“Don’t let him have honey,” is the last thing my grandmother told me, catching my eye as she left to run an errand in town, and I nodded.
As soon she was out the door my grandfather emerged from his den, away from his precious games of chess, swiftly shuffling into the kitchen. The gas hissed as he turned on the stove and then struck a match on the sandpaper tacked to the wall beside the stove. The teapot chugged as it filled.
When the kettle whistled and the water poured and the tea steeped he said “Getch me zeh honey.”
I’d turned my back to him, hunching my shoulders, anticipating this. “Grandma said-”
“Grenma is gon. And I von’t tell her. Our secret.”
He was diabetic. Poisoning yourself seemed like poor chess strategy, and the tea itself was nasty stuff that made my lips curl and my tongue scrunch up when I’d tried it. When she’d denied him the tea itself last Christmas he’d thrown a temper tantrum that validated my own; I was younger than ten, he was over eighty.
“Zeh vater is getting culd.”
Grandma claimed she needed the honey for cooking, but she’d put it out of reach on the top shelf of a bookcase in the living room to tease him because he was terrified of heights and wouldn’t stand on a ladder to get it.
I was going to get the honey for him. His expectant expression, with just the hint of that Battle of Stalingrad stone beneath the silk glove of his better nature told me so. Probably grandma knew it, too. But this way she could feel disappointed in something; the honey in her own tea.
Grandpa watched as I wrestled a big, heavy decorative chair from the living room set beneath the bookcase.
Crawling up, I sank into the plush cushion.
The honey remained feet out of reach and, sighing, I planted my foot onto the nearest shelf of the bookcase and boosted myself up, grabbing onto a higher shelf as I did. He was tall enough to help me but I was fat and he was old and the days of him lifting me were long gone.
Like Icarus I climbed. Trying not to look down as the ground got further away, my hands suddenly sweaty, my trailing legs scraping the edges as I alternated them, calves burning as I braced shell topped toes against tomes I couldn’t yet read. Focusing on the looming honey jar.
The bookcase wobbled and a fake Faberge egg on the shelf rattled.
My breath caught. I stopped moving.
“Careful boy. But don’t vory, you are almost at zeh top.”
Then I was.
I ascended the final shelf and the honey jar filled my vision. The honey inside had separated into a solid jeweled crust of thick crystals with a sloshy amber liquid on top. I could smell it. Grandma had never used the honey after putting it up here.
I grabbed it.
Nothing. I tugged; the bookcase swayed and the fake Faberge egg rattled and the jar remained glued so I yanked and the bookcase rocked and the fake Faberge egg tipped over.
The jar tore loose.
I fell over backwards and hit the high top of the chair which tipped over like a seesaw, the leverage pitching me across the living room.
I landed on the glass coffee table where grandma sat and played solitaire while grandpa played chess in the other room; her old, oily, ruffled cards still laid out in the game she’d abandoned when she left earlier. She played games of chance while he played games of skill and both thought the lesser of each other for it.
The glass table shattered beneath me.
One thick pane of glass laying in the edges of its frame, it lacked a center cross support or my back would have broken.
I’d held onto the jar and honey spilled out. That liquid layer was thin and runny like water but still grossly sticky like honey.
It soaked right through my shirt, coating my chest, flowing around my flab to my back and down my pants, pooling in the crack of my ass and the hollow of my throat, smearing my cheeks and matting my hair.
Shards of broken glass stuck to it, cut me in a million tiny places, fragments glued to the back of my neck, to the backs of my arms, in the creases of my folded elbows. I was a Christmas ornament.
A fleck of glass poked my jaw when I looked over at him. At least he looked shocked.
The glass mixed into the honey trapping my head to the carpet stopped me from nodding. “Call my mom.” I wiggled my legs trying to sit up but the cocoon held me.
Grandpa shuffled back into the kitchen and the portable phone beeped as he removed it from its cradle. He returned, coming into view over me, holding the phone in one hand and his steaming mug of tea in the other. He grasped a tablespoon with his pinky finger.
Wincing from the arthritis he knelt beside me, set down the phone and grabbed the base of the honey jar. The tendons in his loose, skinny arms tensed and knotted as he drove the spoon into the petrified honey. It crunched as he scooped out a heaping mound and stirred in into the cup. He smacked his lips, drinking. His eyelids drooped and a smile spread wide as he blissed out over that first sweet sip.
Then he called my mom.
I never told anyone that little detail, about his spoonful of honey.
Because I can keep a secret.
Alexander Jones of Jersey City, New Jersey shared his “Tea Time” was previously published in Crack the Spine, issue 143, March 16, 2015.
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