Ever Starbloom

It takes me a few minutes to break through this customer’s brittle shell of courtesy, but at last the reason for the almost tangible cloud of sadness surrounding her erupts out.

“I’m just so tired all the time,” she confesses miserably. “I don’t even like what I’m doing, but I don’t have the option of leaving, and I’m just trying to keep up with, you know, eating and doing my dishes and then I just have nothing left. And I know this sounds stupid, and privileged, but—I was going to be an artist. I thought I was an artist; I thought I was special. But now even if I make myself sit down and try nothing happens, like everything interesting about me is just—spent. I just feel… trapped, and alone, and like nothing I do will ever matter.” She gives me a shaky smile. “I don’t suppose you have any tea for that?”

Striving for meaning, feeling trapped—I see the echo of myself so clearly in this woman my heart hurts.

“Not in the way you mean,” I finally say. “But if you will allow me, I think I have the tea for you regardless. If you’ll give me a few minutes?”

She nods, looking down.

She doesn’t believe there’s any help for her.

After surveying the front with a critical eye, I confer briefly with Meristo, who nods gravely, and then head to the back and Lorwyn.

“I need you to back Meristo and me up with tea brewing for a little while,” I tell her, turning an un-filed packing list over so I can sketch out the layout of the front. “Meristo will manage the front, and when he brings you the orders, these are the ingredients—or the type, at any rate; substitute sweetbean for vanilla and so on as appropriate—that should be added to their orders to adjust.”

“Why exactly are you interrupting my work for this?” Lorwyn asks as I search around for the tea I need.

“Because I’m going to be sitting with a customer for a time to help her feel less alone,” I say.

“And you’re not going to just give her a tea for that why?” Lorwyn asks.

“Because that feeling will fade fast, being produced from external causes,” I say. “This is a person who needs to feel something real. For a little while, at least, I can make sure she understands there is at least a single person in the world who cares about her.”

Lorwyn stares at me for a moment and finally sighs. She reaches behind a set of tins on the shelf and pulls out the one I’ve been looking for. “Here.”


 

I present the tea in a clear glass pot, and the customer watches the tea flowers unfurl inside.

“A blooming tea?” she asks.

“Keep watching,” I say.

Because moments later it shifts, like all the petals have rearranged to form a many-pointed star.

Then again, like a snowflake.

And again, and again.

Her eyes widen, and she stares, mesmerized.

“We call this Ever Starbloom,” I say softly. “It is constantly changing, like our lives and our selves, even though it’s all of a piece. There is no way to predict what shape it will take next, but every moment is always worth attending to.”

She glances up at me and then back to the pot, her eyes filling with tears.

“Please,” I say as I set a cup of tea in front of her, “tell me about your art.”


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