday at three, if that works for you?” she asked.

“The doctor isn’t coming himself, then,” I clarified.

“Doctors at our practice don’t visit the homes of patients, ma’am.”

Countless doctors visited our home in Budapest when my mother became ill, and each one brought medicines with them. Those physicians examined my mother every day, and none of them suggested that a risk assessor stop by. At the memory of the chilling draft that the man brought in, I took another sip. After breathing through an ache in my abdomen, I opened the envelope.

Doctors in America gave debilitated patients – not relief, but anxiety, it seemed, making them wait and sending risk assessors into their homes. That interloper had left the teacups scattered around the counter. Infuriated by the footprints that I found on the carpet after he left, I picked up the phone.

“I’ll be canceling my next appointment and changing physicians, I’ll let you know. If you must contact me in regard to health issues, I’d thank you to communicate with me in written form only.” I instructed.

At a pain in my hip, I leaned back in the chair. I felt a tightness in my chest and glanced at the phone on the wall in the next room. As I read the doctor’s letter, the cup dropped from my grasp, and the paper sailed to the floor.  There was a report. The findings on the samples were conclusive. The paint on the tea set contained toxic levels of lead.

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