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The Tearoom


Madalini’s shop always smelt of freshly baked cake; Madalini herself insisted that she never touched an oven and certainly she never made any offer of food to her customers, so where the smell came from, no one knew. The shop itself was right on the high-street, tucked between a chic outfitters and an even chicer antique bookshop– the kind where they’re always discovering new Shakespeare manuscripts. The shopfront was not showy, but nor was it in disrepair; it was a smooth, pleasing burgundy with the name in clear white letters painted above the entrance. The door opened to a room with a single table with two chairs, a shelf full of white china cups in the left-hand corner and walls covered with art. Abstract, cubist, modern, classic, oil painting, chalk drawings, ink scribblings and pencil scratching: there was something from every genre on there somewhere and not an inch of wall showed. A door on the right, itself adorned with a stark white on black rendering of a cobra ready to strike, lead into the kitchen where, as Madalini put it, “the real magic happens.”

Janine found it all a bit much. She considered leaving, but the bell above the door had already rung and a stirring started somewhere in the kitchen.

A woman with iron-grey locks reaching down to her shoulders and an ineffable air of no-nonsense leaned out of the door. “You’re Eleanor’s friend.” It wasn’t a question.


“That wasn’t a question.” The woman disappeared back into the kitchen, leaving Janine face to face with the cobra once more.

After a few seconds, Janine felt compelled to fill the deafening silence, “I was hoping you might help me with–”

The door burst open and Madalini marched out, thick black boots banging loudly on the stone floor. She held in her hands a bright silver handleless teapot, one hand resting on the bottom, the other on the spout. She plunked it down on the table and then went over to the shelf of cups, selecting two with great care, even though they all looked identical to Janine. These too she placed on the table, and then sat herself down facing Janine. “Take a seat.”

Janine pulled out the other chair, Madalini staring at her unblinkingly– at first, Janine tried to meet her gaze, but then she found this a bit too unsettling and instead decided to stare at the teapot.

“Financial trouble, is it?” Madalini asked, at last.

“Not as such, no.”

“Well, then, what?” She sounded irritated at having guessed incorrectly.

“I– I’m having a bit of a crisis of conscience.”


“You see, my aunt died recently and she left my brother this painting that I just love; it’s absolutely beautiful, and he doesn’t know that I have it. But he doesn’t even want it. He just wants to sell it, so–”

Madalini held up her hand, out of either understanding or boredom. “So, what do you want me to do?”

“Eleanor said you could tell her future from her tea leaves.”

“That is correct.” Madalini inspected her nails.

“Well, I’d like you to tell my future.”

“Why?” Here, she looked up at Janine.

“I’d like to know what I’ll do.”

“You’ll do what you choose. That’ll be twenty pounds.”

“But I don’t know what to do.” Janine couldn’t prevent a bit of a whiney tone entering her speech at this point.

“Well, that’s a different question, isn’t it? You don’t need foresight for that one, just plain old common sense.” Madalini reached over and flexed her fingers in the air above the tea pot, before reaching down, plucking the lid off the pot and letting the steam fill the room.

“Can you help me?” Janine was getting a little bit annoyed now– she was starting to suspect that Eleanor was full of it.

Madalini had produced a spoon and was stirring the tea inside the silver pot. She replaced the lid, and then poured herself a cup of tea. She held it up to her lips, blew on it, and then took a sip and gasped at the heat. “Yes and no,” she put the cup back down. “I can help you see what you should do, but you’re not going to like my answer.”

“So I should give him the painting?”

“Probably. Pour yourself a cup and we’ll find out.”

Janine felt a little thrill; she’d seen stage magic before, but had yet to witness anything that she would classify as “occult.” She wasn’t sure if she believed what Eleanor had told her, but still, she liked to entertain the idea that there was something more to the universe than just cells and atoms. She reached out for the pot and then a problem occurred to her. “There’s no handle.”

“I know.”

This struck Janine as an incredibly unhelpful answer as well as an incredibly unhelpful design to the teapot. She stood up, placed one on the spout and then slid her other hand under the pot. She couldn’t lift the teapot.

“Notice anything?” Madalini asked, a wry smile curling her lips.

“It’s incredibly heavy.” She tried again to shunt the teapot, but it wouldn’t budge an inch. She strained her arms, creased her brow and exerted as much pressure as she could on both the spout and the bottom, but it was like trying to shift a boulder.

“Not that. What isn’t happening?”

“It isn’t moving.” Janine’s voice strained as she struggled with the pot.

“No, what else? What should be happening but isn’t?”

Janine gave up on the pot, stepped away and thought for a second. “It isn’t burning me.”

“Exactly. No handle, metal pot, scaldingly hot tea,” she lifted up the pot to reveal a brown ring burnt into the wood of the table, “but it’s not even warm to the touch. Why do you think that might be?”


Madalini’s look could have withered roses. “No. Have you heard of Excalibur?”

“Of course.”

“Well, in some versions of the story, only the worthy and true could wield the mighty sword. Others found it heavier than a mountain.”

Janine looked down at the teapot, which suddenly seemed incredibly judgemental. “So, you’re saying I’m not worthy?”

“No. If you were unworthy– if you were a bad person– then the pot would burn white hot at your touch. You’d leave here with a great big burn on your hand and I’d let you do whatever you want with that stupid painting.” Madalini took another sip of tea and was yet again reviled by how hot it was. “But you’re worthy; you’re just not being true to yourself. You know you have to let your brother have it; you knew that before you walked in here, you just wanted me to tell you you’d take it anyway so you could justify being selfish. Now, come to terms with the fact that that painting isn’t yours, and try to lift the pot.”

Janine took a deep breath and closed her eyes; completely unbidden, she saw the painting before her– a lovely picture of two children on a fuchsia-pink horse– and then watched as it retreated off into the distance until she couldn’t see it anymore. She reached down, picked up the pot– nearly spilt the tea since she was expecting it to be much heavier– and poured herself a cup. “There.”

“Well done. You have your answer.” Madalini stood up, picked up her tea and downed it in one gulp. She then looked up and seemed surprised that Janine was still there. “You can go now.”

But Janine had one final question. “Are there some people who can never be worthy? Who could never lift the pot?”

Madalini laughed, “Of course not. Worthiness is earned, not inherited– rather like an aunt’s approval, or a painting.” She lifted up the pot, revealing at once the deep, ugly burn on the wood, “No one’s perfect; everyone has shadows in their conscience and blanks where the north should be on their moral compass.” She ran one finger over the dark black circle then waved a hand across it. “It’s up to us to try and not let them mar our good judgement.”

The table was pristine once more.


Rory Kelly

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