There is a peculiar taste to tea brewed from the second or third pot on old leaves. Copper, fear, regret, blood: all things that pass over the tongue, sometimes choking them down. Other times, swallowed with a sigh and dreaming of fatter times and headier brew.
How thin can it be cut? How slow can it be poured? The kettle heats, the water over the leaves, again and again in a Zeno's paradox of liquid. The second thinner than the first, the third thinner than the second. There is no fourth cup. The spirit has not the resolve to even try, because the heart could not endure it. Staring down the prospect of a fourth cup from old leaves spikes the mouth with bitterness before the hand could think to raise such a travesty to the lips.
There are days where bleary eyes and trembling hands consider such a thing. Because the tea leaves can only be spooned out so far. Dividing half by half by half is absurd in the light of abundance, but abundance doesn't last. It gets lost under a mounting wall of bills. The cheap and plentiful becomes costlier and scarcer not because it ceases to exist; it is because the sluicing effects of money diminish when that revenue stream dries up. The flood becomes a trickle. The trickle becomes elusive.
It is the cold, grey light of diminishing that shines on the tea tin, pot, and cup. Mental calculus of how many more cups can be extracted from smaller amounts and repeated boilings. There is metallic-sounding laughter in a far corner of the mind, with a voice saying "Two brews, same leaves, means no new tea bought until the end of the month." This offers cold comfort.
This is what it comes to, sometimes. Weak tea, staring at the bottom that is not usually seen. Not usually, in those weeks of Fat Tuesdays. But the tea gets drunk, all the same, because that is all there is in the cup. That, and the memory of strength.