Written on a Mug
Isabella Jia Dunsby
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul Foreign School
Mrs. Weobley opened the wooden cupboard, pulled out a gleaming mug, and ran it under the tap. The faint tinkle of water engulfing the glass’s surface soothed her. She listened to it and smiled. She could see the neighborhood children climbing the trees in the front yard.
She squirted some dish soap onto a yellow sponge and slathered it all over her mug. She scrubbed at its forest green surface, digging especially hard over the small cracks in the glaze. She felt the smooth bumps of the letters on its center. How beautifully her mug glimmered in the morning sunlight. She loved it.
“Jude, dear, drink this. It’s the pomegranate juice Ms. Dupont used to bring from France. She’s back in town again. Now tell me, what’d you say to Mr. Laurier about the loan?”
“I haven’t gone to see him.” Jude stared inside the mug his mother had given him and set it down on the kitchen counter.
“Time…and…all sorts of—”
“What do you mean by time? I haven’t seen you out of this house at all since you were let off.”
“I know, I know. I just can’t figure out what to say to him. It’s too much, it’s too much.” Jude put his head in his hands and sighed.
“What is, Jude?”
“Oh. Mr. Laurier will understand, don’t you worry. We need this off our shoulders, Jude, it’s better to do it sooner than later.”
“It’s not that easy. It’s not… What am I going to do?”
“Ring him up tomorrow morning. The sooner we pay off the debt the sooner we can buy the new car for when your father comes home.”
Mrs. Weobley turned to the cabinet and picked out a sea-green glass for herself. As she poured the juice, she watched Jude’s dark eyes dwindle and close, his wan face resting on his palm. “Drink the juice. You’re too frail, dear.”
“I’m tired. I’ll be off to bed now.”
“Do it tomorrow, Jude!”
Mrs. Weobley set her mug on the floor of the dishwasher. Her vision blurred, and she felt a warm tear erupt from her eyelid as she reminisced. What if I’d listened? She turned around and saw him, his faint, shriveled, lost figure leaning on the counter. That day, she recalled, he had decided it would be her who would have to talk to the bank officer. The dead couldn’t receive loans.
Mrs. Weobley looked into her mug. She’d sworn it had just been in the dishwasher seconds ago, but she didn’t even know how long seconds lasted anymore. The mug was filled with crimson red liquid, the kind she hated. She reached for the soap again and scrubbed at the red stains on the inside of the cup.
She heard a faint rattle on her door. She hated to leave her mug, which was still stained by horrid marks of pomegranate, but the rattle was getting louder each second. “Mrs. Weobley! Mrs. Weobley!” The boys in her front yard had tired out from playing football.
“Come on in, boys,” Mrs. Weobley replied, turning the creaky doorknob. “Scooby-Doo oughtta be on. Let me get you some chocolate milk first.” As the boys sprawled across her velvet couches, Mrs. Weobley retreated to her kitchen and ran her green mug under the sink, along with two white ones. The glistening red hue of pomegranate disappeared as she poured in Nestlé chocolate milk.
“Yes!” the boys exclaimed, cheekily grinning as they grabbed their glasses. Mrs. Weobley strolled back to the kitchen and peered out the window. Her hands jittered uncomfortably by her side. Gusts of wind circulated in and out of the trees in her front yard. The soccer ball the boys had played with nestled solemnly in the tall grass. After a few minutes, Scooby-Doo’s loud voice faded into the background.
“Mrs. Weobley! Has my easel arrived?”
Mrs. Weobley could hear Liam enter the front door.
“Come into the kitchen, I’m in here!”
She reached over to the cabinet and grabbed the closest mug.
“It’s here?” Liam strutted into the kitchen and dumped his school bag onto the island.
“It’s coming tomorrow. Just you wait, Liam! It's beautiful.”
Mrs. Weobley handed Liam the mug. Liam drank, and dark brown milk stains coated his small mouth. “Where are your parents right now, dear?”
“Mom is at the laundromat. Probably won’t be home until after dinner. I told her I’m at Sam’s right now doing homework. Dad’s probably still at the post office.”
“Great, we’ve got all evening!”
“To paint, of course.”
“But we only paint on Thursdays! I thought today was for piano.”
“Liam, you’ve got your application due next week! You can’t miss it.”
“I thought that wasn’t serious. I can’t do it, Mrs. Weobly.”
“You can’t apply to college?”
“Sure you can, and you’re going. The applications will be here next Tuesday. Well not here, I’ve got to visit the postal office.”
“No, I can’t paint. They’re going to be so angry with me.”
“Your parents? Forget about them. You’ll get in, you’ll become the greatest artist of all time, and you’ll be more successful than they ever thought you could be.”
“C’mon, drink the last sip so I can give you some of this pomegranate juice Ms. Dupont brought over the other day.”
Scooby Doo pierced Mrs. Weobley’s ears again, along with high-pitched cackling. Mrs. Weobley was startled when she looked down to see her mug in her hands, its interior coated in brown. Perhaps she had visited the children.
She hadn’t even been able to pour Liam his pomegranate juice, she recalled. His mother had called, demanding him home from the old lady’s house. Where is Liam now? she thought. He’d dropped out of art school, she was sure. A couple of years back, she received a report card from a rehabilitation center in New Jersey. He must have written her name as a guardian. Mrs. Weobley picked up her mug, inspecting it from not more than an inch away. She followed the lines of its cracks and ridges with her finger.
“It’s so beautiful, isn’t it, Harry?” Mrs. Weobley said. “I bought it at the farmers’ market for 90 cents. 90 cents! Would you believe that?”
“Yes, yes, beautiful mug,” Harry replied, not bothering to look up. He was reading a newspaper on the kitchen counter.
After minutes of silence, Mrs. Weobley said softly,“Harry, I’ve got you a job offer.”
Harry popped up and frowned.
“It said in the paper yesterday that they need medics in Vietnam. Anyone can enlist, just with the right credentials,” she continued.
“A physician in Vietnam. $1,000 a month!”
“You—you want me to go to war?”
“No, it’s just…a job, Harry! A job. Three years out of medical school and finally you get this.”
“Mm. Let’s think about it.”
“It’s only for a year or two. Let me pour you something, love. Tea? Coffee? Black coffee?”
Mrs. Weobley stumbled over to the kitchen chair where her husband had sat twenty years ago. She couldn’t bother to sit in it, but she caressed its velvet brown seat. Her heart lurched as she stared at the center of her mug, hollow and empty. There was not a stain of the black coffee she’d poured for Harry every day before he left and never came back. She stared at its front, letting the letters seep into her mind.
“Mrs. Weobley!” the boys exclaimed, startling the old woman. Mrs. Weobley fumbled with the mug. It fell on the floor and shattered into some hundred pieces.
“Oh, gosh! We’re so sorry! Oh!” The boys tattered on. But Mrs. Weobley could only hug each of them, tears in her eyes.
As the four of them went to work cleaning up the mug, Mrs. Weobley saw the broken piece that had it. The letters, the words—the sentence that had been controlling her life. The sentence she had written in black Sharpie, straight and center.
“You only live once.”
But she knew now: It doesn’t matter, because you see them twice.
“Written on a Mug” weaves an enthrallingly melancholic story by intertwining a cacophony of memories with their profound butterfly effects on the human spirit. Mrs. Weobley’s mugs, each acting as a vessel of introspection, prompt a reexamination of one’s fragmented past and their ripple across the vast ocean of history. Readers thus observe how the present breathes life into our remembrances, unveiling the metamorphic prospects of renewal as a result.
Isabella (Jia) Dunsby is a student at Seoul Foreign School in South Korea and will graduate in 2024. She enjoys creative writing, economics, photography, and jazz music on rainy nights. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, and Pandemonium Journal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR