Midnight Tea
A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young

       "Chamomile tea."
       Still dark. Of course it was still dark. Up for work at six, in bed at midnight, no wonder she craved sleep. Six precious hours. If this was any other night she'd have already squandered one of them.
       The phantom voice whispered firmly, "Chamomile tea."
       Mother's favorite soporific drink. There was some in the cupboard; she had teakettle and hotplate...
       Cold. She'd have to call someone to look at the radiator again. Should she bleed it? Well, not now of course. Now was the time to call up courage and slip from under the snug quilt and blankets.
       Thank God for the hotplate. And for thick flannel robes and warm slippers.
       She could do it by rote; no need to wake up all the way. Water from the pitcher into the pan, pan on the hotplate, wait for the bubbles. In the meantime, chamomile tea from a tin, spooned into the infuser. Boiling water and tea would meet in the cup, brewing as always. Simplicity itself. Here everything worked just as it was supposed to. It was at work that it was all so confusing.
       Part two of Mother's "sleep recipe": think soothing thoughts.
       Thanksgiving. That had been nice, despite the nearly six hours to put a long-distance call through. Still...she'd hoarded her pennies so long for that call and it was all too short. Ten days later the memory was still fresh, and the thought of Dad's voice made her throat tight. He'd noticed. His thoughtful letter was sitting on her night table, already folded and refolded multiple times. Bless Maple and Eugenia for trying to cheer her up at a Thanksgiving dinner eaten wedged between pre-recorded stories of Pilgrims and Indians.
       God help us, Victor liked Scott's idea of re-runs!
       Victor. Thanksgiving dinner. She had hoped it would be with Victor. Was it selfish of her to hate his private line? It rang even the day before the holiday, and he'd gone hurrying out the door as usual, sandwich tucked in one pocket, with the usual rushed farewell.
       He's doing important work.
       And was it selfish to also wonder if she wasn't important, too?
       "Soothing thoughts," the memory of Mother's soft voice insisted.
       Sunday, wonderful Sunday, where she didn't have to be in until noon.
       They all thought she was sleeping late, lazing the short hours away; even in her solitary darkness, she smiled wistfully at the thought of being lazy. Sunday mornings were for doing all the things she never had time for the rest of the week while she juggled scripts, sponsors, crises and conflicting feelings: tidying her room, mending, carrying clothes to the laundry (who would have thought she'd be so absurdly grateful that the Chinese didn't "take" Sundays?). And then for the one relaxing treat of the week, an hour at church with nothing to do but sit in the pew, white gloved hands stilled and folded in her lap rather than pounding away at typewriter keys, listening to Reverend Walker's sermon and singing the old familiar hymns with the congregation.
       "You ought to join the choir," he'd told her long ago as he clasped her hand on the way out.
       She'd sung in the choir in her old Methodist church in Elkhart. How Mother and Dad had glowed the few times she had a solo! Nights of rehearsal, warm camaraderie in the choir loft, walking home with friends, sometimes with someone special...
       No time for choir practice with her schedule. And the closest she'd come to those friendly homeward journeys lately was when Scott escorted her to the trolley.
       "Soothing thoughts!" she said firmly, aloud.
       Scott Sherwood wasn't soothing. He made her think too much.
       "Hey, Betty...I love you."
       "Buy barley futures..."
       No. The cup clinked into its saucer. She put her face into her hands.
       "He lied to me," she said aloud, clearly. It had fueled her anger months ago.
       Lately she had to embellish it in her mind to get the same effect. Lied. Deceived. Cheated. Embezzled.
       Saved WENN. Saved her sanity—and probably Hilary's. Tried to save her life—as she'd tried to save his. The old Scott Sherwood was being whittled away from his decidedly askew upbringing, replaced by a new one. Like the legs of a calf she had seen born once, his new persona didn't always work well. He stumbled, caught himself, tried again.
       Even Mother couldn't have faulted him on that.
       Soothing thoughts: Mother. Dad. Patty and Harry, the children. By now her sister and brother-in-law would have started to shop for what Christmas gifts they could afford. Only eighteen days left; she'd have to make time this week to buy things so they'd ship in time. They were broadcasting a football game this afternoon—maybe window-shopping was in order.
       She kept thinking about something for Victor.
       Maybe an account for sandwiches at the Buttery.
       Was that bitter thought actually hers?
       Soothing thoughts!
       What for George? Her little brother was now taller than she was and farming his own land—and, according to the note tucked on the nightstand behind Dad's letter, he was about to ask Helen Forrester to marry him. He planned to do it on a carriage ride on Sunday. This Sunday.
       The radio said the Midwest was expecting snow today. Would he take her out in the sleigh instead? And what would it be like, a proposal received while riding with the man you cared for, both warm in lap robes and love behind horses trotting through a landscape of white?
       She shut her eyes, closing out her little room, her sleeplessness, and dreamed of snow. Snow. Fresh, clean snow, not Pittsburgh snow, soiled by soot before it even struck the ground to be turned into grimy slush. The snow in her memory crunched underfoot rather than squished, made the air crisper and colder rather than more damp. She remembered another sleigh ride, one last year taken home for a warm Christmas after a cold, cold ride on a crop-dusting plane...a trip Scott had bought her, bargained and bartered for.
       Tears. Not now, not now...now her cheeks were as cold as her toes.
       She should be stern with herself, firm.
       Like she had tried to the night she found out Victor was still alive. The night Scott had saved them from Holstrom. The night Victor had kissed her and then said three fateful words.
       Soothing thoughts. Soothing thoughts. Soothing thoughts.
       The tears were wiped fiercely from her face. She finished the tea, wiped out the cup with a wet washrag dipped in the water from the pitcher. Tomorrow she'd wash it properly in the communal kitchen along with the glass from her bedside. She would rinse out other things in the communal bathroom. On her way to church she would drop her clothing at the laundry. During her supper hour at WENN she would pick it up. Everything would proceed as usual.
       She brushed the sagging, faded blinds aside for a few moments, watching the silent street below. Quiet. Deep breaths. Soothing thoughts.
       The tea was helping. She'd go back to bed now. Back to a haven of quilts and blankets. Time to doze off. Time. Tomorrow would be Sunday, with time to think, time to catch up.
       Quiet, welcome Sunday...

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