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Tea on the Thames 2003

Tea on the Thames

And as twilight glistened softly on the harbor wave, the carbon swells – semi-formed, as if of clay –
massaged her hull clumsily, as though an intoxicated lover. Beyond her creaking bow, the Thames
shrank away from the shoreline into a grayish blackness that encroached like a shadow in the night.

The three sat in a Sarabande silence broken, only slightly, by the understated movement of restless
limbs underneath, the tapping of fingers on the table, or the deft stub of a teacup on the table – like
punctuation marks in the stillness. Only occasionally a mutter and three more streams, loosely poured
English tea, would appear like brown gravel in their tinted cups. A pardon, a dimly muttered
acknowledgement, and then nostalgic stillness would return.

Just as the grey skies had long overlooked London’s waters, they gazed somberly toward to the
dense river or to the shore or to the horizon. A clink as someone disturbed the tea-leaves, and then
someone drew a breath…

‘Ten years since I lost Maggie,’ remarked The Professor, and he reached into a pocket and almost
immediately lit a thickened half-smoked cigar. His stark eyes moved and an intense face followed,
almost as suddenly, to the night sky as though a fabulous phoenix had flown by. The smoke he blew
filled her canopy above and the brass linings barely echoed the embers in his frail hand.

Around them, the salty air now tasted musky and rewarded The Professor with glory times, when as
youths the two of them would light beach fires upon Brighton Beach. His woven sweater still held a
strong posture. With his leg bent proudly over knee, he caressed the soft breeze with vast plumes of rich
smoke and shook his head.

‘Seems like yesterday. So sudden. So sudden...’

‘May god bless her soul,’ replied Barker, the vast salt-shaker frame of his wedged firmly between the
wooden table and back hatch. Weathered sideburns protruded around his ears and a frayed rope lay
knotted by his slumped shoulder. The New Winter Princess was his chosen abode, and choice, and
where he welcomed good friends. In leisure times gone, he had provided her with luxurious voyages to
Marseille and Naples, where her painstakingly painted hull had adopted well to the warm waters and
decking saturated with good cheer and fun.

Now she sat as he: proudly nestled in a quiet, forgotten dock.

Gulls screeched distantly, the time a little past nine. Caught in the mists of memory, the narrator sat
slightly back with one foot resting up on the decking stool…

The sands were still sore, naturally, when they met beachcombing. Hard waves had already watered
and washed away the stains, cleaning her battered body, but the barriers and barbs still stood and

Tea on the Thames 2003
above it all towered the cold, hungry emplacements that seemed like lone wolves, still howling from
history’s blackest horizon…

Harper-Bob barked loosely and Barker comforted him, stroking shriveled, sausage-like fingers across
the mongrel’s wide head.

‘There boy, silly boy Bob.’

The dog slumped mesmerized back, with twitching feet half on, half off, an old sheepskin rug that
sprawled cozily across the decking.

‘That is a fine animal you have got there. I say a fine animal you have got,’ The Professor stated with
an assured authority.

Barker grunted, patting Bob’s stomach, before withdrawing it unhurriedly back to his tea.

The professor immaculately stubbed his cigar out into a tattered ivory ashtray. His studious eyes
then relaxed, and his hands moved so smoothly that neither friend, nor animal, noticed that he nestled
the cigar secretly back inside his pocket.

Barker made certain his beast was relaxed sufficiently, took a lasting swig of tea, then an effortful
exertion and he was up up and away, sighing and balanced, climbing creaky stairs to an unknown
destination. Harper-Bob made a passing glance but all was secure and friendly feet still adorned the
floor next to him. His eyes closed again.

The Professor didn’t attempt to talk as though an unspoken recognition had been passed and the
narrator neither, as they sat with thoughtful eyes adorning the dusky silk layer of the waters. He made a
pittance of a glance up to where Barker could be heard creaking upon the upper deck and then gazed
back. The professor seemed to be smiling in the thickening air and it seemed also he was lost now to the

The narrator stretched his mind back down the well worn path and felt ashamedly glad that those
times were so cruel: that through the coldest scars of war he could also evoke a perfect, undiluted
memory also nurtured in those times.

How they had set the friendless sands of Normandy alight, running and laughing; the sun had hung
proudly over it all as though it didn’t want to leave the sudden outburst of life, slipping only late into a
discrete sunset, as sparkling waves had crept in around them.

Barker and his heavy footfall could again be heard like pigeons on the roof. He appeared slowly and
turned on the old gaslight, as he always did, then sat with the hound snugly around his battered sandals.

The Narrator and Professor noticed little his presence and little less the mutterings he pronounced
to the furred shape on the floor. Above, the stars shone as brightly as ever, maybe brighter still… He
slipped a hand inside the old worn wallet and gently removed the precious card, printed some fifty years

Tea on the Thames 2003
away. Those years of convenience he had spent preparing to meet her again and he smiled, for what
would be heaven but contradiction.

Barker produced some playing cards and began to shuffle.

Copyright, Richard Gardner 2008


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