A Penguin Comes to Tea

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I May Have Taken Leave of My Senses

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“I may have taken leave of my senses,” Pauline said, opening the door to her friend Abigail, “but it’s made me feel a lot better.”
Abigail hugged Pauline and asked, “What have you done?”
“I’ll show you.”
Pauline led Abigail to the kitchen of her new apartment and over to the topmost box of a stack. Abigail peered inside, pushing the packing paper aside and took out a porcelain tea cup. She frowned at Pauline who nodded and said, “Keep looking. Open another box if you like.”
Abigail pulled out all the contents of the box, lining the cups up on the kitchen counter, then she opened a second box and a third. As realisation dawned, she turned to Pauline, her eyes wide open.
“Did you seriously—”
“Yes,” Pauline nodded with such force it seemed her head would fall off. “Absolutely everything. It felt wonderful!”
Abigail pulled her friend into an embrace, and the two women hugged and laughed until they ran out of breath.
“Now I know I can stop worrying about you,” Abigail said, “I can see that you’re going to be alright.”
On the other side of town Brian surveyed the boxes in the garage blocking the way to the laundry room. He supposed he had better open them and start to put the stuff away, although he really was not that interested in much of the things from his old life. Who needed two dozen teacups, anyway? Still, he would need a change of clothes soon, so, after dropping his briefcase in the office and grabbing a beer from the fridge, he went back into the garage to start unpacking.
The first box was full of saucers. Pretty porcelain pieces with flowers or squiggles and a gold trim. He wondered where they had come from, as he could not remember seeing them in their house. Perhaps they had been a wedding present and had then sat in one of the display cabinets that he had rarely looked at. After emptying the box, he had two stacks of saucers on the workbench, wads of packing paper on the floor, but no cups. They must have been packed separately for efficiency, he thought, and opened another box.
The second box contained knives: big knives, small knives, sharp knives and blunt knives, but no forks or spoons. He had never realised his kitchen had contained so many knives. He gave up on that box and opened a third, finding saucepan lids and, buried underneath, the lids to a dozen or more spice jars. He turned these over in his hand, wondering why they were in the box—he had no plans to start cooking, so he would have no use for them—but he did wonder where the actual spices were.
Brian stood back and examined the boxes to see if they were labeled. He did not need saucers, knives or pot lids right now, but he could do with some clean clothes. The boxes all looked identical, with just the moving company’s logo on them and a string of numbers which meant nothing to him. Perhaps he should have been present for the packing, instead of leaving it all to Pauline, but he’d had no interest in choosing which of the ornaments or furniture to have, so he had left her to divide up the stuff.
Brian moved to the other end of the pile of boxes and opened one more to reveal a single bedroom slipper. Ah, good, he thought, finally he’d found the clothes. He pulled out odd socks, a couple of gloves, his pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt that was definitely not his, but could not find the other slipper. He still had not found his favourite shorts and his Arran sweater, so he turned to the next box and opened it. Inside he found six of his suit pants, but no jackets, plus a couple of ugly sweaters of Pauline’s that he had always hated. Had she deliberately put those in the box, or had the removal people got the piles mixed up? And where were his suit jackets?
The next box contained one of his knitted sweaters, but it must have caught on something because it was half unravelled and one whole sleeve was missing. Brian frowned, staring at the sweater, trying to remember when he had last worn it. Then he took another look at the things he had unpacked so far. Odd socks, three left-handed gloves, suit pants but no suit jackets, saucers, but no cups, knives, but no forks, lids, but no pots.
Brian ripped the tape off the remaining boxes, pulled out the packing paper and tipped the contents onto the garage floor. He found the nozzles from the vacuum, but no vacuum cleaner; a box of bulbs and lampshades, but no lamps; a set of drill bits, but no drill; one green, one blue and one patterned drape; a single pillowcase and some flat sheets, but no fitted sheets; some DVD boxed sets each containing a single disc. When he unwound the packaging from the furniture he found six chairs but no table and a bed base but no mattress.
“Damn that woman!” he shouted, hurling one of the saucers across the garage where it shattered into tiny pieces. Then he stomped inside the house and picked up his phone to call his ex-wife.
Abigail was making her third cocktail when the phone rang. She put down the Martini bottle, picked up the phone and squinted at the screen.
“I think it’s Brian.”
She passed the phone to Pauline who was lying on some bedding on the sofa frame, her hands clasping her glass.
“What do you want?” Pauline said, struggling to sit upright, “miss me already?”
Abigail could not make out any words, only loud squawking coming from the phone, but she could guess what Brian was saying.
“I did exactly as we agreed,” Pauline said. “You didn’t want to choose anything, so we said we’d divide everything equally, and that’s what I did.”
More squawking came from the phone.
“What’s that? You would rather have had the cups than the saucers? But I thought you hated those tea sets. This way the saucers will take up less room in that new house of yours.”
Squawk, squawk. Abigail moved nearer to that she could listen in, and Pauline tilted the phone towards her, grinning like a four year-old.
“—and another thing; where are my suit jackets?”
Abigail opened her eyes wide and gaped at Pauline.
“You didn’t!” she mouthed.
“You got the pants part—you always wanted to wear the pants. I’m keeping the jackets as a memory item, and they’ll be useful for gardening; I can put all the garden tools in the pockets. I gave you some of my sweaters in return so that you can remember me. That’s fair.”
Abigail doubled over in laughter, imagining her friend’s ex-husband surveying his half of the family possessions. She had to admit, it was a good trick Pauline had played, and it served the miserable man right, after how he’d treated Pauline.
“Those are my suits! Mine! Not something to divide up!” Brian’s squawky voice yelled.
“Goodbye, Brian,” Pauline said into the phone and hung up the call. Then she lay back in the cushions and grinned. “Let’s have another drink.”
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