Bergamot. A scent that has sat in my memory, nameless, for over two decades – until now. I’d popped the tea tin’s lid, and a cloud of floral recognition had puffed up into my face, fresh yet musky, leafy green but citrus-white. Yes, I remember now: those samplers of beauty products which, at age eight, had seemed like a key to the gateway of adulthood. The one, in particular, that I washed my hair with once, and then saved for years until it had all but dried up, because that smell was just too good to waste on a few days of perfumed hair… I remember now, that shop’s leaflets I used to collect with a Mother Earth-loving fervour, recycled paper filled with bright colours giving a generation of children guidance on how to care for the environment, on animal rights, even on business ethics.
I pour the just-boiled water over the tea leaves, and picture again those summer days in the West Country. The vast field of the school’s playground with its grass dried almost to hay, where on sports day I discovered the power of my arm in a tennis ball-throwing competition, my aptitude for catching during the rounders match, and where my dreams of becoming a baseball legend germinated; the entire weekends we’d spend on roller skates as if these wheeled boots were merely an extension of our own bodies and nothing like a fall, grazed palms, cut knees, and tears.
I sigh, blow on my tea. It’s rare that I look back with such fondness. I inhale the bergamot; blame it; then, with a twinge of compassion towards my younger self, thank it. I take a tester sip, and to my surprise discover it’s already at a temperature cool enough to drink. I must’ve been reminiscing for longer than I thought.
That summer had turned to autumn eventually, and with it, the return to school, a new collection of textbooks, and a trip to the region’s nuclear power station. On a day grey with endless drizzle, we were led up and down caged staircases, shown switchboards and emergency stop buttons, and ushered into a large metal room that acted as a bunker in case ‘things went wrong’. I gathered more leaflets, these ones preaching the opposite message to those already in my collection. We took a walk out onto the headland to get battered by the wind, and I looked across the sea, wondering what could be out there for me, knowing I didn’t want to end up there, at least.
My teacup sits cold in my hand. The leaves, swollen with water, cling to the bottom, arranged in some pattern, some code. I peer into the cup, try to empty my mind. I focus, desperate now to read what the tea leaves want to tell me about my future, but suddenly my eyes are leaking, and the leaves blur, and I see nothing.
This story was written as an inspiration piece for Mash Stories, a short story competition which gives writers 3 random key words or phrases, and a 500-word limit, to create their best pieces of flash fiction. The key words for this piece were: bunker – tennis ball – animal rights.