The Longing (16)

“Is something wrong, darling?” Rebecca. He nods. The Brunello is much too strong for an evening like this. It’s too hot in there, the airco seems like not functioning. She takes the glass, puts her nose in it, then judiciously lets the wine waltz, looks at it like a connaisseur. Then, defiantly, she has another sip, she hardly drinks, it’s not even a mouthful she’s swallowing. She smiles at him, meanwhile dipping tacos in a sort of wasabi sauce. Maybe not wasabi because she’s devouring the stuff in huge quantities. Whatever it is, it’s green. Not that the colour seems to be of any interest to her; she’s dipping and licking and gulping them down and meanwhile looking at him. It’s getting on his nerves.
     “Shall I ask for a second glass?” he asks. The tip of her shoe touches his right calf. Is she aware of that? Why is she acting like this? Maybe she knows about Marjorie… Impossible.
     For a brief moment he’s considering to make a remark about the child and the alcohol, only to have a subject to talk about, to make her stop licking wasabi. But he abandons the idea. After all it isn’t his. He’s got nothing to do with it! He turns the bottle in his hands, like he’s studying the label, every detail; he can do this, after all he isn’t drunk. Not really. The waitress brings some other small dishes, they look like sort of Japanese tapas, oysters with chile on top, real Peruvian ceviche, quail wings filled with asparagus, all kinds of stuff, she explains everything. She’s got beautiful teeth, white and sharp, especially the eye-teeth. He’s looking at her, listening, then tries to find a place to put back the bottle, but he has to shove aside two of the dishes, which he does carefully while Rebecca, a tuft of wasabi sticking at the corner of her mouth, watches his hands; nothing is broken and he manages to put the bottle safe and well on the table. It’s a very practical thing to do, and it’s as if he was completely sober, he’s in control of things, he even minds turning the bottle so that the back of it is facing her way, he’s pointing at the alcohol percentage.
    “You see?” he asks. He has a boner. “Fifteen percent. That’s because it’s a southern wine. It has gotten lots of sunshine. Sunshine means sugar. Sugar means alcohol.” She bows over the table, putting her hand on his, reading what’s on the label. If she bows an inch further I’ll lick the wasabi from her mouth corner, he thinks, but then she leans back again.
    “You don’t find wines like that, with fifteen percent alcohol, in the Alsace,” he says. It seems perfectly logical. He’s confident about it. “It rains a lot in the Alsace,” he adds, taking another gulp, he leans backward too. It’s a profound thought. He’s looking at his fingers. They’re steady.
    “I visited the Alsace once,” she says, “with René. We had a great time, and it wasn’t raining at all. Oh God, what a marvelous trip that was. Sunshine from morning till evening.” She’s checking her mobile.
    “René?” he asks, as if it’s the first time he hears the name.
    “The guy who bought me the lighter, Ben. Who died at sixty-two. He had a private jeweler. Someone only working for him. Hell, you know who René is.”
    “The guy with the roof jacuzzi.” He knows very well that was another one.
    “No, you fool. You never listen to me. The one who made the inscription in the Dupont. That is, his jeweler did. Think nobody has ever been crazier about me.” Her right hand digs into her purse, there it is: the lighter. Two R’s engraved in the gold. “Rebecca – René,” she explains. She’s looking at him in her half accusatory, half mocking way.
    “No kidding,” he says.
    “With him I didn’t have to ask for anything. Once in a while snap my fingers, that’s all.” She’s looking at her hands. “He once gave me a Château Petrus. Bottled the year I was born.” Her eyes seem to focus on a point left from him. Her birth, projected on the wall.
    “Or… wait, was it…” She’s putting away the lighter. “No, definitely, it was a Petrus. The Lafite-Rotschild we drank when I met his daughter for the first time. That was more than a year later. But the Petrus. It wasn’t even my anniversary, he just…”
    “I never stated sun never shines in the Alsace,” he says, interrupting. “I’m only talking averages. Statistical ones.” Maybe he has chosen the wrong place – even though the food is delicious. It’s too hot; don’t these guys know airco was invented, a while ago? He’s wiping his forehead. A grape doesn’t give a shit about when exactly the sun is shining, as long as it does from time to time. That’s what’s on his lips. He looks at her, answering her gaze. There’s no reason for him to be afraid. He’s a free man. She found out he’s been shagging his own wife, yesterday? So what? It’s not his child. Now she’s leaning even nearer towards the bottle.
    “It says fourteen point five percent here,” she says. “You see?” She doesn’t let go. He doesn’t remember if he’d said fourteen or fifteen. Probably she’s mistaken. She’s looking at him in a very frank, victorious way. He refuses to look at the bottle. She has this grin on her face. She takes his glass, lets the wine roll, puts the glass down.
    “They say a sommelier can tell by the nose. The percentage I mean. Alcohol. René…”
    “They always put a half at the end,” he says. “It doesn’t mean a thing.” He’s inventing this. “It’s the way they do it in Italy. In most southern countries, actually. It’s a typical mediterranean thing. It’s a rather unknown fact. Not exactly a thing they put in the papers. The reasons are obvious.” He’s lacking breath. His mouth is dry as the desert. “Even award winning sommeliers rarely are aware of this.” It comes out squeaky. He breathes in deeply. His tongue feels swollen. A guy, whom he’s suspecting to be the sommelier, is standing in the opposite corner, looking at their table. She knows everything. It’s so obvious. Marjorie. He has to talk to Marjorie. And he has to destroy all evidence. Make the bed, to begin with. Put the dirty sheets in the washing machine. No: burn the sheets. Pregnant women pick up any perfume, even after three washes.
    Then she says, “Why would someone do that?
     “What?” he asks, swallowing, he thinks she’s talking about the washing machine. So she reads his thoughts. He’s done. He’s staring into his plate. A quail is a difficult bird to eat, even when you aren’t drunk, but he takes his fork and pricks in it, and then starts cutting into the wing, trying to tear it off the body. It’s his word against Marjorie’s.
     “Tell me,” she repeats, focusing on his hands, then fixing his eyes, when he’s finally managed to tear off the left wing, now trying to cut some meat off the bone, “why exactly would they do that? I mean- Why would they write 14 and a half when there’s 15 in the bottle?” With two fingers she’s picking the bone off of his plate, starts gnawing it off. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s partly relieved; same time he’s thinking about a bird, a little half dead quail, scarcely breathing, under a cat’s paw.
     “What the hell would I know?” he shouts, “hell, I’m no Italian! What do I know about Italian grapes? What am I supposed to know?” He throws his napkin on the table, runs off to the toilet.

“Sorry darling,” she says when he returns, reaching for his hand. “Let’s not talk about René anymore. He’s dead, for God’s sake. And sorry I’ve been quite distant last days. So sorry. Don’t think I’m not aware of it, because I am.”
     “But you weren’t, darling."
     “Oh yes, I was. I was. So sweet of you to say I wasn’t.” She leans over, touches his hand, then his upper arm. “It’s the pills, my doctor told me. They make me feel calm, what is fine of course, then i can concentrate on things, that’s fine too, but then there’s this coldness…” Is she starting to cry? He doesn’t believe his eyes. “A side effect. You were right. You were absolutely right. I know I was locking you out. My friends tell me exactly the same. All of them.” She’s digging in her purse, searching for her handkerchief. She doesn’t find it, she dips her eyes with her napkin.
     “I didn’t mention any coldness, darling.” Now he’s worried.
     “Look into my eyes.” He bends over. He has a close look.
     “Yes, there might be some coldness,” he says.
     “You’re joking, no?”
     “I’m dead serious,” he says.
     “You’re joking. I can see it.”
     “It’s like… People would say ‘I’m serious’, but then you say ‘I’m dead serious’, you see. It’s in the dead. It’s as if you’re joking. Ask a hundred people. You have to watch out with that, Ben. People will think you’re making a fool of them. Not everybody has the patience I have.
     “But honestly, darling…”
     “You see? You’re doing it again, Ben. That almost-smile. Be careful with it. It’s that ‘honestly’, and then that smile. I don’t mind, I know you, you can’t fool me, but just watch out. I’ve seen people being beaten up for less, you know.”
     "Beaten up?”

(to be continued)

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