Bitter Tea by Cathy Ulrich

I want your husband to accidentally call you by my name. I want him to be rough where he had been gentle before. I want you to know what kind of man it is that you’ve married.

All I had to say to him was: I’ll do whatever you want.

He likes to kiss me with that mouth that has kissed yours. He likes to touch me with those hands that have touched your skin. He likes to dress me up in a tacky French maid’s costume and call him sir. He has me tickle him under the chin with the feather duster before he bends me over the side of my bed.

I leave evidence of our indiscretions lying round my apartment. I leave the air heavy with his scent. I plucked a button from his shirt when he wasn’t looking and left it carelessly on my dresser.

When you come by, I make tea.

Would you get me my scarf? I say. It’s hanging in the closet.

When you bring it back to me and wrap it round my throat, you only say: The color is so beautiful on you. You don’t mention the maid’s costume you had to move to reach it.

Do you remember in high school how all my boyfriends used to fall in love with you? you say.

I say: Have some tea.

You sip the tea and nod. You worry that I’m unhappy.

I just want you to be as happy as I am.

I am. I’m happy.

You smile into your teacup. All right.

The tea I brew is bitter, and dark. You blow on it before you take a sip. You never get angry; you’ll never get angry. I want you to yell at me. I want you to say that you know — of course you do, how could you not? I want you to strike at me with those small hands of yours, still the same size as when we were in school together, and you were always coming after me and clasping my hand: Let’s always be friends.

I want you to blame him, to blame me, for all of it, so I can take you into my arms — you, my only friend, the only person I have ever loved — and say I’ll never do it again, never, and I’m sorry, and I’m sorry. 


Cathy Ulrich only likes Oolong tea. Her work has recently been featured in Literary Orphans, Spelk Fiction and Cleaver Magazine.