map Tea Steeping

by Megan Ricigliano

Published in Issue No. 234 ~ November, 2016


Merida never properly said goodbye to her parents, Alice and J.J Brenson, the way that they deserved. Joseph John, better known to everyone he has encountered as J.J., was ex-military and had married her mother at the wise age of 44. Alice, a hearty contrast to her better half, was a church going woman, that is until she met J.J. at a charity run and patiently listened to his war stories over a 14 month long courtship. She refused to believe than an all loving and present God would allow such hatred and blood to be rampant on his own holy soil. Alice had fallen so sincerely in love with J.J., his adoration embodying her entirely, from morning until nightfall, that she went from one preaching post to another; She had formed her own assembly which generated awareness for the military men coming home desperately seeking financial and psychological assistance. Alice had worked tirelessly baking Bundt cakes and New England Cranberry Pie for their bake sales, and distributing handwritten fliers to anyone leaving her old previous place of worship. Merida can still see the image of her mother, proud in a rusty lawn chair perched behind an old flimsy table which she found leaning against a Salvation Army dumpster. And that is the way Alice will always live in her daughter’s memory, resilient and driven by this rare love.

J.J. appreciated and, in the privacy of any empty room he could find once he felt the drowsy sensation and tightening throat start to come on, cried over her efforts and devotion she poured over his past. Though he had always longed to help and sit beside his lonesome wife at her tiny stand every Sunday at 7:00 AM, he knew that this gave her a sense of obligation and meaning in the world. J.J., always quick to find a sneaky tactic in the fine print, would sit at a bagel shop window parallel to the Saint Elizabeth Church lawn, but she never addressed it and he never admitted it. The couple never brought it up to one another, there was never any need to, since they were each other’s support and some things do not need to be spoken about to confirm.

She had never confided this to J.J., with the acute knowledge that his pride would be momentarily wounded, but weekly he cried out during night terrors, flailing all over the bed forming loud pleads. Over the years, and many trial and errors, she formed her own remedy for these difficult nights: Chamomile tea with half a stick of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of ginger. Alice would creep up to him with the remedy in tow, gently wake him up, prop his favorite bulky pillow behind his head for support, lift the teacup to his dry mouth, and feed him this soothing decoction in intervals that would go on for as long as it had to until she heard his soft grunt, a signal that he was falling back asleep. For many years Alice had aided these bitter nights, without any knowledge whatsoever from J.J., sitting beside her beloved for as long as it took. If he was in pain, so was she, and that is the way they had always been: two complete individuals who had a connection as deeply rooted as the ground they stepped on.

Merida had once woken up in the middle of the evening from a coughing fit due to a lingering cold she had, passed by the bedroom, and watched from the dark hallway her mother, serving her father. She wished to get closer, so gently took a miniscule step, but at that young age, she had not yet mastered the skill of knowing the creaks and groans of one’s home. Her mother, blessed with the hearing of a bat in its prime, turned toward her, nodded a silent signal to be on her way, and resumed tending.

Soon after the wedding of Alice and J.J., 7 months to the day to be exact though nobody dares to address this despite the easy ability to use the principal of subtraction, Merida was born. She was the light of their lives, and existed to make her the happiest a child could be. They were superb parents, and became role models for how Merida would one day treat her own child. Unfortunately, many years later, her husband Paul and her came to a standstill in their hopes for a child, and eventually made the area partially decorated to be a baby room into an office. They never discussed it, because some things do not need to be spoken about to confirm.

One of Merida’s earliest memories sat her at the kitchen table, probably in the 3rd grade, because she hazily recalls an abundance of assignments, (Ms. Fusco was the first teacher to introduce her to a lifelong journey of work.) She recalls developing calluses on her fingers from hours of gripping onto a torturous device otherwise known as the #2 yellow pencil, much too difficult for her little hands to manage.

She can still hear the door slamming shut, things often had to be shoved closed to efficiently close in that house, and sensing her father’s arrival from work. In he walked, home from the local deli he worked at daily until 3;30PM, and more often times than none, he would slide her over a piece of ham carefully wrapped up in his pocket. The two of them generated a system, which had to be quick and occur once Alice turned her back to the father and daughter team. Alice probably believed that murder and eating before dinner should be classified on the same criminal level, therefore it made the ham all the more tasty.

Under her father’s suede coat that day was a fresh new cardboard box. Quietly approach her mother while she worked diligently at the stove, he careful raised the box through the gap between her arms being used to simultaneously pour salt into the soup she was stirring with her other hand. Somehow, she did not hear her husband come up behind her, often in her own calm cooking world, because she flinched and caused the box to fall downward. Merida can still hear it hitting the floor, along with the crack that followed. She has only heard that exact distinct sound twice in her life, the other time being the crunch that generated beneath Paul’s bended knee. That’s when she knew that Paul was to Merida was the way that J.J. was to Alice. But some things do not need to be spoken about to confirm.


A sound like this can only be described as a combination of two things: The start of a child’s laughter and it’s crackling sound created by the vocal cords first meshing together, and the breaking of the last remaining icicle of the winter, finally giving up, letting go, and spreading its anatomy across the ground. Beyond that, the sound cannot further be described besides stating that it is was born of an excess of love not only being bravely offered, but sincerely accepted.

Alice realized what she had done, and immediately scrambled to the floor in hopes of mending the box’s contents. She gently lifted a teapot with the eyes of a child looking into the eyes of God. This gift was truly beautiful with its ice blue body and beige handle reading a script and tiny “A.” Her parents had never needed to vocalize their appreciation, because they had a sea deep foundation, which could not be broken with even the roughest of careless waves. Merida spent most of her childhood thinking that they had a strange and eccentric connection, but quickly understood it the moment she met Paul.

After breaking off their momentary eye contact, Alice took what had made the tiny cracking noise, and lifted it up to eye level. The spout of the teapot separated from its body, but no one spoke about it. From that day forward, the teapot sat on the countertop, always with its own indescribable character, making itself the silent fourth member of their family. They would often dust it, lift it gently to clean under it, and graze their hands over it when each one left the kitchen for their morning departure. There was a certain beauty about it, with the broken spout only adding to its undeniable presence in the room. And so it lived and breathed in that kitchen, and Merida strangely no longer felt like an only child.

Soon after she and Paul had discovered they could not bare children, another health issue reared its ugly head, but it only affected one of them. Paul had developed lung cancer, partially due to years of smoking long before Merida forced his hand in quitting. His doctor had caught it in Stage 3, and Paul had opted for a long considered decision to deny chemotherapy, and let fate due what it must. This absolutely tore at Merida’s core, and she longed for a support system of her parents 6 states away. After 7 months of making the most of his life and having Merida feel genuinely loved and appreciated, Paul passed away in their bed, with his broken hearted wife at his side.

For a year, Merida hid away, refusing to contact anyone or seek help for her lingering despair. One day, while wearing Paul’s coveted Texas University Sweatshirt, she received a call that both of her parents had suddenly passed, due to carbon monoxide poisoning, which could have been prevented if they only knew that they had to change it after a certain number of years. Left for her, their only child, was the home she lived in, along with every possession inside. Merida knew it was time to return, and packed minimally for her trip back to where she belongs.

The night she stepped foot in that faded red house, she grabbed a few significant items, and headed for the backyard. She spotted her mother’s garden, and pulled her father’s lounge chair nearby. With her father’s shovel in one hand, she dug for hours, until she made the ending what she was looking for. In the first hole, she dropped the teapot, gently as to not crack it any further. In the second hole, she tossed in Paul’s wedding ring together with old leaves, sealed in a bag, from the day he asked her to spend his life with him. And in the third and largest hole, Merida lowered herself in, pulled the rope meticulously placed under a foot of dirt at the start of the hole, and pulled, allowing herself to be fully submerged by the silence of love, because some things do not need to be spoken about to confirm.

account_box More About

Megan Ricigliano is a Jersey-born teacher in Manhattan, and the creator and president of the Queens, New York Feminist Book Club. She has been writing for over 10 years, and graduated from Montclair State University with a Bachelor's Degree in English. She currently resides in Queens, New York with her loving partner, and boxer dog, Eli. She can easily be found on the subway: Engulfed in a book and missing her stops.