I move the tea kettle off the hot front burner and the loud, explosive whistle loses its head of steam. Four thirty a.m., four thirty p.m., they are the same to me. At my age, time spools out in a continuous feed. There is not much of a distinction between night and day. I am simply grateful that I still manage by myself. My closest friends are dead; I have grown accustomed to having conversations with myself. Students are assigned to rotate through to help me with projects. As if I am no more than a chore on a chore wheel. My image is distorted in the old lead glass windows of my house. They are all being replaced for some health reason. Nonsense. Glass is an amorphous solid material; this I can remember from the fifty years I taught high school chemistry. The glass in my house -- in windows and in mirrors -- has ripples. It has slowly flowed, succumbing to gravity. Perhaps, no more than I have. When I see my reflection, I am always startled that I see my mother looking back -- exactly as she looked at eighty-nine. The untamed, wiry Brillo hair, the stick thin arms and legs and the osteoporotic dowager’s hump shrinking my former 5’8” frame to 5’3” are her image.
I make a proper cup of tea. Tea pot, tea strainer, loose tea and boiling water. There is a ritual to be observed. I find when we overlook these everyday rituals, the very moments that make life bearable are simply swept along by the currents of time. I use chamomile. At my age, caffeine has some unexpected results, including heart palpitations and loose stools. The thing about being as old as the hills, and growing older, you do as you please, when you please. It’s an unplaiting of the ties that bind.
One bond to which I cling most diligently is to the family of my brother’s daughter. Julia has stepped into the role of Head of Whately Prep. I would have liked that job myself, but in my time, no woman could have filled that role. The times in which we are born determine so much about our futures. Julia has been at the job for three years without much more than a hiccup. I have a unique perspective. Besides being her aunt, I am on the Board of Directors. I can keep informal tabs on her outside of the birthday parties and family gatherings. She is good enough to allow me life tenancy in the house that I have occupied for the past seventy-seven years. I have a cleaning lady come in three mornings. I am where I want to be and in reasonably good health.
The tea is just right. I sit at the ancient round oak table. With the ceremony it deserves, I pour a cup of tea into the porcelain tea cup, avoiding spilling into the saucer. After taking a sip, I lift my eyes to the window. The very first streaks of dawn are spreading its fingers across the morning sky. By the time I am done with this pot of tea, it will be day.