James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and fifty times and has been recognized with many awards. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was granted a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry.
By James Mulhern
“Do you have Nana’s yellow teapot and creamer?” my mother said.
“Beth told me I gave you those pieces a long time ago.”
I checked the cabinets, the closets, and the bins under the bed.
I couldn’t find them though.
But I found the china in my mind, set on a dark table with scratches—
in the center surrounded by pies—apples, blueberries, and pumpkins.
Around the table, my brothers and sister sat, my parents at the ends.
My grandmother poured coffee and passed cups on saucers.
Behind us, Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album played:
“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”
We talked about school, coming proms, past holidays,
when Aunt Jeannie forgot the cranberry sauce that time.
Outside, the snow fell lightly, and the furnace kicked on.
Afterward, my father fell asleep in his living room chair.
We watched that Wonderful Life movie, Mark’s favorite film and song.
My grandmother tapped her glass and smiled. “Another whiskey, dear.”
I don’t remember what happened later. That’s how memories are.
Missing pieces of china. Some break, their ceramic handles crack and fall away.
Other memories take their place. But I won’t think of those things now.
Simply the teapot and the sweetness of that night. The silent calm and the holy bright.