High Tea. Fiction by Eliot Hudson

Eliot Hudson

High Tea

“I don’t see what all the fuss is about, Archibald. This truly is the best of all possible worlds; Africa is butter upon bacon!” Reginald inspected the feast by straining his frail arm to hoist pince-nez before his cloudy eye. The monocle shook as he mustered the strength to hold it atop his nose—though he could well enough discern the cornucopia of cream horns, canelés, and croquembouches before him; diverse game they’d slaughtered in the Savanna; various fruits which scientists in London were {at that very moment} bickering over to bestow a correct {Latin} name. Splendiferous puff-confections presented ever-so-elegantly upon porcelain plates carefully lugged across the ocean. Shining, glimmering glints of sterling basking in the African sun.

Reginald ruminated, tugging long whiskers protruding from the mole upon his shriveled cheek, considering in which delicacy to next indulge. Having decided, he licked creaking fingertips with dry tongue—priming them before hovering over an éclair, gesticulating index finger and thumb over the chocolate dollop—just as Archibald’s plump hand swooped in, nicking the pastry beneath Reginald’s grasp.

“Quite right! Quite right!” Archibald could barely grunt beyond the custard and choux pâtisserie he’d just crammed down his gullet, slapping sugar-coated lips together. He washed it down with a large swig of absinthe, upturning the glass and downing its contents.

The two gentlemen could not have been more alike and more unalike all at once. An observance not limited to their stature—for Archibald was as rotund as Reginald was gaunt.

Reginald as prudent as Archibald was excessive. Archibald as dull as Reginald was flamboyant. Yet they seemed to complete one another. For what Archibald lacked in facial hair, Reginald more than made up for. And vice-versa.

Archibald sported what were popularly called ‘mutton chops,’ where the mutton of the chop descended from sideburns to avoid the chin and lips with proper, Victorian morality {where nothing should be flirting about lips}. Whereas Reginald’s was distinctly the opposite. Wherever Archibald did not have facial hair, Reginald did, with a very bushy petit goatee circumnavigating the mouth and extending ever southward like a South African diamond ship. Between the two of them {Archibald and Reginald—Reginald and Archibald}, they fully comprised one illustrious and bushy beard.

“As lovely as this—Africa—is, I do miss civilization…” Reginald shook his aquiline nose in the air—a nose whose odd angle seemed to always give it the air of it always being up in the air. Archibald tried to mutter in agreement, but could only communicate an aniseed burp {as the white-gloved servant refilled his glass}.

“If only these savages—oh, how I miss the Opera! The West End! What I wouldn’t give for a play, some…some…culture!” Reginald shivered unconsciously at that last word.

Civility was of course their burden, and they insisted on bringing civilization with them unto this heathen soil, if not for the sake of the Isle, then for themselves. To maintain their grasp of the couth, they insisted on routines and instruments—especially utensils. Yes, they could conquer this backward afterthought of a shipping route with ivory-handled marrow scoops, mother of pearl caviar spoons, and coral-handled sporks. For such a reason, Royale Tea was an important per diem ceremony for the two Englishmen. Therefore, the two sat down to daily afternoon cat-laps, {which, for the ruffians—unaccustomed to upper-crust lingo—is a society term for tea, champagne, and strong liquors}.

The afternoon was dreadfully hot—that is, for their native kingdom—but typical for this hemisphere at this time of year. The two chums sat beneath mangrove trees watching fruit bats flap wings heavily and heftily through the air having procured their wares. Archibald tossed back a large glass of fine crystal with absinthe {neat} into his sauce-box—or, rather, mouth—before extinguishing the green fairy of hellish vapors from his throat with bouts of deep coughing.

“Oh, smothering a Parrot are we?” Reginald asked, raising his thin brow.

“I’ll have you know, my doctor suggested it—to ruminate the gout.” Archibald tried to reach his feet to rub and showcase the painful, swollen, redness upon the tender side of his foot, but was unable to reach his feet—due to his inflexibility and the bulging obstruction of his stomach which acted as a protuberance to the fulcrum of his waist.

“We are fortunate to live in this evolved age where medicine can allow us such reprieve!” Reginald quipped before clapping his hands together for the servant to bundle tartan blankets over his gossamer shoulders—for even in this tropical weather, Reginald was constantly cold {which, of course, was a paramount reason for his doctor to prescribe him this latitude}. “What was the name of your physician, again?”

“Physician? Reginald! He’s no physician!” Archibald chortled, waving creampuff in air to accentuate his point. “He’s a métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie! None other than Doctor, Lord Bertrand Dawson, 1st Viscount Dawson of Penn—métaphysico-théologo-cosmolonigologie to the British Royal Family and his preeminence, George V! He’s imposed a healthy diet of Afghani opium…London laudanum…Arabic hashish…Ottoman cannabis…” Archibald began counting on his thick, sausage fingers, licking them delicately and dutifully as he ate full petit fours between each listed medicament.

“Oh, I’m jealous of such a doctor—er, a métaphysico-théologo-who’s-a-what’s-it. A real scientist. Much better than this quack I enlisted some years ago—a Kraut from Vienna who suggested all my problems could be cured if I simply confessed that I wanted to have sexual relations with my own mother! Furthermore, murder my father—who has been dead twenty years hence! How in the world can I murder the dead?”

“Preposterous!” Archibald shouted, dropping half of his danish to the floor as a mangrove crab quickly side-scuttled to retrieve it and bring it back to its hole in the sand.

“Agreed,” Reginald began, “here we are sitting on the precepts of man’s achievement, and there should be such…such quacks as that German. Wish he were as accomplished as your Lord Dawson.” Reginald lamented, shaking his head back and forth so his sagging earlobes swayed to further accentuate his opinion.

“Quite right.” Archibald tutted.

“Hear, hear!” Reginald affirmed—noticing Archibald had now downed the last bottle of Absinthe on the continent: “Champaign?”

“No, it upsets the oysters. More Persian caviar though, thank you, Reginald.”

Reginald clapped his hands {he would have snapped, but for the enflamed arthritis curdling his joints}, and beckoned the servant.

“Any time—I say, Archibald…As glorious as this continent is with all its splendor and riches…The only thing I don’t much care for are the poor people…have you noticed them? All on the perimeter of the resort,” Reginald grumbled, sneering as he sniffed a segment of Spanakopita whose cheese filling may have gone off in the African heat.

“Quite right!” Archibald conferred.

“I mean, we freed these people! They should really be more grateful and dignified.” Reginald waved his liver spotted hand through the air in a gesture suggesting dignity. He tried to sit up, but didn’t have the strength, so he beckoned the servant to lift him upwards and bestow a more sophisticated posture.

“Yes, dignified!” Archibald reiterated, blowing his nose into handkerchief before wiping whipped cream from his lips with said handkerchief.

“I mean, where’s their…their…dignity!” Reginald now shook in feeble fury and from the cold {of the African heat} so the tartan blanket slipped from his quivering and cadaverous frame. He clapped his hands again in the servant’s direction who immediately attended to his beck and call, swaddling the man like a wee bairn.

“Quite right. Quite right,” Archibald concurred having picked up the mother of pearl oyster fork and was prodding profiteroles to inspect their puffiness.

“You hear so much of this poverty and starvation they speak of, though I didn’t see anything of the sort at the resort here! The people looked well fed. And happy! Always saying, ‘Good morning, Sir!’ every time I’m wheeled past! I mean, look how much bounty is before us, how can they not eat? Do they not like the food?”

“Yes, if they really do have a problem with poverty and the like, I suggest they work at the resort!”

“Archibald, you genius! That would cure this blight right up!” Reginald raised his champagne flute with frail arm—struggling beneath the weight of the crystal—and the two toasted to the thought {Reginald, stealing a humble sip, and Archibald plundering humble quaff—that is before burping up oysters, for (as we know) champaign upsets the oysters}.

Archibald grabbed the snuff box from the table and offered Reginald a sniff—to which Reginald and his aquiline nostrils waved No, on account of his vulnerable sinuses. Archibald lifted the ornate tin to his bulbous drinker’s nose, red and thick with fibrous tissue and prominent crater-like pores of severe rhinophyma. He took a hefty honk of snuff—though it seemed to have backfired—for Archibald sneezed turning all the white porcelain of their fine China a brackish hue of mucous and tobacco.

“Yes, well, they’d have to clean up their act and become civilized. Some on the border of the resort look so…so…dreadful. Terrible posture—can you imagine them on the West End?!”  Reginald tried to make his point by sitting up with all the will of his underdeveloped, skeletal carcass—but needed help from his attentive, African servant—who’d also taken the caviar spoon Reginald was using to butter his bread and replaced it with a butter knife. “Yes, certainly a need to civilize them,” Reginald continued, “but if they simply acted civilized, well then—”

“They could all work at the resort!” Archibald shouted.

“Hear, hear!” Reginald resounded euphorically.

“Quite right!” Archibald pounded the table so forcefully, a fig roll fell from the fifth tier of their cake-stand and {keeping true to its name} rolled upon the sand so a frenzy of mangrove crabs came and tore it asunder, stockpiling pieces of fig roll into their individual bank deposits in the sand.

Before them the waves lapped unto the virgin sands of this untouched continent brimming with potential and overburdened with fortune. In essence, pleading for help; in effect, a piece of cake. With incalculable plants lacking Latin names, untold medicines to correct deficiencies. An entire continent like a newly discovered pill for them to consume. Soothing the Englishmen of their maladies—so the Englishmen could return the favor and sooth the Africans of their maladies! To make them healthy. Prosperous. Better. Needing them as they needed them. Who needed whom? Why, the both of them! Under boundless sun and eager, uncharted trading routes yearning to be employed. Like the sugar that coated their European pastries, this land simply needed…refining. Raw sugar into white, refined sugar.

“Why, I can already feel my gout clearing up rather nicely,” Archibald remarked, wiggling his plump, little toes.

“This truly is the best of all possible worlds. More snuff, Archibald?”

“Why, thank you, Reginald! More champagne, Reginald?”

“Heavens, thank you, Archibald!” and they clapped their hands for the servant to administer their desires.

 

—–

 

Eliot Hudson has read at the Popsickle Brooklyn Literary Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was shortlisted for the Solstice Shorts Festival 2019 (Arachne Press). He’s earned two Masters Degrees (Creative Writing & Modern Literature) at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and has studied under Rick Moody at The New York State Summer Writers Institute. His prose has appeared in Mystery Weekly, Every Day FictionMiracle Monocle, Story Of, HelenThe Showbear Family Circus, The Punxsutawney SpiritExplorationCleaning Up Glitter, The Missing Slate, and Lalitamba. His poetry has been featured in Gravitas, Coffin Bell, Willard & Maple, The Book Smuggler’s Den, Gyroscope Review,Castabout Art & Literature, and the collections Garlic and Sapphires, and Cleaves

Hudson also writes music and performs throughout New York City and as far as Barcelona, London, Rome, Romania, Vietnam and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. His most recent music video was accepted in the Caribbean Sea International Film Festival (Venezuela), Travel FilmFest (Cyprus), and the Creation International Film Festival (Ottawa) where it won best Music Video (“Sinners in Church” is currently available on iTunes and Spotify).

www.EliotHudson.com

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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