Teatime of the Soul

“Well!” said Ailís as she seated herself. The tea things were soaking in the sink, and now that they were both well-lubricated, there was nothing to stop her and her mother from having a nice chat. “Ain’t this nice?”

“Aye, Lís, that it is.” Lilé’s smile was as warm and tender as ever, but her voice was slow, labored. Her breath, too, when she sighed was too raspy for Ailís’s comfort. “Time ter sit a while, slow down. Lord! Ye don’t know how long it’s been since I felt that I had time fer that.”

When was the last time her mother had slowed down? It had been rush, rush, rush since before Ailís was born; she was sure of it. And even once Grady had brought his bride home, Lilé had scarcely a moment to catch her breath. For it was then that Grady had gotten the idea to raise his station, so aside from the normal rush that came with a fertile daughter-in-law and a new baby every couple years, there was the shop and the saving and the everything else. No wonder Lilé was so exhausted all the time. Ailís would be, too, in her shoes.

“But now ye’ve got time, finally. With Katie bein’ old enough ter help out, an’ Berach finally bein’ married an’ havin’ help with Leah, now ye’ve got time fer a quiet chat with the girls.”

“An’ Jake.”

The mention of her son sent Ailís glancing over to the blanket laid out on the floor, but Jake was still lying quietly on it next to Baby Belle. Ailís had to smile to see it. They were an adorable pair. It was almost too bad that Baby Belle would be weaned soon and would go back home, but that was the way of things. Master Wesleyan spent more time with the girl on each and every visit. He’d be happy to have her back home, and Ailís would be happy to not be nursing again.

“Even if Josie’s nappin’,” Lilé chuckled, bringing Ailís’s mind back to the present. “Not that she’d add much ter the talkin’, mind.”

“Probably more than Nellie an’ Nora,” Ailís murmured, nodding to where the two little girls sat on the floor, playing some sort of clapping game. “It were nice o’ ye ter bring her over, though. Ye know how Nellie loves playin’ with her cousins.”

“An’ that’s how it should be. Ye shan’t … ye shan’t ever catch–” Lilé broke off as a cough rose up inside her and forced its way out. “Goodness!”

“Ye all right, Ma?”

” ‘Course I am, it’s jest a cough.”

“Ma …”

“I’m fine, lass.”

“I’ll make ye some honey-an’-ginger tea,” Ailís answered, starting to rise.

“Ailís, don’t be silly! I’m fine. Besides, I already had two cups o’ it before I left the house. I ain’t daft, girl.”

Ailís slowly sat again. “Ye sure?”

“Positive. Now. When d’ye think that Joyce will start gettin’ a belly on her? Good Lord, she an’ Berach have been married fer months already!”

“Ma!” Ailís laughed. “Ye weren’t half this bad with Toinette!”

“That’s cause we lived in the same house, dear, an’ ter be anxious would jest be rude. An’ I ain’t never rude.”

“Not ter folks’ faces, ye’re not.”

“An’ I try not ter be rude behind their backs.”

“But don’t always succeed.”

“Well, I am only a Sim, dear.”

Ailís laughed and her worries about Lilé’s cough fled. She’d not seen her mother this cheerful in — in — well, ever, she supposed. But Lilé had been in a buoyant mood ever since Berach had gotten married. Apparently even her feckless younger brother was good for something.

She smiled and rubbed her mother’s shoulder. Lilé watched that hand with a bemused look. “What?” asked Ailís.

“Ye ain’t usually that affectionate.”

“Ye ain’t usually this peppy.”

“Are ye tryin’ ter tell me somethin’, lass?”

“Jest that it’s a good day. Fer both of us, apparently.”

“Aye,” Lilé sighed. “It is a good day. Toinette’s baby started off the day kickin’, ye know. An’ fer once Grandma got ter feel the belly. Guess the fun wore off fer the big sibs.”

“I’d think especially so fer Katie. She’s been feelin’ Toinette’s belly since Paddy was kickin’ around inside. She must be gettin’ right sick o’ it by now.”

“Nonsense. I’ve been feelin’ Toinette’s belly since Katie was kickin’ inside it, an’ I’ve been feelin’ yer belly since Nellie was kickin’ inside it, an’ I hope ter be feelin’ Joyce’s belly before long. That never gets old.”

“Bah, Ma, it’s different fer a grandmother. Fer a mother, even, feelin’ it from inside her –”

“Oh, there’s no feelin’ in the world like that,” sighed Lilé.

“I know,” agreed Ailís. And when Jake and Baby Belle were weaned, perhaps she too would be feeling that soon. She rubbed her own belly for luck before looking back at her mother. “But it’s not like that fer a big sib. Fer big sibs, every new baby is a new source o’ bother. It ain’t till they’re older that they start likin’ their sibs. At the beginnin’, it’s jest another reason fer their ma an’ da ter pay less attention ter them.”

Lilé blinked. “Was — was it like that fer ye? With Berach?”

“What? Ma! Berach an’ I are barely a year apart, not even! I don’t remember life before Berach.”

“Aye …” Lilé sighed. “Aye, ye wouldn’t.”

“What’s that sigh fer?”

“Oh … I don’t know. I jest, now that I’m older …” She glanced over her shoulder at the playing girls. “Katie got some time ter be the baby. Ter be her parents’ biggest concern fer a while. The one they worry the most about an’ cuddle an’ play with the most. Paddy, Nora, Sean — they did too. Lord knows Leah got her time as the baby. An’ yer own kids — Nellie an’ Josie an’ –”

“Not Jake!” Ailís pointed out, forcing herself to laugh and trying thereby to coax her mother into laughing too. “He was scarce a few weeks old before Baby Belle moved in on his territory!”

“That’s different, that’s … that’s like bein’ twins. Nobody can help when twins come around. It’s the Lord Wright’s will.”

Ailís raised one eyebrow. “An’ me an’ Berach bein’ so close together wasn’t?”

“Weren’t jest the Lord Wright’s will, anyway. It takin’ two ter tango an’ all that.”

“All right, first of all, no more talkin’ about tangoin’, at least as it’s about ye an’ Da!”

“Oh, Lís, ye’re a bright girl. Ye know we must’ve tangoed at least three times.” Lilé rolled her eyes. She looked over her shoulder again at the giggling girls. “It’s jest … Lís, I hope when ye get ter the end o’ yer life, ye don’t have no … regrets like I have.”

Ailís slowed down. Took a deep breath. Blinked a few times. Several responses came to mind. She weighed them individually, rejecting this one for being too blunt, that too subtle, the next too joking, the last too serious. She finally found one adequate. “Ma … what d’ye mean, the end o’ yer life?”

Lilé only smiled and patted Ailís’s hand.

“Ma!”

“Sweetheart, what d’ye want me ter say? That I’m going ter live ferever? When ye get ter my time o’ life, ye’ll understand. Ye’ll realize … well … that a woman with as many white hairs in her head as I have has more of her sands at the bottom of the hourglass than at the top.”

“Ye’ve still got a good few years left ter run.”

“Perhaps. It’s in the Lord Wright’s hands.” But even though her voice was light and easy, Lilé’s face was so drawn, so tired …

There were many things she could have said right then. Later, Ailís would wonder what might have happened if she had said them. But no matter what she wondered, at the end she forced herself to conclude that she had said the best possible thing. It was something designed to make her mother feel better deep down in her soul. Anything meant to comfort another Sim like that had to be the right thing to say.

“Well!” Ailís laughed. “If me an’ Berach bein’ so close tergether is the worst o’ yer regrets, I’d say ye won’t have much ter regret!”

Even if the remark failed abysmally in its stated purpose, it had to be right to make the attempt.

Lilé’s face slowly fell. “Oh, Ailís … ye think that’s the worst of it?”

“Ma, ye’ve been a good, kind, Wright-fearin’ woman fer as long as I’ve known ye. An’, if ye don’t mind me sayin’, I’ve known ye fer a good long time.”

“Not as long as ye think ye have. When I was young … yer father, yer brother …”

“Oh, fer the good Lord’s sake, Ma! Who cares after all these years if Grady were made on the wrong side o’ the blanket?”

“That don’t make it less of a sin.”

Ailís took a deep breath. A thousand words crowded into her mouth. She wanted — so badly! — to point out that if all sins had such good consequences as Lilé’s, the monks and nuns would be preaching in its favor and not against it. Where would Ailís and Berach and Grady himself be without that sin? Without that sin, there’d be no Katie, no Paddy, no Nora, no Sean, no Leah — and what was worst of all, no Nellie, no Josie, no Jake!

But Lilé was smart enough to work that all out herself. No. “Well, so ye did sin. We all do. An’ ye did the right thing after, didn’t ye? Ye did yer penance, ye married Pa, ye didn’t sin in that way again. Ye made a family an’ a home fer Grady an’ fer me an’ Berach. Ye took care o’ Pa the way a good wife should. An’, Ma …” Ailís rubbed the back of her mother’s bony, slack hand. “If it bothers ye so much, why don’t ye talk ter Brother Tuck about it? Or Mother Julian. I wager they’d say the same thing I jest said.”

Lilé closed her eyes. Her hands slipped from Ailís’s weak grasp to run through her grayed and tired hair. “Lís … yer pa’s a drunk.”

“I’ve noticed,” was all Ailís could reply.

“I didn’t help him.”

“Nonsense. If it weren’t fer ye, he’d be a drunk in an alley somewhere, sleepin’ in his own piss an’ spending every last farthin’ he could beg on whatever ale-flavored water he could find. If he weren’t dead yet. Ye were the savin’ o’ him, Ma.”

“If he’d been in that alley,” Lilé shrugged, “we woulda been there with ‘im. I couldn’t let that happen ter ye kids.”

“So? Ye still saved ‘im. What, ye think there’s a saint on the calendar who didn’t have two reasons fer doin’ his miracles? Even St. Robert himself cured some o’ his best friends ’cause he didn’t want them dead yet!”

“It’s not the same … listen, honey. He weren’t like that when we first knew each other, ye see? Oh, sure he loved the bottle as much as anyone, an’ maybe more than he should’ve, but … he weren’t a drunk. It weren’t … it weren’t until he came back from the war that he got so bad.”

“Ma, that war broke a lot of men, from what ye say. Ye ain’t ter blame fer that.”

“It weren’t jest that … it were … he was slippin’, ye see? I could see he was slippin’. An’ at first … when it would have done some good … I didn’t do a thing ter help him. There …” She glanced over her shoulder, but the girls were still laughing and giggling and seeming to not pay a bit of mind to what they were saying. “I never told nobody about this, ye hear? Nobody except Brother Tybalt, our monk. When … when yer pa was gone fer so long, we all thought he was dead. An’ there was another man in our village … a butcher. Oh, he was indentured like the rest o’ us, but he had a good shop an’ made a good livin’. He didn’t go ter the wars because he broke his leg once an’ it never healed right. An’ he … after it had been years with no word from the men, he started payin’ attention ter me. Me! It weren’t proper courtin’, not yet, but … but we was talkin’, an’ thinkin’, an’ he would have apprenticed Grady an’ left the shop ter him if we’d had no sons! He’d apprentice him either way an’ give him a good trade! Oh, it was gonna be so grand! An’ then …”

“An’ then?” she asked, even though she knew what the answer would be.

“Yer Pa came home.”

“An’ nothin’ happened between ye an’ the butcher?”

“Aye, but –“

“But nothin’!” Ailís tried to smile. “Ye thought ye were a widow-woman. Ye were left alone fer years. Ye saw a good chance comin’ up, an’ ye took it — but ye moved right slow, an’ ye were stopped before ye could sin. There ain’t no harm in that!”

“Oh, Lís, ye think I’d be tearin’ myself up over that? No, no! It were … it were …”
She looked over her shoulder again, satisfied herself that the girls were playing and … if someone could collapse while still sitting upright, Lilé would have done that. Her shoulders sagged and she cradled her head in her hands. “I hated him when he came back! I hated him fer ruinin’ everythin’! Again! An’ when he was drinkin’, I didn’t stop him, because — because I thought if he drank himself inter an early grave, it’d serve him right!”

Ailís could only blink. Even gasping was beyond her.

“An’ then … an’ then …” Lilé shook. “An’ then ye were on the way. An’ it weren’t jest me an’ Grady no more. There were ye, too. So — so I had ter try to drag him out o’ the grave he was diggin’ fer himself. Except, ye see, I’d left it too long, an’ there was no gettin’ him out unless he wanted out.”

“But he didn’t.” It was not a question.

“No,” Lilé agreed. “So I got ye an’ Grady an’ later Berach well out o’ range o’ any flyin’ dirt, an’ I let yer father keep on diggin’.” Lilé ruffled her hair. “It’s awful ter say all that, ain’t it? But it’s true. An’ … well, somebody ought ter know the truth. The good an’ the bad o’ it. Horrible as it is.”

Ailís swallowed. “I understand.”

“The truth has ter be worth somethin’,” Lilé murmured to the tabletop. “If it ain’t … then what is?”

“Love?” Ailís croaked.

“Perhaps. Perhaps. But … there’s so many false loves pretendin’ ter be true, it ain’t worth it ter go ter the market with that coin. Ye’re better off bringin’ somethin’ else ter barter with.”

“Didn’t ye love us, Ma?”

Lilé looked up and smiled. It was the same tired smile Ailís remembered from her earliest childhood — no, from her cradle. “Sweetheart, if there weren’t no true love, what would all the false ones be pretendin’ ter be?”

“Oh. True.”

Lilé’s eyes narrowed. “Are ye all right, Ailís?”

“O’course, Ma,” she replied. And gulped.

“Lís …”

“It’s gettin’ late,” Ailís interrupted, and stood. “Ye an’ Nora have a long walk ahead o’ ye.”

Lilé watched her face, but after a moment that seemed like an eternity, she nodded and stood up. “Nora! Say goodbye ter Nellie. We’ve got ter get home.” She looked again at Ailís with a trembling smile. “Now, where’s that baby?”

So while the two girls squeezed the life out each other, Lilé waved and cooed and otherwise made a fool of herself with Jake. Every now and then her eyes would flicker up to Ailís face, and just as regularly they would fall again. When Lilé finally straightened her back with many slow cracks, her eyes were beseeching. “Ailís?”

“I’m fine, Ma.” Or I will be. Sooner or later.

“Honey …”

“Auntie! I wanna say goodbye ter baby Jake, too!”

Ailís turned Jake to his big cousin with a smile. “O’ course ye can, Nora! Gettin’ used ter babies again before yer ma’s new one comes?”

“I guess,” Nora replied. “But I don’t remember when Sean was a little-little baby.”

“It’ll come back ter ye,” Ailís murmured. However, it was her mother she watched.

She hugged Nellie with a fierceness that had to be just shy of painful. How Ailís knew this … it was a memory too vague, too shadowy to really be that. Maybe it was only a dream. It certainly had been a dream at many points in her life. A dream of being small and hot and miserable, her very insides burning her up, and her mother holding her and rocking her and crying into her hair.

She’d been sickly as a little girl; Grady had told her that. She didn’t remember it; she’d gotten mostly well once the family moved to Albion and she had regular access to enough good food to fill her belly, fresh air to fill her lungs, and clean lodgings to ensure that a stray cold didn’t ruin the effects of the other two. But she knew there had been times when Brother Tybalt and Lilé had despaired of her life. She thought, perhaps, that that memory came from one of those times.

But Nellie had never been sickly; she had her father’s oxlike constitution. And so she had never been so hugged. She staggered away from her grandmother a little dazed once it was done.

Lilé shot Ailís a smile, then put her hand on Nora’s shoulder and walked her out the door.

Ailís scarcely had a chance to close the door behind their passing and put Jake back on his blanket before Nellie quavered, “Mama?”

“Aye, baby?” Never, Ailís thought, no matter how old I get, no matter how tired I feel — she will never know any times when I didn’t love Neil the way I ought ter have. He’s her father! She don’t need ter know about the troubles we’ve had an’ will have!

“Nora says Grandma’s sick.”

Ailís spun and stood in the same fluid motion. “Eh?”

“She says she’s coughin’ a lot. An’ she has ter stay in bed long times. Except when she has ter work. Nora says that she hears her ma an’ pa talkin’ at night, that they’re worried. Mama …” Nellie bit her lip the way Neil did when he was scared or nervous. “Mama, is Grandma gonna die?”

“I …” Ailís crouched down and smoothed her daughter’s fine hair back from her forehead. Her face was all Neil’s, and more beautiful than she had ever thought Neil’s face could be on a woman.

And she realized something. Lilé may have once sworn that her children would never know her hardships, too. But after so many years of being battered by the storm, she had to release a little of the pressure or crash on the rocks. At least Ailís had been strong enough and close enough to take some of that pressure.

And perhaps Lilé’s legacy could be that she had produced a daughter strong enough to keep that promise.

But that daughter loved the truth as Lilé loved it. So Ailís replied only, “I don’t know, baby. But tonight we’ll pray that the Lord Wright keeps Grandma with us fer a good long time. An’ if he don’t need any more angels at the moment, Grandma will be right fine.”

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10 thoughts on “Teatime of the Soul

  1. It’s so sad that Lilé has so many regrets. I suppose that’s kinda natural at the end of your life to regret things. I suppose, also, that that’s the worst part of wars, the way they ruin people.

    Hopefully Lilé has a few more years in her, it’d be great if she could see Joyce and Berach’s kid(s). But somehow I doubt that’s gonna happen. I hope, but I doubt.

    And Ailís came in for some shocks, I think, but I’m glad she listened. And bah, Lilé is not to blame for Finley. You can stop an ass from being an ass. You can’t wish a tabby-cat’s stripes off of him.

    • I think some regrets are natural, but I honestly think that Lilé is too hard on herself in some ways. Instead of being glad she raised three great kids with minimal help from Finley, she thinks of all the things she could have done better. The guilt stems not so much from the fact that she didn’t succeed in helping Finley, but that she doesn’t consider herself to have tried.

      Oh, Lilé with more grandkids! That would be so cute. Since she hasn’t killed Katie or Paddy yet, she’d be awesome with anything Berach and Joyce produced. However, who knows if she’ll be around to see that …

      Finley’s an ass, all right, but Lilé feels more guilt that he’s an alcoholic and (in her mind) she didn’t do anything to stop that from happening. You might not be able to wish a tabby cat’s stripes off, but you can change his milk.

      • Not if he can just go find himself another milk source. 😛 I know alcoholics, I come from a long line of them. (Which is why I don’t really drink, cause I have all the right personality cues and the family history to be a huge alcoholic.) If Finley wanted to drink there was nothing that Lilé could have done to stop him.

        In fact there’s nothing to say that it wouldn’t have been worse if she’d tried to stop him!

        If she had tried, more than likely it just would have come out in abusiveness. He’d have beaten her and her kids. And would she have been better off if she’d died from some stupid something or crippled because of it? Really?

        Finley can be cruel. Just look at what he’s done a few times around. Do you really think that if Lilé had stood between him and the booze he wouldn’t have made her life hell?

        He’s an addict. Addicts care about one thing and one thing only, getting their next fix. Anesthetizing the pain, putting that film between them and the world. If he didn’t want to wake up and sober up, he wouldn’t have.

        Finley put Finley where he is, not Lilé. And it’s sad that some of her biggest regrets come from not saving him when he’s the only one who could save himself.

        • But Lilé thinks there was a window of opportunity — shortly after Finley came back from the wars, but before she got pregnant with Ailís — where she could have done something. Most people don’t descend into full-blown alcoholism overnight. Finley was already a heavy drinker when they first got together, and so he did have some risk factors for alcohol abuse/alcoholism. But Lilé can’t be expected to have understood that, given “the times” and her limited education.

          What she thinks — and I’m not saying that she’s right — is that there was a time when she could have stepped in and helped Finley not depend on the bottle so much. She thinks she could have been a better wife to him after he came home from the wars. She even says here that part of her was hoping he’d drink himself into an early grave and that she let him keep digging that grave. It’s not so much that she regrets not succeeding in helping him battle his demons. She regrets not trying.

          You’re absolutely right that it could have been worse if she’d tried. (Though for the record, Grady at least has shown memories/fears of Finley being physically abusive.) But that’s logic and a 21st-century perspective talking. Lilé isn’t speaking with her logic bone, she’s speaking with her emotions. She feels that she did wrong, that she could have done better. Whether she’s right or not — who knows? But that’s how she feels.

  2. ‘“Oh, there’s no feelin’ in the world like that,” sighed Lilé’ *happy sigh* Very true; there isn’t. 🙂

    Oh, poor Lilé and her family! I hope I don’t have the same regrets when I’m older. And I hope Ailis doesn’t, either. Good on her for deciding that Nellie is strong enough to know the truth, though she softened it a little bit.

    • I can only imagine — but I bet it’s a great feeling. (Until the baby is keeping you up all night with the kicking. My mother claims I did that to her. She dealt with it by turning over so I would kick my dad’s back too.)

      I think we’ll have to see how Ailís’s life turns out to see what regrets she has. She’s still rather young, and things have gone well for her so far. It’s probably when you’re facing some kind of adversity that you do (or don’t do) the things you’ll regret the most. 🙂 So — we’ll see what happens as life goes on!

      Thanks guys!

      • Kitten never kicked me that much, or maybe I just slept through it? I’m a crazy deep sleeper. *laugh* Apparently she woke her dad all the time, though. 🙂

  3. No! Lilé can’t die, she’s awesome. I’m just off to do some calculating, work out how long she’ll live if she only gets to the minimum age of a peasant… 😦 She’s 52, so it all depends on the dice and the plot. Potentially, though, she could live to 61, which is a good nine years more. *crosses fingers* Come on, dice. At least let her see Joyce and Berach’s first kid.

    Other than that, I think Ailís responded very well, even if Lilé’s list of regrets was quite surprising. Ailís and Nellie’s scene at the end was very touching. It’s extremely sad that Lilé blames herself for Finley’s problems, especially as, considering his personality, I doubt it’s her fault at all. As Andavri said, he most likely would have hit out physically and twisted it into a cruelty as we have seen him do before. But unfortunately I doubt Lilé’s mind will be changed at this late stage, if she’s spent this long thinking it’s her own fault. 😦

    Emma x

    • Crap. I changed how I worked my deaths. I just rolled a random death date for everybody, so that making it to the elder years is no longer a guarantee. I kept maximum ages for the classes (for the most part), but other than that people can die at any point in time.

      That doesn’t even count plot-related deaths.

      Ailís does have a very good head on her shoulders — Lilé shocked her but she was able to keep it together. I wouldn’t expect anything less of her. And I think it did Lilé good to get some of those worries and regrets off her chest, to somebody who would understand and not scold her for them.

      And yeah, Finley’s alcoholism is pretty much on Finley’s shoulders. You can’t fix people. You can’t make an alcoholic stop drinking — (s)he’ll stop when (s)he wants to stop. Lilé did the best she could. She just doesn’t see it that way.

      Thanks Emma!

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