John Kelly. Flash fiction by Marta Walz

“John Kelly uses a clean cup every time he has tea, he told me once at Teach Dolmain.” Peter said this to me as I refilled his cup.

“I don’t think he meant at the same sitting,” I replied.

“He did mean that, he told me, ‘I deserve a clean cup every time.’”

“Well, I deserve not to have every cup we own piled in the sink at the end of the day.” I take a sip and follow with, “You and John Kelly can do the dishes yourselves if that’s how you want to drink your tea.”

John Kelly, a seventy-five-year-old bachelor who would bring his accordion to Brennan’s on Monday nights. He’d buy me a drink and tell me how he danced all night in his younger days. Then he’d ask if my mother was single.

He gave me his address the first time I went back to America and I sent him a postcard of Chicago’s skyline. His reply was a card with a donkey on the front.

When I came back to Ireland, over a Guinness, he told me all my cards were on his kitchen table, he looked at them every day. I glanced at Peter and smiled, imagining the table piled high with tea cups. Then John leaned in and whispered, “I’m a bit of a hoarder.” Now, in my imagination, I surround him with books and newspapers, they’re stacked to the ceiling. I wonder how many cups he actually owns. Hundreds?

Today while drinking tea, I think how, even before the lockdown, I stopped going out. Brennan’s cancelled the Monday night trad sessions over a year ago and we get up so early now that Thursday nights at Teach feel impossible. I haven’t seen John for ages. Now the world is sheltering in place, it seems I’ve missed my chance. He’s only a few miles up the road, but I don’t know when I’ll see him again. What if I never do? I drop the biscuit in my hand, run upstairs, and dig a blank card from my stationery box. I sit down with my best pen.

I can’t think of what to write other than I so badly want to share a cup of tea.


Marta Walz is from Utah, teaches in Illinois, and is currently living and writing in Ireland.

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