The phone call was from Anna’s daughter, frantic and full of blame. Apparently, the realtor dead-bolted the door, and the girl had to climb through the window to get in. It was a travesty if we are to take the girl’s tone as any indication. And when was Anna getting home, she wanted to know. The girl was hungry.
Tucked in the corner of the meeting room, a wine glass in one hand, the phone in the other, Anna whispered that she would come home, but the girl would have to eat the leftover pizza in the fridge. Where are you? her daughter asked. At the wine shop taking a class. Oh.
Anna made her apologies to the small group gathered in the basement of the wine shop—an assemblage of academics, retirees, and college students on dates—and grabbed her things to go. It was too bad; she’d only been able to taste the whites before the girl’s call and had been half-way into a conversation with Tom, the environmental scientist who sat beside her, about the power of positive farming. He had been so enthusiastic, and she was having fun, which was rare these days.
“It was nice meeting you,” she whispered to Tom, hoping to sneak out as quickly as possible. But as she turned, he stood and, without ado, handed her his phone number.
“In case you want to talk again about the food community,” he smiled. He was taller than she expected, more like a tree than a man, and somehow more handsome now than that he was looking down at her with a warmth she hadn’t noticed before.
Outside the shop, it was night, and the streets were empty. Spring had just arrived—such a relief after the desperately long winter—but the air was still cool. Slightly tipsy and therefore dreamy, Anna walked the few blocks through town to the parking garage. A glowing womb, she thought, as she floated through it like a small cell in an all-knowing universe.
Her car was at the far end of the third level. From the stairs, she saw it alone under the florescents. On cue, she dug into her bag for the keys. No, not there. She dug some more, stopped, and peered in. Turns out the keys were in the car, on the seat, with the doors locked. Anna eyed them through the window. How could it be, Anna mused, that she and the keys were less than a foot away from each other and yet, there was no way to reach them. She called her daughter, who was still caustic even though she was watching television and munching her pizza, and said she was going to be late. The girl moaned. Then Anna called AAA, who said they’d be there in an hour.
Settled on the bumper, her legs thrust out in front of her, Anna realized she had to pee. Tempted to go back to the shop, she gauged her urgency. Maybe she could use the toilet and catch a taste of the reds before AAA came. Tom would still be there. Her phone rang. It was Anna’s mother complaining that her microwave was on the fritz and did Anna know of any handymen. Anna spent the next hour on the phone identifying the problem with the microwave and listening to the play by play of her mother’s day.
When she arrived home, the girl was laying on the couch tucked into herself and watching a show about salmon. She had missed her mother, so Anna sat beside her and rubbed her arm. An hour later, the two were asleep on the couch. Somewhere around 4 am, Anna woke up. The electricity was out, and she moved them both to their rooms, the two walking through a thin soup of dark, extending their arms in front and to the sides of them, Anna giving directions along the way: there’s a step here, watch out for the chair. The girl complained, so Anna tried to make a game of it. Close your eyes, she told the girl, and see with your ears and skin. The child moaned.
Anna awoke at 6:00. The problem with the electricity had been resolved. She woke her daughter with a light kiss on the forehead and by rubbing her back. The girl kicked at her sheets and rolled over. Then breakfast and driving the girl to school, which would undoubtedly entail a lot of eye-rolling and huffed hurrying on her daughter’s part. Anna was used to it.
The girl, in her twelve-year-old mind, had been extracted from a fairytale and plunged into a TV dinner was how Anna thought of it. Twelve is hard enough, but her parents had just gotten divorced, and now her teachers were after her for not doing her homework. Anna fielded emails and phone calls from exasperated faculty all week. The girl’s father was MIA, Anna explained, and she was selling the house. How much could they expect the girl to take?
Do you have a lot of homework, Anna would ask. Can I help? What would you like for dinner? She got no more than grunts and the girl flinging her limbs around as she flew through doorways and away from her mother.
Despite all this, Anna remained sure. The girl would be ok. Plus, Anna was writing. The wine project, suggested by her agent, was taking shape. In fact, she had written a whole chapter in the last few days. It had been such a surprise. She sat down at the computer and a few hours later, a nearly complete first draft emerged. It wasn’t just that she had written, it was how she had written, eyes nearly closed and as if a flock of birds had awakened inside her and bolted for the sky. That was how the week progressed: her steadfast mothering peppered with choking out birds with great speed.
Saturday was Rosé All Day at the wine shop, and her daughter had been invited to a friend’s house overnight. Anna was excited. This wine thing allowed her to be someone else for a short time. Maybe she’d treat herself to dinner out after. Maybe Tom would be there.
Unfortunately, it was raining and 45 degrees outside. So much for spring. And as she drove, Anna’s throat began to hurt and her nose clogged. The shop was jammed with eager tasters, all crowding around several small tasting tables situated about the shop. It was an elbows and excuse-me kind of busy—pink wines in every glass and rows of pinks on the tables. The rosés were not what she wanted. She could tell that from the beginning. The grapefruit and peppery ones were too bitter and spicy for her throat, and the more buttery of them didn’t quite meet the day. Anna wanted comfort. A disappointment welled inside her. That happened sometimes, but she knew to suck in her belly and hold herself as upright as possible so as not to give in.
She edged her way to the tables and tasted the wines in order. She commented, made jokes, and grinned her way through. Once the pinks blossomed inside her, a feeling—wiry and buzzy—forced her shoulders to rise toward her ears and her smile to widen. She found herself both at one with the swirl of the store, moving gracefully amongst the crowd, glass in hand, and outside of it, peering in. The sadness wasn’t gone, just dulled, which was fine. Anna needed to feel good. Men and women leaned into her, made random chitchat, and she responded with finesse.
Halfway through the tasting—Anna was at the third table, beaming now—she noticed one of her daughter’s teachers across the shop. He was in his mid 40’s wearing an oversized suit jacket and faded jeans and was accompanied by his wife, a less than noticeable woman who, if Anna remembered correctly, had just had a baby. When the teacher saw Anna, he raised his glass—the stuff about her daughter could stay in school. His wife, however, stood behind him and stared blankly in Anna’s direction with the look of someone who knows there is no way out.
Then it was as if the shop became a river, and all the tasters, except Anna and the wife, flowed merrily as part of the rapids. The woman, young, plain, stood amidst the revelry fixed in silent memorial. Anna felt a sharp pang in her throat, and as if a fight were about to break out in her belly.
Her phone buzzed in her bag. It was her daughter.
artwork by RCornelius