Monday, February 8, 2010
A friend gave us a boxed gift set of two mugs, a canister of loose tea, and a jar of marmalade. The mugs went right into the cupboard. The tea I sampled once and found strangely lacking.
It being English, strong, black tea reminiscent of the brand I drank all my life in Ireland, I expected to find it to my taste. Surprised, I shrugged, fished out my Irish teabags, scraped the new marmalade onto some crisp toast, and forgot all about the loose tea. Spouse and I grew to adore the marmalade, although it possessed less of an orange shade than usual, and, as Spouse said on more than one occasion, a subtle whiskey flavour lingered underneath.
The tea, anyhow, sat on the kitchen table for about a month, until this morning. I picked it up while I waited for my kettle to clatter to tell me that the water had boiled.
I was tempted to give the loose tea another chance. I might, I reasoned, not have been in the appropriate mood that day.
I wavered. The water bubbled and thundered inside the kettle, but, all of a sudden, I was unable to move. I was staring at the label underneath the can, making great efforts to decipher the numbers because, after all, they could not mean what they seemed to mean. The digits swam and swirled before my eyes.
It appeared that the tea had expired in November of 1999, in the decade before last. I had been a teenager; I was in high school. The list was infinite, and my mind was whirling.
No wonder, I said, no wonder I thoroughly disliked the taste.
I carried on making the breakfast. Though startled, I was not so flabbergasted that I had lost my appetite or anything untoward.
And yet. Something, some minor detail was lurking at the back of my mind, bothering me, but it was not until I was pouring the water that the truth wafted to me through the steam. The tea had not been alone in the gift box. There was the set of mugs. No problem there: I had not used them, and they were made of porcelain, hardly a prime candidate for expiration.
But then, oh, then, oh, then, there was the marmalade.
I went to the fridge like a streak of lightning.
My fingers closed around the marmalade jar, the all-too familiar container, now disturbingly half-empty, that we had been using for nigh-on two weeks, daily, slathered thick and brown on our toast.
I wanted to know, did not want to know, but I steeled my nerves and had a glimpse anyway.
There, in tiny, almost-smirking gold letters, was the worst of inscriptions.
I squeezed my eyes shut but all I saw, emblazoned cruelly inside my eyelids, was a number so dreadfully, awfully out of place that I shuddered:
Well, then, no wonder it had an undercurrent of whiskey to it; no wonder it was less than orange: the marmalade was more than twelve years old- and that was just to calculate by the expiration date. Goodness knows when it had been packed and set onto the supermarket shelf. If I were to hazard a guess, I was probably fifteen years old when the marmalade was actually made.
Being a discreet distance from fifteen, I put the jar right back into the fridge and slammed the door on it as though I had trapped a venomous snake in a cupboard.
It is in there yet. One must dispose of such elements with extreme caution. I called Spouse and confessed to him the truth, that we had been consuming marmalade older than a high-school student.
To tell the truth, the new knowledge came as a terrible pity- because for a while there, the marmalade was rather delicious.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:26 PM