Ever since I was a small girl, I remember my grandmother drinking afternoon tea. Everyday she would sit at her table, dressed in one of her many expensive gowns, and sip on a cup of hot tea. She had never offered me any, until my mother died.
I arrived at Grandma's estate, three days after my mother’s funeral. It had been twenty years since I had seen her last, but her home was still as extraordinary as ever. Nestled on 50 acres of classic English countryside, was her enormous British manor. Located deep in Suffolk County, amidst rolling green hills, is a grand iron gate, whose bars hide the place where childhood dreams are made. Behind its guard, runs a long cobblestone driveway that gently meanders through perfectly shaped maple trees. It is nearly three miles before you reach the clearing where the manor lay, rising above intricately designed flower gardens that cascade downward to the driveway. At the base of these colorful gardens, guarding the entrance, is a hand carved marble water fountain. Inside the crystal blue water is a 20-foot statue of Aphrodite, standing nude with long flowing hair draped over her breasts, stationed in a seductive pose. Her stone eyes glare out at all who approach.
On the east side of the property are the stable grounds. I would spend countless hours there learning to ride the most beautiful horses money could buy.
I stepped from the black Rolls Royce, which had shuttled me from the gate and stood, taking in the exquisite home. It was three stories of classic British architecture, modeled from Kensington Palace. It rose from the ground like a historic, stone wonder. For two weeks every summer it became my personal playground. And my God did I love it here.
I walked up the granite stairs, pictures of my mother’s funeral under my arm, to the massive oak door. I rang the bell and took a deep breath, repressing my anger deep inside. Mr. Jeffery, my grandma’s head servant, greeted me at the door.
“Hello Madam, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” Jeffrey said, bowing his head as I stepped inside.
“Hello, Jeffery. It has been a very long time.”
“Far too long I must say. I have missed you dearly. You are a woman grown.”
“My grandmother sent for me. I was told it was urgent,” I replied coldly. I was in no mood for idle chatter.
“You will find her in the Tea room. Does my lady need to be refreshed of its location?”
“I know where it is,” I said and turned away.
“Miss? Where are you bags? I’ve made up your old room, just the way you like it.”
“I will not be staying long Jeffery,” I snapped back and walked from the foyer.
“I am sorry to hear that. I hope you reconsider.”
I entered the grand hallway, where hundreds of exquisite pieces of artwork adorned the walls. My grandma obsessively collected them over her lifetime. Many were hundreds of years old, and she often bragged how some were painted by the Renaissance masters. It was mind boggling how much money this old woman had. I never thought much about it as a child, but now, it seemed obscene that one person should have this kind of wealth.
My heels clicked rapidly inside the grand corridor, reverberating off the 20-foot ceilings. With each step, I become even angrier. Oil paintings, sculptures, and stained glass littered the walls, each piece worth thousands of dollars. The place reeked of opulence. How could a person, so filthy rich, leave her child completely defenseless? Just one of these paintings could have provided my mother the care she so desperately needed.
I stormed through the French doors and found my grandma sitting at her tea table, sipping from the same weathered tea cup she had always used. Compared to the rest of her things it was odd that she used such a simple cup.
“Hello Teresa,” she said quietly, looking my way with her piercing gray eyes. They were as brilliant as ever.
“Hello, Grandma,” I chided.
“Please sit with me, child.”
I sat down at the perfectly set table, fuming on the inside. It lay inside a magnificent room, whose architecture utilized many intricate arches and columns. Lavish artwork filled the space on the walls, and marble statues of nude men and women looked on with steady eyes. The ceiling rose 30 feet to a golden dome, highlighted with an incredible Byzantine style mosaic. It was more a museum than a place for tea. Grandma’s chair faced a wall of windows which peered out into vast gardens behind the estate. Gardens which required its own full-time staff to maintain. The polarity of our lives could not be more striking.
“How is Cassandra?” she asked.
“Please, do not feign interest in my daughter’s well being,” I said, the words bursting forth. “I did not fly halfway across the globe to indulge in small talk.”
“Go ahead child. I imagine you have many strong words for me.”
“How dare you. You cold and heartless bitch,” I said, staring at her, unmoving. There was a hint of guilt deep behind her gray irides, but nothing more.
“You wonder how I could miss the funeral of my only daughter. I bet it quite unimaginable from your perspective.”
“Do you know that she called out for you, under her dying breath? She wept like a small child, begging for her mother as she passed. You were not there, like always. Instead, you sat, hiding here inside your castle.”
“Mothers are not supposed to outlive their own daughters. Being a mother, I assumed you understood that.” She replied. Nothing I said had gotten through. I wanted to reach out, grab her turkey neck and squeeze.
“That does not make it right. You left her cold, alone and penniless as she slowly deteriorated. Look at this place, all this money and you couldn’t spare a nickel for your dying daughter,” I said, seething with anger now.
“I understand. You are not wrong, child.”
“And why couldn’t we visit more often? Once a year you would bring us here, to this fantasy land. A place you used to your advantage. You knew its power, the seductive force it had on me as a child. You must have thought it may make Mom and I forget how little you were there. Well, it didn’t work. My mother knew, and as I grew older, I came to understand it too.”
“I am so sorry. But it had to be that way. It is hard to understand now, but that is why I brought you here. It is time you learn the truth.”
“I don’t want to hear the pathetic excuses of a bitter old woman. Talking to you is meaningless. I had hoped, that maybe, you would exhibit a sliver of regret. But there is nothing here but an old woman and her things. No matter how many pretty horses and fancy things you gave us, in the end, it didn’t buy our love. We knew it was all fake, just like the woman who gave it,” I said getting up from the chair. It was time to leave.
“Teresa wait. You can leave, believing whatever you may about me. But please, let an old woman speak, if only this last time.”
“Spit it out then?” I said.
“Look at you dear, the last shreds of youth has left you. It is plain for all to see.”
“What did you say?" I said facing her, astounded by her words. The gall of this woman was incredulous.
“You used to be so beautiful. Flowing long black hair, which shone brightly, even under the darkest of nights. A physique so flawless that you had your first modeling contract by the 7th grade. You were a beacon of youth and beauty to all those around you. But that has all vanished, gripped by father time’s heartless grasp. You can continue to dye your hair, but the gray will always return, peeking up from your roots for everyone to see. And that skin, which you so foolishly aged from all that heavy partying in your twenties. That will only get worse. But worst of all was your daughter. What her birth did to your body is impossible to hide. You are a poor, single woman, closing on fifty with a teenage daughter. Do you think another man will look upon you as so many did long ago?”
“How dare you,” I screamed, a lone tear leaving my eye.
I hated to admit it, but she was right. Once, I was the most beautiful woman in any room I entered. But age is not kind to pretty woman. It comes like a monster, eating away your identity, turning it into a shell of who you used to be. Then it mercilessly rips away the man you love and points him in the direction of a newer, better model.
“I am sorry, but it’s true. Time always wins. It will only get worse until you are old and alone. This must be a horrible perspective for you, Teresa. You did always prefer the attention of extraordinary men. Average never quite cut it with you."
“Please. Stop. Why are you doing this? I came here, hoping you would show some remorse. But instead, I come, and you insult me. You are truly pathetic. I hope when your time comes you remember how you left your daughter to die alone. Goodbye. I hope you rot in hell, alone and afraid. And by the look of you, death cannot be far off,” I said walking from the room.
“If you leave, I cannot help you.”
“Fuck you, Grandma. You can’t help me. You have never helped anyone but yourself.”
“You can have it all back. The perfect hair, the beautiful face, your angelic skin, and best of all, all the elite male attention I know you desire. It can all be yours again,” she said smiling.
This woman had truly lost it.
“Are you mad? You said it yourself I am almost fifty. There is nothing I can do.”
“You are mistaken Teresa. I can give it all back. Just sit down and let me speak. Five minutes is all I ask.”
“I don’t need your money. I refuse to become some hacked up plastic monster.”
“I am not suggesting plastic surgery. What I offer is a miracle.”
“I cannot believe I am doing this. You have five minutes,” I said and reluctantly sat down.
“How old do you think I am?” she asked.
It was an interesting question, and one I had pondered before. My grandma’s age was always a mystery. She had always looked like an old woman, but she had rarely moved like one. Her mind was always sharp, and I had never heard about her getting sick. It was strange to think about.
“Eighty?” I said, factoring in my mother’s age.
“Not a bad guess, but a little low. I turned 101 last week.”
“That is impossible,” I said chuckling at the preposterousness of her claim.
“Oh, it is far from impossible. I was born April 2nd, 1915. I can show you my birth certificate if you’d like.”
I studied her face and decided that she must be lying. A centenarian could never look this good. Strangely, even though I had not seen her in twenty years, she did not look much different. Her hair was a little whiter and her skin a bit more wrinkled, but her eyes were the same. Strong and full of life.
“Let me ask you this Teresa. When was the last time your remember seeing my hands?”
This was another interesting question, and one I had to think hard about. I thought back to my summers here as a child and realized I had never seen her without her lavender gloves.
“Oddly, I do not think I have ever seen them. You have always worn gloves.”
“You are correct. Now please, stay seated, I do not want you to be alarmed,” my grandma said, standing up from the table in a smooth motion. There was no struggle in her movement. A woman of her age should not move that gracefully.
My grandma took one of her lavender gloves and slowly pulled it off. Underneath the satin fabric was a small, delicate hand, whose skin was pure as milk. There was not a single wrinkle or any visible veins. It was the hand of a young woman.
“But. How?” I said, astounded.
“Wait. It gets much more interesting,” she responded with a smile.
My grandma raised her hands to her snow-white hair and tugged. As the wig came off, a cascade of long golden hair fell to her shoulders. It was healthy and beautiful.
“Who are you,” I said nervously. I was beginning to get scared. Someone was impersonating my grandma.
“It is me, child. Listen to my voice,” she said, softly.
She was right. It was her unmistakable voice.
“Now, this will be the worst part. I need you to stay calm,” she said reaching up to her forehead. Her manicured nails dug into her skin and ripped the highly detailed latex mask from her face. My jaw dropped. Underneath the disguise was a portrait of a young, beautiful woman, no older than twenty. Everything had changed except the eyes. They were just as when I was a child.
“What the hell?” I said stumbling up out of the chair. My heart, pounding from my chest.
“I know how shocking this must be. But do not be scared. It is me. Your grandmother.”
“But…how?” I said listening closely to her distinctive voice.
“We are descendants of a very rare ancestry, down our matriarchal line. You and I are very special people, and now that your mother has passed, it is the time you learn who you really are. I promise to explain everything over a cup of tea. Something I have been eagerly awaiting for a very long time.“
“But we are forbidden to ever drink your tea,” I said.
“That was true. Until today.”
I reluctantly sat back at the table and stared at this woman who claimed to be my grandma. My hands were shaking, and I was struggling to breathe as I processed this strange turn of events. She walked over to her china cabinet and pulled a small tea cup and saucer from inside. It was off-white porcelain with hand painted floral patterns. Identical to one she had always used. She carefully placed it on the table.
“This is yours, Teresa. It is very old. Do not let anything happen to it. Breaking it would be the ultimate tragedy.”
She grabbed the teapot from the table as a faint trace of steam rose from its spout, and poured a small cup of tea for us both. It was light brown in color. When finished, she peered at me, her eyes encouraging me to drink. I put the cup to my lips and sipped.
“Uhhh,” I said gagging on the foul tasting drink. “What is this? Poison?”
“Quite the opposite,” she said, chuckling. “The taste will get better in time. Eventually you will come to enjoy its flavor.”
“I can’t drink this. It tastes like it was pulled from a septic tank.”
“Just give it a moment,” she said taking a long sip of her cup.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you feel any different?”
“If you are talking about a horrible taste in my mouth, then yes.”
“Oh yes, forgive me, I forgot. It may take a bit longer to act than my own. Go on and take another sip. I assure you it is safe.”
“I will not. That stuff is vile.”
“You will change your mind here shortly," she said calmly.
I leaned back in my chair, as the wave euphoria trickled through my body. It was like a switch had been flipped. When I arrived here, I had been angry, jet lagged and utterly exhausted. I had slept little more than a few hours since my mother’s passing. But now, a surge of euphoric energy was pulsating inside me. Like a hit of pure cocaine, but different. It didn’t feel like a drug.
“What the hell is going on?” I said, the effect intensifying with every breath.
“Finish the drink. What you are experiencing now is only the beginning.”
Without hesitation, I emptied the contents down my throat. The taste was worse the second time, but it didn’t matter. I wanted more. As the next wave of tea hit my stomach, I felt an ever stronger explosion of energy permeate my entire body. It was incredible, like the world’s greatest drug was pumping through my veins. But instead of high, I felt alert, clear headed and best of all, alive.
“What did you give me?” I said.
“Welcome to afternoon tea my dear. Now please, come with me.”
My grandma took my hand, her skin as soft as a child, and led me away from the tea room. I was floating high in ecstasy as we moved along her marble laid corridors. Everything was perfect until something bad happened.
“Something’s wrong with my eyes. I can’t see,” I exclaimed, as my vision suddenly became extremely blurry. I could only see fuzzy patches of color.
My grandma reached up and pulled off my glasses. It was like I had a blindfold removed. The world around me came into sharp focus, with an incredible clarity I had never experienced before. Ever since my early twenties I had worn glasses or contacts, and my vision had continually gotten worse from that point on.
“How is your vision, Teresa?” Grandma said, with a gleeful pitch in her voice.
“This is incredible,” I said astounded that I could see everything in perfect detail. “What happened to my eyes?”
“Healing? But how?”
“That is only the beginning.”
We traveled deep into the manor towards Grandma’s ground floor bedroom suite. Adjacent to her bedroom was the closet, a closet which was bigger than my entire apartment. It was loaded with racks and racks of expensive clothing and shoes. We went inside, and she guided me in front of her mirrors.
“The change will subtle at first, but take a hard look at yourself, and tell me what you see.”
I stared deeply into the wall of mirrors, my naked eyes inspecting with newfound precision. There was something different, but I could not pinpoint it.
‘What am I looking for?” I said.
“Look at closely at your face.”
I moved closer to the mirror and studied my face. It was my wrinkles. While still visible, they were lessened considerably. I looked like I had good night sleep and professional makeup applied. The bags under my eyes were gone. The sun marks had lighted. And my hair looked vibrant and alive. The gray roots had faded away.
“Holy shit. I look five years younger.”
“Precisely.” She said with a grin.
“How is this possible?”
“This is your inheritance, Teresa.”
“You have been given a very special gift, a gift that has been passed down in our family since the early 18th century. It is extraordinarily powerful. What you are experiencing now, is just a sample of its full potential, which is beyond your wildest imagination. But to realize this power, I must first give you a choice. Either, you can forget any of this ever happened and return home, or you stay with your old Grandmother, and join me tomorrow for afternoon tea. The choice is yours. I’ve had your room prepared by Jeffery. I assume you still remember where it is?”
“Of course. How could I forget?”
“Stay for the night, explore the stables as you did as a child, and come to a decision. Return to your life as you once knew it, or travel down a rabbit hole. I do hope you choose the later, and then maybe, you will come to understand the decisions I have made in my life.”
And with that, she left, to where I do not know. But one thing was certain. I did not need time to reflect on a decision. She had me at that first sip. I was heading down the rabbit hole.
I entered the tea room precisely at three o’clock. Tea time had always been 3 pm in my grandma’s house. Although neither my mother nor I had ever participated, we could always see her, behind the glass, sipping her afternoon her tea as she watched us play in the garden.
Grandma was already seated, wearing a beautiful sequined black gown. There was no mask. She was still the young, beautiful woman I met yesterday. Apparently the need for a disguise had concluded. She smiled as I walked in, no doubt pleased I decided to come. On the table were two cups and a teapot, steam pouring from the spout.
“Hello dear, I am glad you decided to come,” she said
“How could I resist,” I replied, taking a seat at the table.
“Truly,” she said nodding. “I was in your position once, a very long time ago.”
I did not respond. My attention focused on the kettle.
“You want more don’t you?” she said.
“It...It was incredible. I haven’t felt like that in years.”
“And how do you feel today?
“Still different, but like nothing like I did yesterday.”
“Unfortunately, the effect is not permanent. It must constantly be maintained.”
“What is it? The tea I mean.”
“It’s complicated,” she said pouring the tea into my cup. “Now sip this slowly. It is much better that way.”
I pulled the cup to my lips and took a sip. I gagged briefly but kept it down.
“Tell me what this is?”
“Soon enough my dear," she said taking a sip. “Are you ready to hop down the rabbit hole?”
“I’m ready,” I said greedily taking another sip of the hot, rancid tea.
“You and I were born into a very special family. Unfortunately, I know very little of our origins, but one thing is unquestionable. We have been blessed with a remarkable gift. It is your inheritance, revealed to you at your mother's passing. The source of this gift has been lost, but lucky for us, the benefit remains. What I do know it this. Our power comes strictly from the tea you are consuming, with nothing more required. Now this blend here.” She said holding up her cup. “It has a significantly stronger effect on me than it will you.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, because it is a unique blend, tailored specifically for me. Soon you have your personal blend, precisely brewed for your own use. When consumed, it will transform your entire life in a matter of minutes.
“Like what happened to my eyesight?”
“That is a small part of it, but the effect is more comprehensive than that. In its simplest explanation, the tea could be described as a fountain of youth. That exquisite beauty you enjoyed as a young woman will all be yours again, only now it will be amplified. Imagine being a young, beautiful woman, but never needing makeup or ever watching what you eat. You will have the metabolism and stamina of a professional athlete, easily able to accomplish any physical task you attempt. Your skin will be flawless and perfectly colored, without the need of any products. That long black hair of yours, well it will be perfect, every single day. Your body will be the epitome of health. Getting sick will be a distant memory, erased from your life like the wrinkles from your eyes. You will look like you are eighteen years old again.”
“Eighteen years old? Are you serious?”
“Very. Here take a look at yourself,” my grandma said handing me a small brass mirror. As I peered at my reflection my face was already looking brighter and healthy. I was changing with each sip.
“And I won’t get sick?”
“I have not had so much as a cough in the past 70 years,” she said.
“Is that how long you have been using this?”
“Yes, it is around that number. This is a very powerful asset. All of this you see, my youth, my extreme wealth, have all derived from drinking this tea.”
“How did your youth bring you such incredible wealth?”
“In many ways. The easiest method is simple enough. Seduction and manipulation. Combine a wise mind, with the body of a goddess, and you have a lethal combination. Men are like flies. Put out some honey and they buzz into the trap, billfolds and all. They are simple creatures. However, that is not your only weapon. The world has changed, and woman of today can make own way, without the need of powerful men. You see, youth and beauty, are not the only benefits. It also purifies the brain of all its imperfections, resulting in vastly improved function. Your intellect will increase tenfold. You will soak up and retain vast amounts of information with ease as long as you continue to drink from this cup. Amassing great wealth with these attributes is simple.”
“This sounds all too good to be true.”
“In some ways it is. I would be lying if I told you there was not a cost. However, I find it pales in comparison to the benefits. You may or may not feel the same way.”
“What is the cost?”
“Your mother,” she said. My mood soured. With all the excitement I had forgotten about her.
“What happened to her?” I said, a revitalized anger rising to the surface.
“I loved your mother dearly Teresa. Everything I did, the distant relationship, avoiding her funeral, it was all for her own good. But, we will cross that path soon enough. For now, just remember there is a profound cost. And you alone must decide if that cost is worth it. For me it was.
“Our family gift is passed down on the matrilineal bloodline. Unfortunately, the ability to use it always skips a generation. I inherited it from my grandmther, whose Grandmother passed it on to her and so on for the last three centuries. It was revealed to me on the day my own mother died. And today, I pass it to you. Sadly, your mother was unable to receive the gift, and thus, it could only come to you, my only granddaughter. Cassandra, like your mother, cannot receive its power. It is reserved for your eventual granddaughter. If Cassandra does not bear a female child, the gift will end.”
I sat back, deep in thought, and continued to sip the disgusting brew. It was bitter and grainy. But with each sip, it delivered was more of what I was craving. My physical senses were all heightened, hearing, touch, smell, sight, it was all so vivid and clear. This was truly a miracle.
“Now that you understand the immense power, it is the time I reveal the source. Which I must warn, is incredibly unsettling. I can still vividly remember the day I learned the dark secret of its power. It was very difficult. But, I assure you, the negative feelings will pass once you ingest your first cup of tea.”
“What is so great about the first cup?”
“Everything,” she said, a smile curling upon her lips. “It is specifically blended for you. The blend we have been consuming, it belongs to me. It can only give you a brief glimpse behind the curtain. To reveal all, you must consume it at full strength. After your first cup, you will look thirty and feel twenty. This effect will last for several days, but if you drink it daily, well that is where the real magic happens. You will be thrust into the prime of your life, armed with an assortment of weapons you never had access to the first time around. Nothing can stop you. There is no death.”
“Correct. Let’s say someone you trust tries to take your life, something, which given your power, will probably happen at least once. Jealousy is a nasty beast. Imagine you are stabbed. Well, that’s no problem at all. Your body will just heal itself almost instantly. Strangulation? Doesn’t matter. You will just keep breathing. No illness or disease can ever harm you. You will be while under its effect, immortal.”
I was stunned, imagining this must all be a dream. Immortality, eternal beauty, more money than I could spend. It all seemed too good to be true.
“Tell me how to make it. I am ready,” I said. I was through waiting.
“The million dollar question. Well, no use putting it off any longer. You will either accept it or not.”
“What’s the catch? It must be important.”
“Finish your drink. It is better I show you.”
I took the last swig, wincing as it went down. As I stood up, I felt no more pain in in my knees, and my lungs, well I bet that I could run a marathon on a single breath.
“Come this way,” my grandma said.
“What you are about to learn will seem disturbing and grotesque at first, but I need you to remain calm and think of the bigger picture. This is an amazing opportunity for you, Teresa. Please try and understand that.”
“Where are we going?” I asked as we walked down a small dark hallway. One I had never seen before.
“You want to know the catch?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, it’s a big one.”
At the end of the hallway was a dead end. Grandma’s fingers touched the wallpaper and delicately drew a pattern. It was some sophisticated hidden keypad. She then pressed her palm on the wall, and a hidden door slid open. Cold air rushed out towards us.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This is my freezer.”
Inside the hidden room was a small table with various items on it. At the far side was a large steel door. A door to a walk-in freezer. I felt a bit of nervousness sweep up through me, briefly damping the euphoria.
“It is time. Behind this door is the truth,” she said slowly opening the freezer door. A fluorescent light flickered to life, just as I looked inside. I turned my head and retched, hacking up the tea from my belly.
“Fuck.” I shrieked, staring at the corpse, which lay stiff on a gurney. The body had been mutilated. The left leg and arm were gone. It was the body of a woman.
“Teresa, this is my mother. She was your great grandmother,” she said flatly.
“My great grandmother?" I said shaking with fear. “What the fuck is she doing in your freezer?”
“Well, my dear. This is the catch.”
My grandma grabbed a large knife that hung from a ring and approached the body. The dead women was nude, and to my amazement, looked surprisingly good for a century old corpse. Without hesitation, my grandma went straight for right thigh and hacked off a small piece of the hardened flesh. I almost spilled up more tea, but I watched, hypnotized in a paralyzed shock. After removing the flesh, she left the freezer and approached the table. She placed the flesh into a small grinder. Seconds later it was morphed into a fine powder which she dumped onto the table. Once I saw her grab the empty tea bag I understood.
“That is afternoon tea?” I said horrified.
“This is the secret.”
“How could you do such a thing? That is your mother.”
“Unfortunately, this is the only way it works. Our life is drawn from their death.”
The realization hit me like an oncoming train. I understood how to make my blend.
“You don’t mean, do you?” I said, not wanting to believe it.
“It is the only way. To obtain the key to unlimited youth, you must continue down the same road as your ancestors.”
“Do you honestly think I would hack up my mother and drink her? All those years away from us have warped your mind.”
“What you choose is solely yours. I am just here to show you the way. As you must do for your granddaughter, when Cassandra passes.”
“You can’t be serious. Cassandra will never be some extract so that some fictitious granddaughter can follow this path.”
“I understand how difficult this is to comprehend. I have stood in your shoes. But, I am not here to convince you, only to show you the way.”
“I will never,” I said firmly.
“Fine. But please, you must let me finish. It is my duty. I am sworn to reveal everything to you.”
“Get it over with,” I demanded.
“You will need your mother’s body. This will not be a problem. Soon you will understand that anything is possible with the power of money. I suggest keeping the body frozen, as I have done. It will last much longer, and it eliminates the nasty side effects associated with the dead. You must drink at least a cup a week to stay healthy and keep a median age around 30. To get all the benefits, and relive your youth, then you must drink a cup per day. If my calculations are correct, freezing and conserving her body, and only living half the year drinking a cup a day, you will survive at least another two hundred years. You can extend that number an additional hundred years with proper rationing.”
“How can you talk like this? So apathetic. That is your daughter we are talking about. Your flesh and blood.”
“You think I do not know that?” my grandma said, a hint of anger in her voice. “You don’t think a part of me regrets this life? It is worse than just consuming her body, much worse.”
“What did you do to her?” I said, anger seething from my insides.
“Have you ever wondered why your life was so shitty growing up? Why you were always poor, and why your mother always seemed to have the worst possible luck.”
“What are you saying?”
“The gift requires a cyclical process. While I became younger, she became older. I got rich, she had to be poor. I was healthy, she was not. This path requires the ultimate sacrifice. Your only daughter. The moment you begin to consume, her life begins its decline. She will experience a rough life, but she will scrape by and survive, and eventually give birth to a daughter. That child will be one of us and inherit the gift. She too will enjoy a wonderful life. Cassandra will give her child the greatest gift imaginable, as your mother gave you. It is quite noble if you think about it.”
“That is not my choice to make. How incredibly selfish do you think I am?"
“Maybe now you can understand my absence, and why I could barely stomach seeing your mother more than once a year. And, I only went that far because I wanted to see you. It was devastating to see her falling, while I had it all. Early on I tried to stay, but it was too much. So, I moved to England. I disguised myself and hid the secret from you all.”
“What about the last twenty years? Where were you then?”
“I knew she would get very sick. It was inevitable. I couldn’t handle watching her suffer and die.”
“And it was your fault, you disgusting woman,” I said glaring at her with disdain.
“It had to be done. I did it all for you. Don’t you understand?”
“I am done with this. I am leaving. It would be a cold day in hell before I would ruin my daughter’s life.”
“I understand,” she said quietly. “Be aware, though, I anticipated this reaction and made some choices for you.”
“Goodbye, Grandma, I will not be returning.” I said turning away from her porcelain-like face. I was on the next plane home to L.A that afternoon.
I arrived home, beat and exhausted. The tea’s effects had faded, and I was now back to my old self, trudging up the stairs to my one bedroom apartment. I almost thought how great it was to be home until I saw a passed out junkie on the walkway just outside my door. Cassandra was at her fathers, staying at his Malibu beach house with that bitch of a stepmother Kelsey. It should be me living there with my family, but instead, I am stuck here, old and alone. Seeing my grandma’s estate again only intensified the pile of shit that was my life. But, at least I would see Cassandra in the morning. I missed her. Just as I went to open the door, I got a text message.
CASSANDRA: Hi Mom hope you got home OK. Going to stay dads for the week. Kelsey got me a horse and is taking me riding up in Napa Valley. I hope you do not mind. See you later:)
My hand shook as I read the message. She had been spending so much more time with her Father lately. It wouldn’t be long until she fled for college, leaving her lonely mother behind. She had grown up so damn fast. As I opened my door, there were footsteps at my back. It was a delivery man.
“Ms. Taylor?” the man said. He was holding a box.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“I have a urgent delivery for you. This box, and a freezer. The freezer is still on the truck.”
It was her. That despicable old bag did not get the hint. I did not want her path. But, I also did not want my mother being dragged around inside a box truck for the foreseeable future.
“Bring it up,” I said reluctantly. I would get her back to the cemetery somehow.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said retreating down the steps.
I entered my apartment and examined the box. It had been sent overnight from England. I ripped it open, and inside was a letter and eight small tea cups. They were all identical. I opened the letter and began to read.
I am sorry that we parted company under such unsavory conditions. However, I do not hold it against you. What you saw is shocking and difficult to understand. But, if you are reading this then you know that I have arranged for a freezer to be delivered. Yes, your mother is inside. If this angers you, then please send me a message and I will have her placed back in the cemetery. However, if you choose to follow in your ancestor's footsteps there are some rules you must follow.
As I continued to read the man came in the apartment with a freezer.
“Where do you want it, ma’am?”
“In the backroom please,” I said, and the man put it there and plugged in. I signed for it, and he left. I continued to read.
1. Conserve. To make your supply last, you must pace yourself. It can be extremely intoxicating to spend every day in youth, but you must restrain yourself. You will understand soon enough.
2. For your mental well-being, I strongly suggest you begin to put distance between you and Cassandra. It is in her best interest not to know the truth. You may need to move away, as I did so many years ago.
3. Safe guard the cups. If they are broken beyond repair, the gift is extinguished.
4. A piece of flesh no bigger than a penny is all that is needed. Steep the bag three times. Each bag can be reused to make 30 cups. Every part of the body will work, including bone. Let nothing go to waste.
5. The first cup will have a very intense effect. Be prepared. Your body will go through a drastic change in a very short period. I suggest being alone.
6. Create a nest egg. You will need lots of money. Use it to develop some alternate identities. Hire only people you can trust with your secret. Like, Jeffery. Pay these people handily to keep your secret.
7. When Cassandra passes, you must relay our secret to your granddaughter. Give her the rest of the cups I have included, and tell her our method. The gift is in your hands now.
That is all. Everything else will come to you in time. I hope you decide to visit. We have much to discuss. Remember, my door is always open for you Teresa.
I put the letter down, my hands trembling, and rushed to the bathroom. I bent over the toilet with an urge to vomit, but it never came. When I stood up, I looked deep into the mirror at the woman I had become. Without the tea’s beneficial effect, I was reverted to my previous self. Old and weathered, haggard from the years of abuse I had inflicted on my body. All that partying from my twenties caught up with me, and I had lost everything. Now I was just another middle-aged woman, lost in the endless sea of ordinary people, and I hated ordinary. Gone were the days as a teen, where time was spent laying in the sun, tanning my golden body. Endless free vacations and gifts bought by men who barely knew me, all vying for my attention. My meteoric rise up the California social scene, where I was someone, making waves with the rich and famous. Then I got pregnant, and everything came crashing down. My body was ruined and along with it all my aspirations. Cassandra’s father was a successful Hollywood producer, a pretentious asshole who dumped me as soon he found out. With no formal education or job prospects, I was left penniless to raise my daughter on my own. Only years later did he come around, and became the now doting father. He proceeded to spoil her rotten, garnering her favor, while I was left dealing with the most challenging portions of parenting. Cassandra, oblivious to the struggles I endured as a poor single mother, came to love her father. And why wouldn’t she, he could give her anything she desired. And now, she barely came to see me anymore, spending ever more time with her new, hip stepmother. All the while her mother rotted alone, working a crappy minimum wage job, living in a shitty subsidized apartment.
I screamed and then cried. Cried until there was nothing left but anger.
I went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and moved slowly into my bedroom. The compressor hummed. Was she really inside?
I took a deep breath and pulled the hatch. Inside was my mother, crammed in the fetal position. It was the only way to fit a body inside. To my relief, her head was covered with a black hood.
After a brief hesitation, I went for it, slicing a small piece of flesh from her forearm. It was easier than I had expected. I shut the freezer and went to the kitchen where I pulled a coffee grinder from the cabinet. I ground the flesh into a powdery mix, exactly how my grandma had done. Then I wrapped the powder in a small napkin and steeped it in some boiling water. I had brewed my first cup of tea. It was brown and smelled foul, but I salivated with anticipation.
He will lust for me once more. However, this time it will be his life that is ruined. Not mine.
I sat back, thanked my mother, and took my first sip.