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Meet Molly (& Reiny)

Molly is the founder of Lit Pub and the author of We Take Me Apart, which was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry and shortlisted for the PEN/Osterweil. The verse novel has been taught at Brown, Wesleyan, Cornell College, Queens College, CUNY, and other creative writing programs in the US. As of Halloween 2018, its sequel Desire: A Haunting is also available. Molly is a PhD candidate and Steffensen Cannon fellow at the University of Utah. Summers, she teaches at the Yale Writers' Workshop.

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If not for the funeral,

she would have had the two days she needed to chop notches into the tops of pine poles and plant their bottoms in holes dug into the frozen ground along the perimeter of a garden that spread wide and far beyond the twenty-six wrought iron four tops on the white stone patio. But because of the funeral she didn’t have those days, so she’d traded tradition for two-day shipping from Amazon. She hadn’t loaded up the truck at Lee’s Lumber, hadn’t gone to Pearson’s Sharpeners to reprofile her axe bit bevel, hadn’t gone to Johnson’s Farm for pine resin, and now the absence of the torches in the garden reminded her of all of them, her friends, her neighbors, her fellow Small Business Association members, and also of Sam, who had chopped the torches himself well into his eighties, and chopped them when she was a little girl, too, and used to watch him chop from a safe distance away while listening to his loud voice *chop* tell her the story of Bilbo Baggins who needed a light in a dark, dark tunnel *chop* and was given a pine torch just like *chop* this one, until one year the tea house woman realized her father needed to be kept away from all sharps, which meant kept out of the kitchen, too, where he’d spent over fifty years chopping and dicing and julienning, and this year the switch from hand-forged torches to flame-shaped plastic, although a decision made out of necessity, felt like a failure, and not a small one but yet another huge, guilt-steeped turn away from the tea house and its traditions, its history. Her history.

In Sam’s bedroom,

for the first time in a week, she automatically stepped toward his bed. The whole room still smelled like him. She walked over to his dresser and slowly touched his things—his black comb, his Scottie dog cuff links, his full bottle of cologne. She opened a drawer, neatened his socks. She walked into his closet and leaned into his sweaters and jackets that pushed back against her almost like he was there with her and she was leaning against him, but no, it wasn’t like that at all. She inhaled his sweaters—vanilla, pipe smoke, Grey Flannel. She went to his bed and unlocked the safety rail, lowered it as quietly as she could, then sat. She stared at the wall for a very long time, looking at but not seeing the pictures until she noticed one frame was hanging crooked. Her gaze skipped across the room, skimmed past his nightstand, his red plaid bathrobe hanging from a hook over his closet door, his wool slippers at the foot of the bed. She looked past their holey toes, at the individual tips of the cut pile carpet, at the shadows of the pattern from the vacuum, at the green chenille bedspread beneath her legs, at her hand that was starting to look like an older woman’s hand, her fingernail polish, her wedding ring, her watch, 6:58. She smoothed an invisible wrinkle in the bedspread and leaned over and placed her hand lightly on Sam’s pillow. She was seconds from lying down in the place where her father had lain for over a year, on the verge of letting out all her grief at last, but there was the doorbell. And there was Joan, shouldering through Jordie and Jean to give her a hug in the doorway.

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The first word of the tea house woman’s story is dripping,

which could refer to anything: the southwest wall of the basement after last Easter’s flood; the leaking squeeze valve of the pot and kettle filler in the prep corner of the kitchen; stems of winter-sown wildflowers pulled putrid from tall white milk glass pitchers; even her own wet....

The tea house woman set three latte mugs on the tray,

hooked mini gingerbread houses with Royal-iced roofs over the mugs’ gold rims, and gently arranged half a dozen chocolate-dipped cream-filled tuiles into a Sundae glass. On the stove, in a saucepan, extra dark chocolate chunks, sugar, a pinch of salt, five quick taps vanilla extract, almond milk. The triplets were lactose intolerant. Of all the things to know about the people who live their lives daily all around you, who populate your town, the tea house woman knows folks’ milk preferences.

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She explained her presence

by leading him to the side of her van and showing him the different glass bottles and jars, a few dark but most clear, with the exception of one amber, pointing out the various forms within—liquid and crystallized, pasteurized and raw, chunk, strained, creamed, dried, ultrasonicated, filtered, and, of course, comb.

This morning, lying together

on a shaggy rug on the floor in front of the fire, in thick wool socks and our robes, we pretended we were young again and watched Fantasia. I made us blueberry oatmeal waffles, distracted myself by watching the blueberries pop in the heat of the cast iron skillet, bubbling, nearly caramelizing. I sliced strawberries for topping over clotted cream. As we ate, I listened to the crisp crunch of the oatmeal in each chewy mouthful, comforted by the smoothness of the clotted cream and the perfect tart and cold of those fresh-washed strawberries at the finish, mango mimosas in our mismatched juice glasses, black coffee for Rose and with cream for me in tiny gold-rimmed tea cups, the French press and a cow-shaped creamer and our dirty plates on a tray on the hearth at our feet, the darkness of that early morning and Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours playing softly on TV.

When the tea woman opened the doors

for the annual masquerade ball, she found Van in blue jeans, a button down, and his Carhartt, which was disappointing for so many reasons. Nice costume. Not here for the party, Constance. When they first started sleeping together, she had realized there weren’t a lot of people who addressed others by name when talking to them. Maybe it was a professor thing, but in a two-person conversation she found its redundancy annoying and the tone of it mostly patronizing. What do you want, Giovanni?

Van was only one-eighth Portuguese

but had fallen hard for the language as a young man. On their first date, he complained about his department’s decision to rename his language course Brazilian Portuguese in an effort to attract undergrads. The tea house woman, one-quarter Korean, responded, Like calling a class South Korean? He had treated her kindly, but she frequently felt stupid in his presence, and uneducated.

Then there was his ancient next-door neighbor,

who, after her daughter left for work, came outside and sat on the stoop all day. All day. She never moved. She peed there, even. Her urine had permanently stained the steps and even part of the sidewalk in front of their houses. At night, when Van watered his flower baskets, he would go out and hose off their steps, too, but the smell never really went away, and even though Sal said he couldn’t smell it Van couldn’t sleep at night in the summer when their bedroom window was open. Miserably, he dry-heaved in the bathroom, as silently as he could.

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Van stopped, setting down the book…

and pulling her feet onto his lap, massaging, kneading, thumbs pressed into her soles. She was wearing black silk stockings with black seams up the backs of her legs—Cuban heel, thigh high, lace top. What’s on your mind? he wanted to know. I have more to offer than this, she thought, right? Gifts more meaningful than hooker stockings and stilted conversation over Christmas Eve stew? I want to tell you something, she should have said, but what came out instead was, Let me help you with the dishes before we go to bed.

On her way to the kitchen

she peeked in tenderly at the nursery packed full with the children of Fenwick, sprawled in various star-shaped sizes among the floor pillows she had prepared for them, watching Fantasia, which Nell had rented for the occasion, drinking Hawaiian fruit punch from plastic Sippy cups and sharing bowls of Goldfish crackers, popcorn, carrot sticks. A great sorrow welled up inside her.

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The tea house woman and Birdie the third

went way back to before even pre-school, and these days all they did together was get drunk enough to complain about what a bitch it was to bear all the responsibility of carrying on a family business in a dead-end town, after which, thoroughly drunk, they cried and remembered easier times, trading stories they both knew by heart about how Birdie the first was a sleepwalker and could usually be found in John Bostwick’s storage unit, which conveniently or not had a mattress in it, or about when the tea house woman’s mother had been the tea house woman, and how one day after a minor flood she’d found bundles of cash lining the basement walls, most likely from the tea house’s brothel days, and used the money to provide business loans to every woman who wanted to open a business on Main Street.

First of all, Birdie hated the name Birdie.

Second, Birdie had done what she and the tea house woman had sworn they would do when they were teenagers, and she had not named her first daughter Bernadette the fourth. There would be no more Birdie’s stuck behind the crappy linoleum counter at Birdie’s after Birdie the third retired, which was another thing—even though locals knew Birdie’s was a storage facility, tourists and truckers always got confused, most likely because of the 20-foot-high neon birdcage sign that you could see from the freeway. Behind the counter, Birdie kept a two-sided sign of her own. On one side: No Birds. On the other: No Girls. Depending on who walked in, she held it up one way or the other and either shook her head apologetically or shook it disapprovingly.

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In the second grade,

Birdie had tried to get everyone to call her Bernadette, but it didn’t stick with anyone except the tea house woman who wasn’t yet the tea house woman but had also tried to get everyone at school to call her something other than Connie by telling them she had been named after her grandfather Constantine, which was not true but even if it had been still no one would have cared, and that was the year young Connie and Birdie became blood sisters for life.

The jars and ribbon, at least

were not from Amazon but on loan from Joan’s Scraps & Crafts, which Joan and her daughters had brought over that morning. In the keeping room, sitting on the floor, the triplets formed an assembly line. Jordie attached the wire handles around the top of the jars, Jon cut and threaded the ribbon, and Jean tied. Aw, it’s like they all have little collars and leashes, Jean said, taking a picture.

No filter, said Jon, just mention Joan’s

for supplies and geotag the tea house. The tea house woman didn’t understand, but she thought it was sweet Jon cared enough to have negotiated a pay raise last year to be in charge of the business’s social media presence, which she had been informed was beyond sad. The tea house woman knew at least that much was true. At the time, her Twitter picture was still an egg, and she’d only written on it once—Yes.—three months after someone asked if the tea house accepted American Express.

I remember your many blends of teas

and the scents of all those different wildflowers you foraged for and brought back to the tea house to tie with purple twine into fat bushels that you asked me help you hang upside down to dry in the darkest corner of the cellar.

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I told you everything,

how I kept with me the memory of the warmth and smell of your delicious stews you only made on rainy days when you had the time to let them cook and cook because all the other days you were out among the wildflowers every morning without fail, how I loved and had always remembered the tall white pitchers you filled with elaborate arrangements that you seemed able to make like magic from simple decisions of this wildflower or that wildflower, and I told you that I remembered thinking the very rooms and the wildflowers in them were even happier when you were in them too.