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Since his wife had died, Derek never stopped talking to her, and wondered what he would like to do after he died. The spilt sugar on his kitchen table had scattered and, he thought, arranged itself, perhaps not accidentally, into a form that resembled the face of Deirdre. His late wife was always sending him signs, but Derek wanted to make sure; make sure he wasn’t just seeing things. By considering each granule he would decide if it were chance, or design, which was facilitating a message. Only then would he write down the date, the incident and the particulars of her commentary on their life.
If this were to go in his book—which he kept in the left-hand drawer of the kitchen bureau during the day—he might have marked down in his studied hand, that Deirdre (who would, by now, be 85 had she not died five years earlier of a tired heart) had spoken to him while he was making a cup of tea; and that sitting at his table on an afternoon in June, in their quiet suburban cul-de-sac, she had indicated that ‘she wants tea,’ and, therefore, still loved him.
When Margaret would later find this notebook, and the series of others that filled Derek’s days, their daughter would cry, at first gently and then blubbering and snotty, with laughter, noting how for years, Dad had annotated his days with messages from Mum.
She would question if they were true—both as Dad had indicated he had seen them, and if it were even possible for someone to speak from beyond the grave—but would be touched, in great lolling waves of emotion, by the detail he had put into recording these messages, and by the deliberateness of his handwriting, always in pencil, always ending with his initials “DK” as though somebody else might also write in this notebook and he wouldn’t want a reader (or himself) to be confused by who had written what.
She would hear his voice in her head as she read his words. “Deirdre loves the new breakfast crumpets,” or “Deirdre says the bin men should work on weekends,” or, “Deirdre finds the children next door are making too much noise.”
Derek smoothed his cardigan before pulling one of the two chairs out from under the orange Formica-topped table to sit down and wait for the kettle on the gas stove top to whistle once the water was boiling. He watched Deirdre’s face in the sugar and considered if she were smiling. She was.
He decided that this was definitely a sign and stood back up to get the notebook with its pencil kept close to its chest by an old rubber band. He decided to set out another cup, for Deirdre, and so went back and forth to the glass display above the drawers, first for her Royal Doulton teacup, then the saucer, then her sterling silver spoon.
He went to the kitchen cupboard above the sink and looked along the series of boxes of teas, bags and leaves: morning tea; afternoon tea to be had after greasy foods; peaty Russian tea to be had, officially speaking, from a samovar; smoky Chinese tea; zesty tea for summertime; none of it green tea—that wasn’t proper tea.
He took the box of Lady Grey tea leaves, made by a good company, to the table to put another spoonful of the loose leaves in the white teapot that sat on the table under a woolen cosy. The pot wasn’t as nice in quality as the two matching cups. It had been a gift from Deirdre’s sister who lived on the coast, who didn’t have particularly good taste when it came to tea and tea-making accoutrements.