Having ducked out of the end of year blog post already I was vaguely thinking about putting together some light hearted blog content to see us into 2017—which I semi-started with yesterday’s Mystic Messenger post. I also thought maybe I could review Star Wars Rebellion or possibly do yet another post about Eldritch Horror because I’ve got totally obsessed with it lately.
Then George Michael died. Then Carrie Fisher died.
Fuck you, fuck you 2016. Seriously fuck right off.
At times like this, I weirdly missing working in an ice-cream shop. Because, no matter how bad things get, giving someone an ice-cream (or a sorbet if they’re lactose intolerant) always makes them feel better. I don’t sell ice-cream anymore, but I do write stories.
So I wrote a story. And I hope some people will like it.
It’s probably not as good as an ice-cream but what it is?
The story in question is called Wintergreen. It’s a short piece of gender-ambiguous asexual teakink. At some point I’ll try to tidy it up, get it properly edited, make it look pretty, and put it a more helpful format than blog post. But, for now, here we go:
To Eli, who will probably never make tea in the microwave again
Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea.
— M.E. Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret
Frost has gathered in crisp fractals in the corners of the kitchen window panes. The cold scratches as listlessly as a half-slumbering cat. But I’m warm, always on the edge of too warm, in my cage of satin and bone.
I take the kettle from the stove—you would not countenance electric—and shake the last few drops of water into the sink. They break like glass.
My heels mark the journey to the fridge. Each step is its own clean, careful click. I know better than to hurry or to stumble. You will be listening.
Grace was the first thing you taught me. I have never known anything as merciless as your patience.
I pour water from the filter into the kettle. Then return the filter to the fridge, the kettle to the stove.
Always use fresh water. Never re-boil the same water twice. Tea is like you, my dear, you said, drawing the ribbon tight around my throat. It needs oxygen.
The balls of my feet are hot with agony. Once, I would have shuffled and wriggled, trying to ease the ache. But you hate fidgeting— a vulgar habit—and, besides, it never helps. Stillness is the companion of suffering. Peace the heart of pain.
Taking down one of your teapots, I pour a little hot water into it and swirl it gently. The porcelain wakes beneath my hands, its newfound heat a beating heart.
I didn’t do this once. I’m still not entirely sure why. But I think, perhaps, I wanted to be sure you’d notice.
Of course, you did.
And I’d never felt such happiness: a lark’s flight of exultation. I was yours from that moment. More completely than I’ve ever been anything.
We warm the pot¸ you told me later, as your cane traced bared flesh, because tea leaves are sensitive. They must be coaxed. Not shocked.
You welcome Darjeeling on winter afternoons, second flush particularly. That deep warm wine-wood taste you said was muscatel. If you cared for kissing, I imagine this how your mouth would taste. And, like all the teas you’ve taught me, I would know you blindfold.
I add a scattering of leaves to the pot. They look like nothing: twists of blackish-red and yellow-brown. These days, I can judge how much by eye alone but you used to make me measure it to the gram.
The water is close to boiling now. I can tell from the steam and the way the bubbles gather beneath the lid. And there’s a thermometer if I need it.
You value precision as much as grace. I feel it in every mark you give me. From the stripes of your cane to the edge of your blade. And the deep grooves your corsets leave across my skin.
Clumsiness, you believe, is inelegance of the body. As carelessness is inelegance of mind.
I take the kettle from the heat and pour the water smoothly over the leaves. You have shown me how to cherish each part of this process, this ritual as refined and exquisite as you, but this, in particular, is a moment I love: the quiet alchemy of brewing.
And you, of course, have wrought your own transformation in me.
Three minutes and thirty-five seconds is your preferred steeping period for second flush Darjeeling. I close my eyes and count in time with each constricted breath.
The clothes you choose are your hands on me. Beauty is the instrument of your bondage. And I have never felt more lovely than when my back aches and my feet burn and the sweat slips silent and unseen down silk-wrapped skin.
Never put the tea on the teapot while the tea is brewing.
It will trap heat¸ you told me, and prevent oxygen reaching the leaves. You used dark red candles that night, and the wax ran as riotously as fresh blood.
At three minutes, I take down another teapot. Unlike Wilde, you have nothing to fear from your blue china. Though, of course, it’s very beautiful: so fine, it’s almost transparent, with a pattern of languorously coiling leaves and flowers. Sometimes, when the shadows fall just right, I half-expect those heavy-petalled blooms to stir and shake their heads, and prowl away like lions through the dusk.
With a little left-over water from the kettle, I warm the pot. My hands are trembling a little and I force them to stillness.
You appreciate fear, savour it even, but only when it’s pure—a gift of your own creation. Not this grotesque, unravelled thing made of all my failures.
There was another teapot that I dropped one day.
You found me on the floor, sobbing among the shards. Nothing smashes quite like china, so musically and so utterly. Something fragile turned suddenly savage—all those pieces, broken butterflies with knife-edged wings. It was my own fault. All my fault.
I’d been distracted. I used to be a lot in those days, when you were just a client with particular tastes and I was—
When I believed I was invincible. Before you showed me what a hollow thing I had made of myself. That to be unhurt is not to be free.
I’d cut my palms open, trying to gather up the remains of your teapot. Nothing serious, but enough to leave rusty smears across the ivory silk of the dress you’d chosen. Impossible that you would have overlooked it, but you said nothing at all.
You just carefully cleared up the mess I’d made, wrapping the jagged pieces in newspaper. Beautiful, as ever, to watch you work: the care in your fingers, the economy of every gesture.
There is no part of you, from the deep lines that bracket your mouth to the grey in your hair, that is not lovely to me. But your hands … I worship your hands and what they do to me. Their steadiness on the handles of your knives. Their strength as they tighten the laces on my corsets. Even the familiarity with which they hold a cane.
Of course, there are things they don’t do. They’ll never touch my cock or press inside my body. But sex I can get anywhere.
You are you. And only with you can I feel…
Well. We haven’t named it. I think you would find the word too debased for its implications. And I don’t need it either.
For those who know how to recognise it, your generosity is endless.
You cleaned my cuts with Germolene, the discontinued stuff that came in a yellow tin, and was as pink as the skin beneath a freshly picked scar. Even though nobody had ever tended to my scrapes and bruises before, the medicinal minty smell of the ointment was almost overwhelmingly familiar. I recognised it after a moment or two. Wintergreen: the scent of a childhood I’d never had.
Once my hands were neatly wrapped in gauze, you took me in your arms and held me. You let me cry for a long time.
Sometimes I think they were all the tears I’d never shed.
And, despite being in all other matters exacting to the point of tyranny, you never punished me for the teapot.
It was a few weeks before I thought to Google it, but I tracked it down easily enough. You had bought it at auction at Christies. Irreplaceable. Not that I could have afforded to anyway.
I strain the tea into what is now your favourite teapot.
You never leave tea to stew once it has been brewed, you told me, as I shuddered, wracked by pain and shipwrecked on the shores of pleasure, knowing you had the power and the will to keep me like that for hours. And you did.
Darjeeling should never be drunk with milk or sugar—some people like a few drops of lemon, but you don’t—so it doesn’t take me long to prepare a tray: just the pot, two cups and matching saucers, the little silver teaspoons.
The first time I served you tea, I did it so badly, so half-heartedly that the memory makes me blush. Resenting the suffocation of satin, the press and dig of bone and steel, I thought the tea was the prelude rather than the point.
But, as ever, you were patient with me. Those plain-coloured eyes of yours were warm. You smiled.
Then you said, “The eighth century poet Lu Yu believed that tea is best drunk from a porcelain cup beside a lily pond and in the company of a desirable lady. I think we can dispense with the lily pond since I am fortune enough to have two of the others today.”
I didn’t believe you then.
But, now, it is time to join you.
There are those who like me to crawl. Some will watch me, some will tie me, others whip me. You just wait for me.
And yet there nothing more difficult than this: to glide upon aching feet, bound in silk and sweat and suffering, half-breathless, bearing a tray that must not shake or rattle or spill a single drop of liquid. Beautiful to your design.
It’s close enough to impossible that I often fail. I gasp, I slip, I wobble, I make the spoons shiver in their saucers or show some other flicker of discomfort.
But I know you enjoy this too. Or will later, as you minister your corrections with an irrevocability that is its own brand of tenderness.
There are, however, days when—through luck, or grace, or skill—I achieve perfection. A fleeting thing, I know, and most likely an illusory one because it is only within the world you build for me.
But it feels so very real.
And for a moment it’s all true: I am everything you see in me. There is no pain that matters, but I am neither broken nor invincible.
I am wintergreen.