Monocle is for M
The little bell tinkles a half-tone brighter when Maximilian walks in. He dresses like an English gent, but his is not English. Nor is he wearing the monocle when he enters the tea shop. As if flourishing a cape, he strolls with drama, elongated arm swings aside his lengthy strides. He has no cape, but the finely-tailored suit would look so-much-the-better if he had. His crisp shirts are monogrammed on the pocket, an M bookended by fleurs-de-lis. There's even a special pocket in the pocket for the monocle.
Ask him his name and he'll answer it fully, neither Max or Maxi. Friends may call him M, yet he's never brought a friend to the tea shop. He leaves with one quite often.
He and I have a standing joke. It comes after I ask what kind of tea he wants. "Oolong," he says, rattling off the country of origin he prefers that day. M knows tea and the perfect steeping time fore each variety, but he loves this little moment. I'll ask him how many minutes the Shui Xian should steep? "Ooo. Long." He says and laughs his one loud ha.
Now the monocle. It glints from his pocket; the half arch of lens, ringlet and chain, protruding like a tethered sunrise. M sweeps his manicured pinkie under the slack of chain, then, reeling in his catch, pinches the ringlet at the apex of its arc. M holds the monocle in brief concentration to read the chalked list of fresh baked goods. Warm butter cookies are his favorite, and no other sweets seem to tempt him.
Except the ladies.
M sits at the tiny table farthest from the door, and adjusts the fold of the linen napkin. He moves the teaspoon, cup and saucer to their proper places and waits for the teapots. Two of them. At the very peak of steep, he strains leaves by pouring from one pot to the other. I can see his lips move beneath the pencil-thin mustache, a silent chant to accompany transfer of liquids. As the stream reduces to a meager trickle, his eyes close with reverence. To the empty pot he nods thanks, the same to the full. The sacrament closes with one last embellishment: M takes the monocle and holds it over the steaming pot of tea. With a figure-eight motion, which is either a sign of infinity or the most efficient method to fog the lens, he oscillates the eyepiece, and cleans it with his spotless handkerchief.
M twists the monocle into the squint below his bushy brow, and eyes the patrons in the tea shop, lingering on each woman. I quietly remove the empty pot and place the top on the full one. M rests his fingertips gently atop the vessel as one might the planchette of a Ouija board. A pleased grin curls his cheeks, his long lashes flick the monocle. The tea remains uncupped until one woman meets his eye.
Only then he pours.
DL Shirey has had several fiction and non-fiction pieces published, most recently in Zetetic, Unbound Octavo and The Literary Hatchet. He writes from Portland, Oregon, where it's now raining, most likely. You can find more of his writing at http://bit.ly/DLShirey.