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Tea With Ms. G Reaper

Lee Ann Kostempski

Tossing her white braid over her shoulder,
Ms. G. Reaper strolls into a diner and, much
to the shaking waitress’s surprise, orders
Jasmine tea. The patrons are too scared
to stare. An old man in a booth across the room
glances and then hides his face behind a worn copy
of The Great Gatsby. A mother pushes down
the pointing finger of her son, whose eyes widen to saucers
as Ms. G. Reaper grins over her shoulder at him.
Her old-lady teeth are smudged with bright lipstick,
even redder than the kind his Auntie Jean leaves
on his cheek whenever she kisses him goodbye. But
he wouldn’t want a kiss from Ms. Reaper, she has
a lip ring. He begins to wail until his mother
throws down a bill, then ushers him out and
away. Ms. G. Reaper watches them leave, suddenly
lonely. She wears tight, ripped jeans, a chain-link belt,
and a black hoodie that’s a little too small ’round the hips.
The cuffs have holes where bone-white thumbs poke
through. When the waitress brings her tea, eight gnarled,
many-ringed, spidery fingers crawl out from inside her sleeves
and wrap around the mug, sucking the warmth out of it
like winter. She dismisses the waitress with a friendly
nod, but this girl too avoids eye contact and scampers
away. So Ms. G. Reaper sits alone, picks up
an abandoned newspaper, starts reading. Her laugh
is an explosion; she twirls her stool around, and waves
over the old man with his book in the booth. He startles
like a bird, as if expecting death to descend, snaps
his book closed, and flees, never knowing that Ms. Reaper
merely wanted to show him the latest Calvin and Hobbes.
Her tea break is spoiled. With a rattling sigh, Ms. G. Reaper
leaves a generous tip on the counter for the waitress
who hides in the kitchen and, donning her hood, returns
to the day’s work. The dying made better company anyway.