Monday, December 17, 2007

Zinnia, Chocolate Truffles and Clotted Cream

I had the most divine tea this morning. I'm not much for tea, neither the drink, nor the social ritual. I find that it's less about the foodstuffs and more of the pomp and circumstance. Nobody really cares about the tiny chocolates and biscuits and clotted cream. Oh don't get me wrong, my bunnies. I've dined with clutches of hens who would no sooner be seen placing a single dollop of food into their beaks than they would be caught changing the oil in their husband's Packard. But get them around a circular lace and doily covered table, drape their conversations in a background of a lively orchestral movement and the fingers snatch up the delicacies like the darting tongues of toads perched around a fly-covered dung heap.

Again, dear reader, I beg your patience while I continue to stray from the subject. The tea. This morning. So divine, I repeat. While I sat sipping a burl-strong cup of strong was it, you wonder? Well, the first taste of it catapulted my mind back to my week spent wandering the slums of New Delhi in the midst of the “Golden Fingers” mission, back in May of 1942. I was one of four Black Cats, lively, coquettish, yet vicious dames planted clandestinely amid the squalor of the local market. We'd been each painted a sultry shade of chocolate, our hair dyed beyond black, and placed with operatives working lockstep with Roosevelt, via Churchhill. We'd been forbidden to sleep the entire week, each of us expected to keep our luminescent eyes peeled for one man, a rail-thin smuggler with only the telltale mark of one earlobe longer than the other, the tip of the shorter in the shape of the southwest coast of Ireland. I'd had my meticulous sketches in my robe pocket and the one thing meant to keep me awake. Tea. Not a steaming, tasty cup, mind you, but a pouch of raw leaves that was kept stuffed between my cheek and gums, marinating my mouth, the tar-like juice continuing down my gullet like an everlasting cocaine infusion. It was only when I'd spotted the target, when I'd chased him down through the market square with a quickness and ferocity I'd not once felt in my young life, and the three other Cats pounced from darkened storefronts, did I realize just how the power of this tea had augmented all senses. All senses, that is, except that of restraint. The poor man. By the time the the Golden Fingers had been extracted from a place no proper lady should ever have to venture (without the benefit of gloves, a tiny dose of morphine and/or the compensation of a fabulous mink stole), I'm dismayed to say that what was left of the man was not fit for display even in most morgues. It was shameful, I'm embarrassed to say and worst of all, not one of us Cats would be willing to take responsibility for the carnage. “Those aren't my claw marks,” mewled Kitten #124. “My incisors are set further apart than those puncture wounds,” claimed Kitten #57. Pathetic. And, it would take another week to wean us off of the addiction of Indian tea and even then, I never saw Kitten #278 again.

So where was I? Oh, the English tea. Yes, it was most delightful and the tea itself was delicious. Hint of lavender and essence of currant. One would never think that the two would go together so pleasantly, but they really do. And my friend Zinnia (her mother was a gardener, bless her heart) has never looked better. I'd not seen her since our days of Nannette Cosmetics sales. Oh, those were good times. Traipsing door-to-door through suburban Los Angeles, capes flowing in the warm, eucalyptus-scented breeze, applying lipsticks and rouges, scouting for young, Black Kittens to join the brigade. “It takes a special dame to pull the trigger,” Zinnia had told me and this I already knew. “You can see it in the eyes, the calmness of the lips, in the steadiness of the hands.” If a gal could sit through a Black Cat makeover, if the feeling was right, she just might be asked to be a kitten. Just might.

Oh, Zinnia. The red of your hair may be a facade, but the warmth in your heart is as genuine as the cream on my biscuit.

No comments: