Miles Barnett

A pot of boiling water stood over the open flame of the two burner gas stove. The steam flowing up in great columns slowed as it reached the top of the low room. The one cupboard opened its great doors to reveal an expanse of food and spices which only skilled hands could keep so neat. The middle shelf showed only one purpose, that of tea, a great collection: jasmine, green and chrysanthemum tea.

A bowl was picked from the shelf against the wall on the other side of the kitchen. When set down, a dull clunk filled the room just as all the other porcelain made. Hot boiling water slowly made its way across the room in the iron pot. In seconds, the water was transferred to the porcelain and again the room filled with steam. Underneath the steam, a small jar was opened. From inside, the aroma of jasmine escaped, slowly spreading into the room. An exceedingly long time passed before anything happened, but before the fragrance lifted, a beautiful compressed jasmine tea was summoned from the open jar.

Steam lifted through the open crevasses of the man’s half closed hands while he clutched the ball of jasmine tea. A slow gradual turn of his wrist let the jasmine roll and fall into the hot steaming bowl of water.

Turning abruptly, the man ended the beginning of his morning ritual, as a clanging sound came from the shed across the back garden. He briskly walked to his bedroom to get on some suitable clothing. Rummaging through the drawers to find his shirt, pants and sash, he heard the clanging noise again. “Atch,” he exclaimed, “this clanging noise is quite peculiar.”  Putting on his clothes and walking out of his room, he paused and thought of something.

He went over it, again and again, in his head, “The tea ball had not opened. The tea ball had not opened. Then what, yes, the clanging started in the shed. How odd.” The banging had stopped and there was a death of silence. A silence that went on for far too long. Something, in the man’s eyes, was going gravely wrong. First the tea ball does not open and then the clanging and now dead silence.

Walking by many Japanese sumi-brush paintings down the hall, he noticed that the back door was slightly cracked. “Humh, I must have left it open earlier.” He walked out the open door onto the bamboo patio, a sun chair sat rocking from the wind on the right side of the patio. Instead of sitting and warming up in the sun, he walked down the one step stair to the path. Not thinking, he walked in a straight line over the lawn to the shed, which was not a usual action. The path though, wound throughout the garden, passing the koi pond and the great long-needled pine tree. Small, beautifully formed bonsai filled the rock garden and gave the man, when he passed it, a sense of superiority. A wave of fear came to him when he reached the door of the shed. He grasped the knob and started to turn it, or try to turn it. “Locked,” he exclaimed. Again, he tried to turn the knob, but the door did not budge.

Across the yard a cat mewed. The man loved cats and sadly did not have one of his own. Another mew was too much for him, he went over and sat down to pet the gray-brown Siamese cat. “Here, kitty, kitty,” he said patting his knee, “come up on my lap.” The soft purring of the cat  comforted the man, for the events of the morning had given him an uneasy feeling. He looked up at the sky from the stair of his porch. A flock of geese flew over his head, their call filling the air around him. Then that dreaded sound, “clang, clang,” started again. Startled, the man jumped up and, to his surprise, the cat was not there. It was nowhere in sight. The man was sad, but wanted to find out what was going on in the shed. Turning, he walked inside his house to get the key.

He stepped over the doorstep and into the low kitchen.  Slowly he made his way to the cupboard with its door ajar.  Looking in, he could see the plain jar in which he stored the key.  He reached out and clutched the jar, bringing it close, he took hold of the top and lifted it off the jar.  After setting it down on the counter, he reached inside with his right hand and took hold of the key.  The dark steel color lit up as it hit a stream of light.  Its homemade look was reminiscent of the past times it had been in use. Though a key, it was not a regular key, instead it had a circle with little spikes coming out of it almost like a drawing of the sun.

As he walked out of the house across the lawn, he noticed the cat coming from behind the shed.  “There you are,” he said, “I was wondering what happened to you.”  The cat came toward him as if he was its master.  The man kept walking and the cat followed him to the door of the shed.  He pulled the key out of his pocket and started to fit it into the key hole.  The key would not go in. He pulled it out and again tried to fit it, but it just was not working.  Looking at the key, he noticed one of the spikes was bent and needed a hammer to bend it back.  The only problem was that his hammers were in the shed.  Again he tried, but when he put the key up to the hole, a clang rung out through the man’s ears.

Startled by the clang, he jammed the key into the key hole and it was stuck. He yanked at it and then put his foot to the wall of the shed and pulled with all his might on the key still stuck.  Instead of the key coming out, he pulled the lock out of the door.  He stood there in awe at what he had done.  The lock was his first real forged invention and now it was broken with springs, gears and other pieces of metal sticking out of it.  “No, no, no,” he said in agony.  The cat rubbed up against his leg as if it knew what was happening and felt the agony in the man’s voice.  Then as the man looked down, he saw the cat walk away in great strides, vanishing behind he shed.

Tears almost came to him, but he still felt strong and determined to find out what was clanging inside the shed and why the tea ball had no opened.  Leaning over, he carefully placed the broken lock on the ground behind him.  Then with curiosity and determination he grasped inside the hole where the lock had been and pulled.  The door swung open, squeaking and creaking.  It was dark inside, then he took his first step into the shed.  He could not see anything, but the longer he stood there looking the more his eyes became accustomed to the darkness.

He took a few more steps into the open doorway and did not see anything.  He decided to walk around and investigate a bit.  The man looked to the right then to the left and saw that all his metal was exactly where he had left it the day before.  Nothing was disturbed.  “What is making the clanging noise,” he thought to himself.  Puzzled, he turned to go, but as he was walking out the door, he heard the clang, again.  He turned to see the source of the noise and again was eluded.  The sound was gone, but then there was a new sound that he did not expect at all, a mew.

He looked around for the cat, anxious to see it again.  There the cat stood on the edge of the table balancing on one piece of steel rod.  The cat moved its feet and the steel rod rolled into a pile of scrap metal making the infamous clanging noise that had haunted him all morning.  Overjoyed and relieved, he uttered “Ah, Chibi, it is you making all that noise.”  Walking over, he leaned down to the cat’s level and whispered, “You are a naughty little one. You worried me and now that I know what happened, I must have tea and some milk for you.”

He gently picked up the cat and held him close, petting his soft fur.  They walked through the garden on the rock path, passing the koi pond and the great long-needled pine tree, up the one step stair then into the house.  He put the cat down carefully on the counter next to the bowl of tea with the unopened tea ball.  He looked at the bowl of tea wondering why it had not opened. Then turning away, he got a saucer from the upper shelf of the cupboard.  While he filled the saucer with milk, the cat was intrigued by the jasmine tea ball floating in the middle of the bowl of warm water.  The cat gingerly reached forward with its paw and tapped the tea ball causing it to bob up and down in the water.  As the man turned to present the saucer of milk to the cat, the tea ball opened to reveal the much awaited shape of the beautiful petals of a jasmine flower.

In amazement, the man stared at the cat, then at the tea ball, then back to the cat.  Not sure what to think, confused by all that had happened that morning, the man reached out, lifted the bowl to his mouth and took a long drink of jasmine tea, his morning ritual now complete. Satisfied, he put down the bowl of tea on the counter, watching the cat eagerly lap the milk.  Now that all was right, the clanging noise stopped, the tea ball opened, the man resumed his day, walking down the one stair, through the garden, passed the koi pond and the great long-needled Pine tree to the shed to begin his work.

 

 


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