Over A Glass of Wine
Maya Sharma Sriram
He poured the dark liquid into her favourite copita. He picked the glass up at the stem, lifted it and held it against the white of the light. The clear brew gave out a rich, mahogany colour; the colour of her lips, but not as intoxicating or as sweet.
He lowered the glass to his nose and inhaled. He caught the characteristic fruity aroma of the wine.
She had smelled of wine too. She had seemed to wear wine like other women wore perfume. He remembered the scents - Pinot Noir behind the ears, Chablis at the nape and Rioja, with its faint strawberry fragrance, at the base of her throat where her pulse had beat wildly.
He saw her for the first time two years ago.
She was carefully picking the fruit from the vine, her teeth biting her lips in the effort. She looked like the vine itself, her body lush yet slender; her breasts ripe like the fruit. Her lips looked like a bruised grape and a tiny bead oozed out like thick juice. He wanted to step in, press his lips to the drop and drink.
She became aware of him at that moment. She looked up and met his eyes. She must have sensed his desire, read his mind; for she blushed, dropped her eyes and moved away.
She knew who he was. Everybody did. He was the boss’s son, He was the boss’s son, too young to inherit, too handsome to be real, the charmed heir who was ready to claim his legacy.
The season had bewitched the land. The air was drunk on the smell of fruit, and the people on the promise of riches. He was intoxicated with her. He began to look for her, seek her out and watch her work. Every time she saw him, her deep dark eyes filled with confusion and she darted away.
One Friday he stopped her before she could run.
“There is a new movie in town. I have two tickets.” He paused, “Do you want to go?”
She hesitated. “Okay.”
“The show starts at eight. I‘ll pick you up at seven. We can have dinner first.”
“So, where do you live?”
She glanced about her.
“No, I’ll meet you at the side gate to the Manor.”
Manor - that was what the locals called his house. She was afraid of being spotted, he knew.
He nodded and strode off, before she changed her mind.
A few days later he took her to the local dance. This time she was less cautious, more willing. The music and the mood caught the two and they shared their first kiss. It was a kiss with the sweetness of Pedro Ximenez and the potency of an Agelianico. He had never felt this light-headed before.
Now they were always seen together, wandering hand in hand and exchanging passionate kisses under the boughs. By the time harvest was over, he was in love.
“Marry me,” he said.
She did not seem surprised. She smiled, “Yes.” she said, “I will.”
Every paradise has its snake. His was six feet tall, had blue eyes and played the ukulele. He drifted onto his doorstep the next harvest season, like the mistral that blew over the land where his fruit grew in abundance. He stood there at his doorstep and asked for work. Pickers were always in demand during harvest. He stood there tall, and looked into the boss’s eyes as he spoke.
This was not the land of certificates and references. This was the land where you looked into a man’s eyes and read his soul in them. He looked at the newcomer; saw trust, an easy smile and hard work. It was all he needed to see.
He of the land of brown and black eyes did not know then that blue eyes used a different dictionary.
The whispers started almost immediately. The boss‘s wife and the blue-eyed man. He had even composed a special tune for her. One could hear it often, flowing over the land. He did not want to hear, he did not want to believe. In his heart, however, he feared.
She began to hum as she worked around the house, her eyes sparkling like the finest Chardonnay. Then, one night, when she turned her back to him in their bed, he knew.
He grew angry, then sick and finally bitter. His mood spilled over to the land. Clouds formed over the horizon and people began to talk anxiously of rain. Rain before harvest meant very poor wine. Then the grapes began to turn a sickly colour and some became sour. Some people said it was a new disease while some shook their heads and talked of witchcraft. He moved over his land, untouched by the sense of doom.
Soon there was less fruit to pick and the wandering labourers began to leave.
“I am leaving tomorrow.” The words were soft but definite.
“I can’t live without you.” The sob lay just below the voice.
“I am a wanderer, with no place to call home.” No sorrow, just the stating of the truth.
‘I will wander with you.”
A pause and a sigh.
“I leave at dawn.”
“I will meet you at the side gate to the Manor.”
The conversation ended with a shuffle of the footsteps.
He stood in the shadows of his study, motionless until the last notes of the ukulele died away.
There was shepherd’s pie and potatoes for dinner - as there had been every Friday the last year.
“More?” she asked as she served him.
He shook his head. He opened a bottle of her favourite wine.
“How about a glass?”
For the last time he thought, as she sipped.
He poured himself his whisky.
“I will be in the study. I need to go over my accounts.”
“But you have not eaten.”
He smiled. “Not hungry.”
He picked up the rest of the bottle and his glass. He reached the door of his study and put his hand on the handle. He looked back at her, sitting at the table.
“I will be late. Don’t wait up for me.”
Just for a minute she looked thoughtful. Then she nodded.
He tilted his head, raised his tumbler in salute, and went into his study. He locked the door, while he still could.
That night a storm broke over the land.
They found her body the next morning, a few feet from the side gate. Beside her was a brown battered suitcase, baring his humiliation to the world. He said nothing but buried her and her suitcase beneath the Rosebud bush she had loved.
He sighed. He swirled the dark liquid, as if to dissolve the memories. It was harvest time again. The picking had just gotten over and the fruit had been sent off to the press. A bumper harvest, very good fruit. There was a promise of excellent wine. Maybe grief and regrets were good for the crops.
It was time to move on. He lifted heavenwards in toast and sipped. He rolled it over his tongue, let the wine tickle his nose and he swallowed. One last time, he thought. He emptied the glass and got to his feet. He was ready to say good-bye.
He left the Manor and walked towards the side gate. He stopped at the Rosebud tree. He looked down at her grave and then sat down gently beside it. He closed his eyes and rolled into a crouch. He reached out and slowly lowered his palm and ran it over the slab. He could feel her silky hair, her ripe breasts, her soft belly and her lush thighs.
His stomach cramped. “So this is what I made you feel.”
He inhaled sharply and then lay down slowly over the slab. He caught the fragrance of her favourite Muscatel in the air. Muscatel of Alexandria, the land, some believed, of the first wine; the bewitching Cleopatra, the land of the hemlock.
He looked up at the flowers in bloom that gave the tree its name. The Spanish called it the Tree of Love. His stomach clenched again and he closed his eyes. Just as he was drifting off he remembered that the tree had one other name - Judas Tree.
That night a storm broke over the land.