“How to Make Tea” by Amy Hattori
Today, it is a square sachet, without a string or tag– one you have to fish out with a spoon or single chopstick. It sits in the bottom of my mug while water boils in the electric kettle. The kettle is clear and the water within is excitable as it heats up; small bubbles growing larger and rising and popping. Once poured into the mug, the tea leaves stain the surface until the water is earthy.
But I do not see this happen. While my tea steeps I look out the window. Two floors below a tall, aged man walks down the street. He wears a navy beanie over graying hair and a knitted sweater over high, hunched shoulders. This is his uniform. Every day since moving into this apartment, I have seen the man walking down the street. If I am lucky, he passes by many times throughout the day.
I return to my tea on the counter, fishing out the sachet and throwing it away. When I return to the window with mug in hand and cool air blowing from between my lips, I glance up and the man is gone. I see students in parkas carrying take out back to their dorms and runners and dogs and children on scooters.
Last night, my roommate asked me if I believed in ghosts. I said no. But now, as steam rises from my mug is swirling translucent strokes and I ponder the life of a man I only ever see when I am alone, I think ‘maybe.’
“I Do My Laundry at Night”
Last time I asked my grandpa, the cat’s name was either Leon or Milton. The yellow striped stray visits the back porch every night and eats leftovers from a ceramic dish. Whatever his name is, he isn’t allowed in the house, unlike the seven other cats my grandparents adopted throughout their married life. When cats used to slink up and down the halls of my grandparents’ small home, I was younger– wearing jeans that were too loose one day and too short the next and tripping over my own feet. The basement door would slowly open, revealing the darkness I knew was the basement, but had never actually seen. A cat would squeeze between the door jamb and the door exposing a column of darkness in a house I knew only to be filled with steaming meals, one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles, and family.
Going to college in St. Louis appeased my apprehensive parents since Grandma and Grandpa live down the street, just past the giant Amoco sign. My grandma said I could bring laundry over to her house during the next four years instead of paying the two dollars and fifty cents per load the dorm machines charge. However, I wanted to seize my new independence as a college student, so two weeks after moving in, I walked down the hallway with my black linen bag bulging with clothes and waited on the elevator. I pushed open the door to the laundry room and entered a sterile vacuum: fluorescent lights reflecting off of white linoleum tiles reflecting onto cold white washers and dryers. Like a revving engine, the machines rattled with ambition. The socks of future politicians and Pulitzer prize winners cycled past the windows asking me if I too would walk in greatness one day.
My grandparents’ house has seen two hundred years of people moving in and out of
the other matchboxes it is nestled between. The steep staircase to the upper level takes up half of the first floor, descending into the kitchen and living room before turning upwards. Perched on top of the stairs is the bathroom and three bedrooms, each decorated with portraits of cats on paintings and pillows. A watercolor portrait of my cousins hangs over my aunt’s old bed where my sister always sleeps when we visit. A dolphin reaches up to kiss my cousins sitting on the dock, dressed in rental wetsuits from some commercial family vacation gone by. A chipped dresser holds paint pallets, indented from years of dipping dripping brushes into reds and greens to create scenes of pears and figs, hibiscus and coconuts, and a young Japanese man shaded by his conical hat as he rows into foggy mountains.
For one weekend last October, my sister came to visit and stayed at our grandparent’s house. After deciding to sleep over at the house too, I lugged my laundry bag out onto the sidewalk and waited for my grandpa to pick me up. My grandma, ready to fake complaints to the rest of the family about doing my laundry, opened the basement door and told me where to find the box of detergent. The wooden steps were uneven, and I feared for my grandparents in months and years to come when their bones begin to betray them. Faded labels on tomato cans and jars of peppers curled towards my feet as I stepped around nails and splinters, and I realized I had just entered a bunker. They had been stockpiling food for years patiently waiting for another exodus that will hopefully never come.
A laundry line cascades overhead, pivoting between the washer, wall, and dryer. Beneath the washer, a low wooden table lurched under the force of the machine cleaning amid a capsule of dust and dirt. A few potted plants on the floor stretched towards the ration of light seeping through the hole of a window below the beamed ceiling. Despite their frailty, I knew my grandma would transfer these plants to her garden where they would bloom until the neighbors could see flowers over the fence. I suddenly felt guilty about the large window I harbored in my room, often opening the blinds in time for the sunset to crash over Big Bend Boulevard and closing them minutes later when my desk lamp could not keep out the darkness.
I always do my laundry at night. The fluorescent lights shine consistently, unaware of Earth’s dedication to turning us toward the sun every day. Puddles mark the floor now and condensation brims dryer windows indicating their uselessness. A heap of lost socks toppled over on a folding table and one has even rolled into the trashcan. I am sure their owners are getting to class fine without them.
I felt bad about using my grandma’s space for laundry and decided to reserve the option for emergencies only, just as bunkers should be used for. That Sunday, I pulled my sweaters off the clothesline and took them upstairs with the rest of my dry clothes, trying to ignore the reality of my grandparents’ home. Darkness perpetually existed beneath their feet and no amount of budding plants or fabric softeners could erase it. Now when I go over to their house and smell soup boiling and am ushered to the back porch to watch Sumo wrestling, I know I have not really escaped the problems presented in my classes. When my grandma emerges from the basement with her own laundry, the bottles of soda on the floor clink together when she closes the door. No door can prevent the darkness from escaping the basement and reminding us of its presence. Clink, clink, remember me? Until we leave the doors to darkness open in our lives, something within will always be withering and reaching for the light.
Biographical Note: Amy Hattori is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis studying Religious Studies and Writing. She is an avid reader and aspiring writer, fan of nature and late-night talk shows. The outdoors and quiet personal moments most inspire Amy’s writing which typically falls in the genre of creative nonfiction. She hopes to write in her post-grad career and always find ways to be creative!