It had been an early sailing and long drive, but we were here, and it was just as he said it would be. We were sitting in the square, surrounded by cobbled pavements and stone buildings and canopies, and the vineyards, all around, stretching out into the far distance.
We breathed in that intermingled smell of vine and pine and char-grilled duck and salt and damp stone and sweet chocolate.
“Qu’est-ce que vous voulez?” the waitress asked, and sensing our hesitation, rapidly segued into English, “how can I help you?”
We ordered our food and Jon picked up the wine menu, three-times heavier than the food menu.
“What would you recommend?” he asked.
The waitress shrugged in a manner that is uniquely French, and pointed to a name on the menu.
“Roc de Cambes,” she said. “It is a Blablabla, so not so well-known as the Blablabla region but it is made by Monsieur Blablabla who produces Blablabla.” Our wine education was just beginning so we were a little unfamiliar with the various terms that would have vastly impressed us in three years’ time. She shrugged again. “Bof – zees wine is excellent. It is not well-known zees wine, but for me” – and she kissed her fingers in an exuberant gesture – “eet ees a bomb.” She pronounced the end ‘b’ of bomb, as if to emphasise the explosion.
“We’ll take a bottle,” Jon said, and shut the menu – but not before I’d caught a glimpse of the price. My mouth did an involuntary stretched-out grimace at the sheer extravagance of it all, but Jon shook his head. “I’m treating my wife,” he explained, and I smiled and looked into his eyes, because that would not grow old, him calling me his wife.
The soft sunrays bounced off the yellow stones, light echoing everywhere along with the guttural laughter of French men and the clip-scrape of stiletto shoes on cobbled stones. We hid ourselves in the bustle and light, like we were in the cinema together, sharing popcorn.
The wine was excellent – we’d never tasted anything so good. We would extravagantly buy two bottles the next day to take home and we would pay more than we had ever paid for a bottle of wine before: 200 francs, then about fifteen pounds. (And then eight years later we would see that those bottles were now worth £150 and wish we had bought two cases while we had had the chance.)
We swirled the wine around the glasses and sniffed it like grown-ups. Jon took my hand in his, rings still shiny-new on our fingers, and we clinked our glasses together and drank deep of the purple richness, saluting our future.
He came in two minutes before visiting hours officially began. He was holding his scooter helmet, creaking in his biker jacket, all black and bold against the bleached walls and starched sheets. He pushed the IV line carefully out of the way, and I felt the slight tug of the needle in my hand, reminding me of that drip-drip of a stranger’s blood entering my veins that would gradually make my breath return. I smiled and slowly moved my head a little higher on the pillows to see him more clearly.
“I brought you a sandwich,” he said, and kissed me on the lips. I watched him as he busied himself around the room. His cheeks were more hollow than I remembered and there were tiny lines around his eyes that hadn’t been there the week before. A tenderness, too, and he lifted our 9lb baby as though he were holding up a squiggling gold trophy for all to see. Reaching for a fresh white muslin, he sailed the baby onto his lap and settled into the chair. He took the pipette in his fingers, gently pushing and squeezing the tube against tiny lips all pursed-up in sleepiness. He sat there, one hand cradling our baby’s head, the other drip-dripping in the thick gold-white goodness, one drop at a time. His hands looked so large, so gentle.
I slowly unwrapped the foil, still warm. It wasn’t just any sandwich. He’d cooked me fillet steak, rare, perfect, with dark green leaves and nutty-brown bread. After three days of beige stodge, to eat something with colour and texture was remarkable enough – but this was our finest steak. It looked huge but my mouth took over and I tore into it with my teeth, devouring it with increasing speed, biting even as I was still swallowing. It felt like nourishment, like strength, even as I chewed it. He handed me a carton of orange juice. “They say the vitamin C helps with the iron absorption,” he explained and, too weary to use words, I smiled my gratitude.
After a while, the midwife popped her head round the door to let us know it was the end of visiting hours. Jon took the baby and wrapped him in white, kissed his pink forehead and laid him down to sleep. He handed me a card. I had forgotten.
“Happy tenth anniversary,” he said, a shy-proud smile, and walked out.
I opened the card. Inside there were a few scrawled words, characteristically understated, allowing the picture to talk for him. The photo on the front was of that same bottle we had drunk from a decade ago, that vintage now so valuable.
They do that, the best things in life: wine and love. They just get better and better.
Over to you:
- Which things in your life have got better over time?
Joining with Amber on Mondays for concretewords, where we practise writing by communicating the abstract through concrete things – a horse, a book, stairs – and today the bottle. These concrete words posts have led me on a journey through childhood and nostalgia and spiritual maturity – I write and that’s what comes out at the moment.
I’ve been hosting concrete words over the past four weeks while Amber took time out. This is my last one! A BIG thank you to everyone who has linked up over the past three weeks – I’ve so enjoyed reading your posts! Today the prompt is
Mar 11 – the bottle
Won’t you join me? Link your post below and read and comment on others’ abstractions on the bottle. For more info about ‘how to’ use the concrete to write the abstract, read Amber’s introduction here.
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