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The Blue-Willow Teapot

by Ron Van Sweringen

She drank from it every morning for forty years. The blue-willow teapot. It was her favorite because it was large and the thick porcelain kept the tea hot. She even had a special space on the shelf set aside for it, a safe corner where no one could knock it off by mistake.

Marybelle Smith drank tea from the blue-willow pot, as usual, the last morning of her life. She washed and dried it, then carefully put it safely on the shelf. An hour later, at age seventy-four, she died of a heart attack while pruning her roses.

Neighbors found her that October morning on the brick terrace of her cottage, but it was too late. A lone nephew, Andrew Parker, arrived three days after being notified of her death. He was young and skinny with shaggy dark hair and a ghostly white complexion. It was not hard to suspect a drug addiction from his bloodshot eyes and nervous disposition.

Gordon Wilson, Marybelle’s attorney and executor, met Andrew at her cottage on a dismal rainy day.

“As I explained in my letter, Mr. Parker, your aunt left you her entire estate. There are, I’m afraid, some stipulations to which you will have to consent before your aunt’s wishes can be carried out.”

“And exactly what would those be?” Andrew asked, nervously folding and unfolding his hands, his pale blue eyes intent on Mr. Wilson’s face.

“Stipulation one,” Wilson replied. “Your aunt left you a life interest in this cottage. You may live here for the rest of your life. Upon your death, it is to be sold and the proceeds donated to a charity of your aunt’s choice.”

“You mean she expected me to spend the rest of my life in this hick town? Well the answer is no,” Andrew shot back, pacing up and down in front of the fireplace. “Not on a bet.”

“Perhaps you should hear the rest of your aunt’s will before you make any decisions,” Mr. Wilson said, watching the boy’s agitation deepen.

“All right,” Andrew replied sarcastically, turning toward the rain-streaked windows and running his hands through his hair.

“Stipulation two: you have been bequeathed the sum of three hundred thousand dollars...”

“That’s more like it,” Andrew interrupted, making a fist and raising it in the air.

“... to be paid to you monthly in the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars for the rest of your life or until the funds are depleted,” Mr. Wilson continued. “There is one more stipulation. Your aunt apparently had faith in you as a writer. She has stated that when and if a work of yours is published and listed on the New York Times best-seller list, that the cottage will revert to your sole ownership and any remainder of the three hundred thousand dollar bequest shall be paid to you immediately.”

“That cooks it,” Andrew replied, exasperation on his face. “She’s nuts. I wrote a story in the sixth grade and she liked it, so she ties up the money until I magically turn into a best-selling author. Hey man, I’m a hustler on the streets of Manhattan. What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

“You’re free to stay in the cottage for a week,” Mr. Wilson replied, closing his briefcase. “I’ll need an answer by then. If I were in your position, I’d give it a shot. You don’t impress me as having much to lose by leaving Manhattan, and Connecticut can be a nice place to live. “

Andrew spent the rest of the afternoon in front of the fireplace, finishing a joint and nursing a half-empty bottle of sherry he found in a kitchen cabinet. “This sucks,” he said to himself. “Better she left me nothing than drop this writer crap on me.”

The next morning Andrew felt better. Maybe it was the warm Autumn sunshine on his face when he woke up in Aunt Marybelle’s bed, or the down-filled duvet that covered him. Whatever the reason, for the first time in a while he was hungry.

Scrambled eggs, toast and a hot cup of tea from a large blue-willow pot he found on the shelf did the trick. An unannounced visitor added a note of surprise when a large orange tabby cat walked through the open kitchen door. She made her presence known with a loud meow.

It occurred to Andrew that she was no stranger. He remembered the dozen or so cans of Fancy Feast cat food he had found in the pantry while looking for the tea.

The days passed slowly for Andrew. He didn’t miss the room he rented in a fourth floor walk-up in Manhattan, or the red neon light blinking in his bedroom window all night. He did miss the fast pace on the crowded sidewalks and the rush of making a good hit. It was his way of life.

Mr. Wilson arrived at the cottage on Friday afternoon as agreed. Andrew was ready for him, standing in the doorway with the orange tabby rubbing against his legs.

“It’s a deal,” Andrew said as Mr. Wilson set his briefcase down. “I’ve got ten dollars in my pocket and holes in both of my shoes. What option do I have?” he asked, hiding his trembling hands.

Before Mr. Wilson left the cottage, he wrote a check for twenty-five hundred dollars.

“Spend it wisely, Andrew,” he said, shaking the boy’s hand. “Most people don’t have an opportunity in life to get ahead like this. You are very lucky.”

Andrew felt a sense of exhilaration holding the check in his hands. It was hard to believe that this piece of paper was worth twenty-five hundred dollars to him. Usually the money passing through Andrew’s hands slipped quickly from buyer to seller. A good drug score was not being killed or set up by the cops.

The Greyhound bus from Connecticut pulled into Manhattan at ten PM that night. The craving in Andrew’s gut made his hands shake as he left his seat. It was cold on the street and a damp wind cut through his thin jacket. He looked for familiar faces, finding one near Times Square.

Mick the Man was working the corner in front of an all-night Rexall. “Hey man, what’s happ’nin’?” he smiled through two gold front teeth. “Heard you got a lot of money.”

“Yeah,” Andrew replied, jamming his hands into his jacket pockets. “Cold as hell out here, man. I need a hit bad.”

“Ten minutes,” Mick smiled, cell phone in hand. “Down the alley.”

Andrew knew the alley, it was a good place for transactions. It was also a good place to get killed. As he waited in the darkness for the delivery, he ran his hand over the five one-hundred dollar bills rolled up in his pocket. The remaining two thousand dollars from Mr. Wilson’s check was tucked away in the blue-willow teapot on the kitchen shelf at the cottage. In the cold darkness, Andrew asked himself, “What the hell are you doing here, you stupid bastard?”

Almost as an answer to his question, Andrew heard footsteps coming toward him. A switch-blade glinted as a knee slammed into his groin. The pain was so sharp Andrew couldn’t breathe and his legs buckled. A fist came down at the base of his skull and a shoe caught the right side of Andrew’s face with a vicious kick. He swallowed the blood running into his mouth, gagging on it.

“Where’s the money, sumbitch?” a voice rasped as hands tore at his pockets, while fists pounded him into oblivion.

* * *

It was sitting on the “One dollar and under table” at the estate sale. Its blue oriental design standing out in the hot morning sun. The large blue-willow teapot reminded Margaret Folkins of one her grandmother had when she was a child.

She examined it carefully for cracks or chips, noting that the lid was securely scotch-taped closed. “Good thing,” she said to herself, “otherwise it would probably be broken or gone.” Margaret decided that the teapot and a brass inkwell she had already discovered were good candidates, so she joined the line to pay for them.

When Margaret got home, Bill Parker, her next door neighbor was mowing his lawn. She waved him over to her car and handed him a cardboard box.

“I found these at an estate sale this morning, Bill”, she smiled. “I think they will do well at the silent auction for your journalism class at school, especially the teapot.”

“Thanks Margaret,” Bill nodded. “Who knows, maybe someday one of these kids will write a New York Times best seller.”

Copyright © 2011 by Ron Van Sweringen

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