Friday, May 17, 2019

Tea For a Few

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are: remote, roar, register, resident, and rest. 

They were submitted by:


I left my apartment early that morning with my Nikon D5, a cheap recorder, and a sack lunch in my unicorn backpack ready to take on the world. I’d been inspired in a way by the Humans of New York creator a few weeks back after seeing a 5 part story that absolutely left me devastated. I wanted to do more with the stories. I wanted longer ones, but I wanted to write some of my own perspective too. I didn’t want to leave things unsaid and up for viewer interpretation. I wanted to do updates and dig into stories a little deeper—present all of them in parts and skip the fluff. And of course, I’d be doing all this in the grittiness of the poor South. There are some spots down here that are like an oasis of blue and prosperity but most of the landscape is a red desert of struggle. I wanted to show that side of things, get out of the city where it’s all too easy to find a dichotomy of posh or destitute and find people who’s everyday were paycheck to paycheck struggles resonated with the average person.

But on that day I got a little more than I bargained for and ended up tabling the whole idea.

I got in my car and traveled mostly westward until I hit this little area that wasn’t much bigger than a village. There was a Mom and Pop style diner right on the edge of town that looked like it was straight from the 50s…and hadn’t been updated since then either. It got me curious and I figured it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a little caffeine, so I stopped in and took a seat at the counter.

I was taking a quick scroll through my phone checking notifications I’d gotten on the drive when I heard a grumble in front of me. I lookup up to find a large, grizzled older woman in front of me in a powder blue uniform complete with white apron. It was pressed with precision, not a single wrinkle, even though there was no telling how long she’d been on her shift. She had her gray hair swept up in a massive bun and smelled like maple pancakes and Comet. Her nametag said “Alice.”

Without the slightest hint of a Southern drawl, she asked, “whatcha havin’ sweets?”

“just a coffee.”

“Honey, you’re gonna need more than just coffee,” she replied and slid a menu over my way.

I took a quick look and had my curiosity piqued by the Southern Comfort special—extra buttery grits, scrambled eggs (with or without cheese), ham steak, and 2 made from scratch biscuits with a side of sausage and milk gravy. My stomach growled just reading it. Her laugh was coarse and raspy when I pointed it out on the menu and asked if it was any good.

“Everything I make is good, sug. But are ya up to the challenge?”

“Maybe,” I said even more sure than ever that I was in the right place.

It was a short wait surprisingly. The coffee was gourmet. It felt like velvet on my tongue with a rich chocolate flavor, and the minute I took a bite of biscuit I felt like I’d died. She stood there smiling knowingly, one hand on her hip. Sassy.

I took a second to wipe my hands, grab my bag, and take out the camera and recorder. Her brows furrowed, but she said nothing while she waited on me to finish my bite. “This is amazing” is all I managed to get out before I shoved a few more bites in my mouth then a few bites more. She waited me out enjoying watching me savor every crumb that made its way in to my mouth. Before I realized it, I had eaten the rest of it and felt like I needed to unbutton my pants just to be able to breathe.

“Impressive. You ready to check out?” she questioned and pointed at the register.

“Uh, that’s up to you.” She squinted her eyes but kept quiet. “See, I’ve been traveling around taking a couple, few photos of people and getting important stories about their life for my website. Have you ever heard of Humans of New York?”

“Must be new. I’m from New England, a small town in Massachusetts actually, so I’m from the general area, but I never heard of it. What is it?”

“Well, it’s a website where the guy walks around the city taking photographs and asking questions. He posts a snapshot of the conversation with the photo online and gets a lot of interaction. He’s expanded and been around the world and has been able to really help some people with funding, jobs, things like that. It’s been pretty incredible to watch, the human connection of it all and every day people’s desire to help others, and it kind of inspired me to do something similar in the South. I just want to tell people’s stories. The kind of people living out here in The Middle of Nowhere making shit work the best they can, you know? Every day kind of people.”

“And, you need what from me?”

“A photo or few and a story. Any story you want to tell. The most interesting story you have, how you got to be here, who you are… whatever you want to tell.”

“Are you sure you want my most interesting story? It’s a bit unbelievable. In fact, if I hadn’t lived it, I’d tell me I’m full of shit.”

“I’m all ears.”

“well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I should have listened to her warning, but here’s what she said on the recording.

“So I had this job, right? I cleaned the ‘apartments’ for residents at an assisted living facility. Basically, the residents themselves were older and couldn’t quite live alone or without someone able to check in on them regularly, so it was not quite a nursing home but not far off, you dig?

Anyway, there were these two gals who lived together, Mabel and Lulu. There were a bit more than ‘pals’ if you catch my drift. I never really asked how they’d found one another or were allowed to live together. The facility…well, they frowned on what they called ‘deviant’ activity which definitely included lesbians. But they’d made it work, kept their secrets from the right people. That’s what I thought at first. Guess I was wrong about that in the end.

Guests could visit each other anytime during daytime hours, and these two ladies loved to host old fashioned tea parties. Everyone invited was required to dress their best or be turned away. Tea was served always, but the desserts were always something different. Biscotti, pies, cakes, cheesecake, cookies, brownies, crepes. It was lavish, the setup, and I had no idea how they managed to pull it off week after week. They weren’t baking them. I was in charge of helping clean up, you see? There was never any baking dishes afterward, and none of their cupboards held so much as a sack of flour. Maybe they went off site and bought them, but it seemed a pretty extravagant expense, and it wasn’t like the town we were in had a fancy bakery like you might find in NYC. It just added to the oddity of what was to come. That’s the point by telling you that part.

The ladies, they were pretty strict about etiquette including not to talk to anyone else about what went on at the parties. The residents were pretty good about that. They wanted to be invited back, right? The only thing you ever heard out of them was how much fun they were. How they felt more alive afterwards, felt young again. And, you know what’s crazy? They looked it too. They’d leave there absolutely goddamn glowing.

But there were still stories.

I heard all of them over the time I worked there. All the people working there had gossip to spread about Mabel and Lulu—the parties, the sassiness, that they were witches. I didn’t really buy much into it, but then the stories started about their relationship. I’d always had a feeling it might be the case, but it wasn’t my business to say. Their sex life is their own, and I didn’t give a shit what they chose to do in their own time as long as I didn’t have to clean up a huge mess. It got weird though. Every person that spread the rumor ended up not coming back to work. No call ins, no resignation, no word.

It wasn’t really a big deal the first couple of times. That’s not easy work. The residents aren’t always easy to deal with. The pay wasn’t great. Hell, it wasn’t even good. Pennies, really, for what had to be done by the various types of employees. So the turnover rate was pretty high, and the last thing you worry about when it comes to a shitty job you can’t really take anymore is giving a notice so you can spend 2 more weeks cleaning up literal shit and getting metaphorically shit on. It wasn’t all that out of the ordinary at first is what I mean.

But it kept happening.

I didn’t make the connection at first really, but one of my good work friends, someone I went out for a drink with after our shift some days, went shopping with a few times ended up missing not long after a sordid conversation over White Russians in a bar called Jubilee’s. Apparently, Sandra, that’s my friend, had walked in on Mabel and Lulu in what she called ‘a passionate embrace’ on the first White Russian but then described raunchily as “two old witches finger banging it out” by the 3rd one.

I never saw her again.

I knew where she lived, her phone number, all that jazz, but she didn’t answer not once over the two weeks I tried to call. She was never home. Her car was nowhere to be found, and her landlord (he lived in the apartment beside hers) hadn’t seen or heard from her the entire time. She wasn’t the type of broad who’d just disappear like that. She had family around and a kid in college. I tried finding the kid on social media, but you know how that goes these days. Damn kids have all kinds of funky, fucked up names for themselves. It’s not so easy as just typing in a name anymore. Guess I can’t blame them. who wants to live their whole lives as themselves? Anyway, point being is I tried a lot harder than management to figure out where she was, but I couldn’t find anything, and when I went to the police, I was told she was a grown woman and had probably found greener pastures elsewhere. That was that.

Or so I thought.

I gave my two weeks’ notice not long after that. Shit was weird, you know? The stories about Mabel and Lulu were amping up. There was a lot of tension. People kept dropping off the face of the planet, and management didn’t care as long as they had plenty of people to hire for the bare minimum pay. New hires started out at next to nothing and had to work their way up. It was a win-win for the company itself. So I figured with my time being just about up, I couldn’t really give two shits if I broke a few rules to sneak into Mabel and Lulu’s place when they were out getting whatever supplies they could for their tea parties, so I could figure out just what was going on. I don’t know what exactly I thought I’d find. I mean, nothing would bring Sandra or the others back, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I had to know….something. Anything.

I, well, I stole a universal keycard from the nurse’s station during morning shift change. They kept them in a passcode protected safe in there, and I just happened to be in there during shift change a couple days prior and slyly recorded the code being entered while pretending to check my phone before my own shift. So I get one of the key cards, sneak out, and wait for the ladies to leave.

By 11 that morning, they were on their way, and I snuck in unnoticed to hide in a bedroom closet until it was time for the party. I figured I could probably get to their laundry room right off the kitchen and watch from the doorway once everyone was there. 2 p.m. I just had to make it without being found until 2 p.m.

I did it, but let me tell you when they got home I was scared to so much as breathe for fear of being caught. I did not at all expect to leave unharmed if I were. But I got through it. They were so focused on getting things ready for the party they didn’t really even move past the kitchen before guests started showing up a few minutes before 1. Not too early, not too late was part of their etiquette rules. Either a few minutes before or a few minutes after but never exactly on time. Who ever heard of that shit? So yeah, once the house filled up with the other residents, the cackling and gossip began, and I easily made it to the laundry without even a glance in my direction. I had a pretty good vantage point. I could hear everything felt pretty safe peep around the doorframe every now and then if I wanted to check something out.

Here’s where it got dicey.

So the ladies start chanting, okay? I can’t make out what words are being said, but when I look out, they have umpteen million candles lit (they weren’t supposed to have any at all) and were naked. Seriously. I thought I might have a heart attack and die right there. I mean, I’m not talking shit about anyone’s body, but that’s just really not what I expected to look around and see, you know?

I backed away from the doorway and tried to grab a black blanket looking thing hanging over something in the corner of the room to shove in my face to cover the screaming fit of nervous laughter that threatened to come out, but that was a mistake. Biggest mistake really. When I tugged on it, I found Sandra. Well, I thought…think…I’m pretty sure it was Sandra, but she looked like a mummy. Her mouth was open in a silent scream, and her face was contorted, but I would swear it was her.

I screamed this guttural sound I’d never made before or made since, more of a roar to be honest. I made a bolt for the door while the ladies clamored around screaming themselves, high pitch normal sounding ones if screams can ever be normal, and trying to get dressed. I figured they thought it was a peeping tom. I didn’t stop running until I got to my car in the parking lot, peeled out, and never went back. I packed a couple suitcases as soon as I got in my place and headed straight here. I wasn’t taking any chances on turning out like Sandra.

Yeah, so that’s how I got here and my most interesting story all rolled into one.”

I was speechless. I sat there in front of congealed gravy bits, empty coffee cup, mouth agape. I had the wherewithal to stop the recorder and snap a few pictures, but it was like my brain existed on some remote island and had to travel thousands of extra miles to get back to me about what I should do. I stumbled through a couple more questions, but I honestly don’t remember what I even asked her. I was in shock. I don’t even remember how I got home.

It’s been 2 months. Every time I’ve sat down to try to write it, I spiral and blank on what to say. I haven’t gone out to do photos or stories since. I mean, what do you do with something like that?

Witches. Lesbian witches in a nursing home. AT A TEA PARTY. WITH MUMMIES.

I’m not writing it…what if they’re, like, immortal and track me down? What if Alice was one of them and just baiting me into spreading gossip? My mind has covered all the possibilities, and it’s safe to say, I don’t like any of them.


Links to the other “Use Your Words” posts:

Baking In A Tornado

Wandering Web Designer

Cognitive Script

The Bergham Chronicles

On the Border

Southern Belle Charm

Bookworm in the Kitchen

Follow Me Home

Part-time Working Hockey Mom


  1. Remind me to never work in an assisted living facility. Or to gossip. Ever.

  2. Great story, Jenniy. Creepy good, as usual. Hey, I'd be interested to find out if Alice's face even developed on the film that was supposed to accompany the story...

  3. Oh my goodness. I thought you were going to have the time of your life, you know, wearing your unicorn backpack and all!

  4. What a fabulous story! You have a delightfully warped sense of humor! I love it.