It was the old china that sold it to most people. There was a recession, or something; something which meant that you knew you ought to cook up enough dinner that you have leftovers to spare for lunch the next three days running, rather than going to the café down the road to pay for something fresh and healthy that didn’t taste like the smell of what you’d been excavating when you first woke up on the last two mornings.
Even if you were being paid exactly the same as you’d been paid the last few years, and even if the groceries hadn’t really gone up in price in any way you particularly noticed – at least, Tim Tams cost the same as they always did, and that was the most important thing, really, because who buys apples anyway - and even if you hadn’t been able to afford a car, ever, so the fact that the price of petrol was being pushed in your face now didn’t really register: even then, the serious faces on TV made it pretty clear that you ought to be penny pinching - which sounded a bit unnecessary, at best, and abusive, at worst - otherwise you were, beyond all doubt, the worst kind of spend-thrift, and the government was shaking a fat, heavy finger at you, somewhere.
The thing is, everything felt the same, but everyone everywhere was saying that it was different, and who were you to really know? You studied Classics at university, for fucks sake, so if someone wanted you to positively identify the painter of a particular volute krater, or pinpoint exactly in which books in The Odyssey Odysseus fucks his wife, then you were the go-to, the authority, but as for the graphs on television, and the old grey-beards dolefully casting their eyes downwards, and this dollar compared to that dollar compared to the price of a fucking grapefruit: not an area of expertise.
Or interest, really. Because, the riots in Egypt and Syria and anywhere else were a long fucking way away. And, yeah, the riots in London struck a little bit closer to home because the hoodlum carrying the laptop stacked on top of the camera and still managing to raise a hand to flip off the camera-man walked just like that best friend of your little brother, but still. New Zealand was ten different shitty things but it was isolated. And sparsely populated. And any riot mentality that Twitter or Facebook, or whatever medium you chose through which to look at topless photos of 17 year olds, could inspire still wouldn’t manage to raise the hackles of more than a few thousand angry teenagers at any one time because there were only a thousand of them there and most of them were busy looking at topless photos of 17 year olds anyway.
Things fell apart all the time, and this was nothing but the truth even if it sounded like an exaggeration because there were pictures and stories everywhere illustrating the very fact of the falling and you could see the tsunami in real-time with your own two blue eyes, if you wanted to, except that tonight was the night that you had specifically put aside to try nail art for the first time, and you can’t properly follow an internet tutorial with one eye on a wave eating thousands of people because nails are fucking small, as a canvas, and you didn’t want to fuck it up because you already promised that you’d post it on your blog as soon as it was done, and backing out on promises like that was not the way to gain new followers.
Things fell apart all the time, but there was something in the fabric of the universe that kept the pieces close, it seemed, so that they didn’t get swept away, or buried, but just remained, most of the time, mimicking their own fracture until someone new came along and put them back together, glued along the joins just so, and then it was fine again, until it wasn’t again, but there was always someone new, just coming along, just in a minute, shortly.
Things would never be fixed, though, exactly, because just as sure as there was a fixer coming along was the certainty of a breaker, someone tall and blonde with a gun and a political purpose, shooting everything twice to make sure it was good and dead, and that was just one of the breakers, there were millions of them, weren’t there? The equal and opposite of the fixer, because no one ever made a yin without a yang, there was never a protagonist unless there was an antagonist, because you couldn’t have one without the other, because there wouldn’t be a point, and there’s never anything quite as bad as not having a purpose, and anyone with a degree in Classics and an affinity for the volute krater knows that, through and through.
Just as there were breakers because there were fixers, accompanying the recession had to be a concession, a concession to the fact that maybe things were falling apart, again, like they did the last time, but didn’t we all survive it the last time, and the concession that you would make, as far as you were concerned, was the eating of the little sweet things on the old china.
Because it was the fact of the old china: you could drink your coffee, or your Japanese lime green tea out of any old thick brown china mug, the same as all the cafes had, any old time, knowing, but forgetting, just how many thick lips and wet tongues had been pressed to the same rims, and how many dirty fingers had crept around the inner edge, sweeping out the last residues of foam, sweetness, bitterness. You could do that without the feeling of reward, and pleasure, because it was just another thing you needed because, we’re 70% water, or whatever it is, except that you never see the water. There’s only the blood, or the snot, or the piss, or all the other liquids that you spill, accidentally, the cup just being too damn full to hold steady, day to day. The body holds onto its water, guards it like a jealous secret, even though you’d think, being 70% comprised thereof, you’d have a little to spare, but isn’t it always the most wealthy people who chase up the change, and pinch their pennies, no matter how much it hurts?
The concession was that because the little cakes, and the little sandwiches, and the little scones were served on the thin old china, it was something special. It was a treat. You could sip the tea, steeped through the old, dead leaves, and because your lips met on something older, older than you, and older than the leaves, that made this concession something sweeter.
And, because, you paid through the nose for it, more than you’d ever considered paying when you popped in for a coffee and a sandwich in between writing another thousand words on another piece of buried clay, another shard of something shattered, one of the things that never came back together, it tasted sweeter, that cucumber sliced like a dissection, so that you could peer through it, greenly, if you wanted to, but you didn’t because this was English, dammit, this was proper, the Queen did it, daily, and so you put the white bread and the green vegetable into your mouth, and ignored the fact that it was more or less the same texture and taste of sucking on moss; because of that, you enjoyed it more than it deserved.
It could have been the shame, or the daringness, of paying $30 dollars for something you could have made yourself for less than a bus fare, when the world was falling apart, and the tall black man with the handsome face stood in front of the cameras everyday looking thinner, and greyer, with the pure exhaustion of being the fixer where everyone else is backing the breaker; but mostly it was the old china.
The thing was, that in a world where people spend years of their lives digging things up that were buried for a reason, and analyzing things that were, in the end, nothing more than a vessel for something more important, it had survived. So many things break. Everything breaks. But you could hold it in your hands, and the flowers were painted with the thinnest brush, a brush you couldn’t even hold between fingers clenched and clawed from typing ‘topless 17 year olds’ into whatever search engine that had a verb named after it most recently, and they were gold and pink and red, and you knew exactly how tiring it must have been to paint those flowers because painting a leopard print on every nail of your ten fingers had taken nearly two hours, and then you’d smudged two of them anyway because your flat-mate wouldn’t undo the fly of your jeans for you to go to the toilet because of that one time, and you were drunk anyway, but she hadn’t forgotten, and a plate was surely an easier surface than a finger nail, but: they were so perfect. And it wasn’t just a plate, but a saucer, and a cup, and they were matched, of a set, and no one had ever broken any of them, and if that wasn’t a miracle in the order of loaves and fishes – in the order of dishes, haha – then what was?
You could believe in the existence of fixers, when you held the cup by its tiny handle, pinched awkwardly between a thumb and forefinger, with your pinky extended because that’s how the Queen did it, godammit, and even if William was gone, there was still Harry, which meant that there was still hope of a tiara, and why didn’t Kate ever wear a tiara, because you would wear one every day if it didn’t look so weird to wear a tiara on a bus, even if it was one of those new ones that ran off electricity?
The point is this: you have to eat. You have to drink. You’re 70% water, but you won’t be indefinitely.
You’re not part of a matched set, exactly, but the guy next to you on the bus has the same weirdly pointed forefinger, and your sister has exactly the same way of moving her nose when she’s confused, and so if we’re not a matched set, exactly, then we’re certainly part of one of those Venn diagrams you never understood in biology at school, where parts overlap, and share color, and parts stay true in and of themselves, and so that’s worth sustaining, isn’t it? That’s worth drinking to.
And if you have to drink, if you have to water this thing to watch it grow, then by far the best way of doing it is to do it out of a cup that was made fifty, one hundred, however many years ago, because if you could drop it on the floor, and break it, if it were as simple as all that to ruin something that had never, ever been ruined before, then it was worth paying that little extra – or that lot extra, because cucumbers don’t even taste like anything, and are scones always this dry? – to make something of it, a to-do, to fashion something of a celebration of the simple act of sustenance, because if it could last, that matched set, then you might last, then there might be hope for that whole desperate collection of us who aren’t fixers, exactly, and who only occasionally fall prey to the instinct to break.