Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Cup and Saucer (08/28/14)
TITLE: Heavenly Tea Party
By Anita van der Elst
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“Mama, it’s Teddy Brown’s birfday today. Can we have a tea party? Out on the patio? Please, please, please.”
Cara shoved back a sigh and glanced at her almost five-year old daughter. Half-heartedly, she joined in on the pretend, “I suppose we could do that. How many guests are you expecting?”
Francesca deposited the tufty-headed doll next to the bear and held up her left hand. Carefully pointing to each finger she named them off. “Teddy, a’course. An’ then Mallory, even though she’s almost bald. Um, let’s see, Girafferson—he’s gonna need someone to help him ‘cuz he can’t bend his neck. But I can do that. Aaaand, Princess Pony. I already combed her tail an’ mane so she’s ready, Mama.” The little girl paused for breath. “Is that too many, Mama?”
“I think we can manage that, honey,” her mother replied.
“Could you make angel cake, Mama?”
“If you don’t mind waiting awhile because that takes a couple hours to do.”
After putting her finger under her chin for a moment to make a show of thinking, Francesca said, “Yep. We don’t mind. We’ll play games until then. Thank you, Mama!”
As she mixed up the ingredients and set the cake to bake, Cara wondered at the ease with which Francesca seemed to have adjusted. Two months ago there would have been two little girls playing at tea parties. Cara’s grief at the loss of Francesca’s twin felt as fresh today as the afternoon the doctor told her the little heart had stopped beating. They’d done all they could for Pearl in surgery after the car accident but it wasn’t enough.
A breeze smelling of sunshine and lilacs wafted in as the back door opened and Francesca danced into the room. She sniffed loudly. “Is that what you call ‘heavenly’, Mama? When something smells so good? Outside an’ inside. My nose is so busy!” She sniffed again and then laughed. “Mama! That’s a funny thing to think, isn’t it? It’s angel cake an’ it smells heavenly.”
Memories of Pearl dancing and laughing with Francesca flashed through Cara’s mind. Her effort to smile felt like slogging through mud.
Twirling twice, Francesca pointed to the china cupboard. “Can we use the special china cups an’ saucers?” she asked. “I’ll be real careful!”
“Alright,” Cara said, not wanting to deny Francesca. “I know you will be careful.”
“Yeah! I would never want to break them.” She spoke as though reciting, “Grandma gave each of us grandchildren a cup and saucer when we were born, to-to-to…what’s the word, Mama?”
“Commemorate your birth,” Cara replied.
Lost in her memories, Cara turned back to the oven as Francesca inched the glass door on the cupboard to one side.
“Yeah! ‘memorate. An’ she had our names ‘graved on ‘em, too. I wish Nora an’ Grace an’ Elsie were home so they could come to Teddy’s birfday party but they prob’ly won’t mind if my dollies use theirs, huh? Since they’re big kids an’ go to school an’ all.”
Taking slow steps, Francesca carried cups and saucers one by one out to the patio table. “Mama, I’m prac’icing my princess walk,” she announced.
A little later Cara told Francesca the cake had cooled sufficiently and the tea was ready. Francesca soon had her guests seated.
“Looks like one of your guests is late,” Cara nodded at an empty chair. She reached for the teacup and almost dropped the teapot when she saw whose name was on it.
“No, Mama. That’s where Pearl sits. You said she went to be with Jesus. But you always say Jesus is with us. So if she’s with Jesus, she’s with us too.”
Setting the teapot on the table, Cara bent over Francesca’s head where sunlight danced through the slatted patio roof. She inhaled slowly. “You smell heavenly, little one.”
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