tea and sympathy
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Proceeding to High Character: Exoneration among the Tea Bags
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Jeremy ought not to have left the boxes in a tousled state. It was bad enough that Bethany had to siphon tea leaves into small, silk sacks, pull tight their draw strings and then package each assemblage into its respective, brightly colored box. Having to also sort those cartons by color was unbearable.

Albeit, Jeremy, like Bethany and most of the rest of the crew worked multiple jobs. His primary employment involved trimming branched away from power lines. Hers involved changing diapers at an afternoon childcare center. He labored the evening shift and then went to sleep. She toiled mornings and then proceeded to her drop-off facility. Throughout the factory, around the clock, fatigued men and women bundled up twigs and grasses so that the owner could bask by the pool of his Myrtle Beach home. On most days, that businessman also played eighteen holes.

Bethany had met Jeremy when she had used her cell phone instead of her clock for an alarm. Arriving at the compilation hall early meant running into the mystery who occupied her stool before her. That fellow smelled like peanut butter on stale crackers and looked, most generously, like an ill-kept mutt. They exchanged pleasantries.

More importantly, after being introduced, when possible, they began to cover for each other. Sleep was a small price, in their downturn economy, for keeping a job.

Months into their arrangement, though, Bethany noticed things. Gum wrappers, fingernail clippings and bits of used dental floss spotted their work station. She surreptitiously brushed those items into her waste receptacle and said nothing to her shift supervisor. Jeremy supported four kids.

A short span latter, Bethany found the photo. That picture awkwardly framed the head and shoulders of a youngish woman decked in a knit winter hat. Her face was not visible, but the back of her jacket read “Class of 1996.” It was Bethany’s hat and jacket.

She considered telling the police, the plant manager and her therapist. In the end, Bethany only confided to her best friend, and only after they had had too many rum and cokes. The friend had nodded, had puked on her own shoes, had cleaned up, and had gone to sleep.

More time passed. The gum wrappers still blossomed, but the dental floss and the fingernail clippings had disappeared. No further photos evidenced Jeremy’s presence. In fact, except for their single face-to-face meeting, all of their communications had been emails and text messages.

Hence, as Bethany reestablished order among the boxes, piling yellows with yellows and greens with greens, she found the note. It read “three cans of tomato soup, one loaf of sliced bread and six onions.” Reaching into her jacket pocket for a pencil, Bethany addended, “one friendship card.”



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