When Elfie set the cup down, Gilles didn’t spit out what swelled in his mouth. The way she swung out both hands as if the cup contained an ’82 Pomerol, a ’90 Dom, or maybe breast milk from the last living rhino made his eyes narrow into lizard slits.
“It’s tea,” Elfie said, sweet as a muffin. “It will help.”
“Tea will help? Tea?”
Dipping one shoulder, Elfie’s head tipped to the opposite side. “Oh, don’t be such a sour puss,” she said. “Just give it a try.”
“I need a double single malt, Elf. A triple double single malt, even better.” Early evening sun slanted in through the blinds. Gilles counted three cars passing – an Audi, a Ford Focus, and a Rav4. He didn’t name them because if he did Elfie would give him that look; the look that confirmed his suspicions about his own irrelevance. “I need something stronger than tea. I’m dying here.”
“Drink up before it gets cold. Hot tea, that’s the ticket. Take a breath and let it all the way out. Smell the tea. Take a sip and let it sit in your mouth. Focusing on the tea will calm your mind and give you fresh perspective.”
“Right,” Gilles said. “That should do it for sure.”
After planting a flat kiss on the egg of his head, Elfie flitted from the kitchen, her skirt a swirl of blue and green.
“I’ve lost my damn job! Life as we know it is over,” Gilles yelled through the empty doorway.
From overhead came the sound of shuffling feet on the floorboards and the muted lyrics of Tom Petty singing about someone being lucky.
“I don’t drink tea,” Gilles addressed the contents of the cup. “I’m a man’s man. I’m a real man. Real men don’t drink tea. They drink cognac and stand up for themselves. They tell their bosses that their protocols aren’t ethical. Then they go home and want to break things. Real men know how to fix things. Real men aren’t 55 and out of work.”
Tom Petty’s voice came through the cracks in the floorboards. “You better watch what you say…”
Toeing open the liquor cupboard, Gilles bent to retrieve the single remaining bottle. “Un petit Calva,” he sighed, unscrewing the cap to pour the last of the liquor into his milky Darjeeling tea.
“Don’t get carried away,” sang Tom.
The brush of bare feet on the carpeted stairs alerted him to Elfie’s return. Tucking the empty bottle back into the cupboard, he tapped the door closed with one foot.
When Elfie reappeared in the doorway Gilles presented a liquid smile, his hands cradling the cup.
“Well?” Elfie said, one hand fluttering to a hip.
Lifting the vessel to his lips, Gilles gulped half its contents. As warmth flooded his chest and belly, he traced its path into veins and arteries, watching as inside knees and toes lit like brush. “You were so right, my love,” he said, furrows dissolving from cheeks and brow. “So much clearer now.”