Chapter 1 – Friday & Saturday, Days 1 & 2
There is a color between yellow and peach and orange at a certain time of day. It’s like God takes a giant paintbrush and swipes it through to create that perfect shade of dusk in the sky. I’m watching the swirling shades just above the roof. The chimney stands upright, stabbing against the sunset. I hear laughter through the open windows. I wonder, why is he home so early? He should be sitting in traffic at the narrows, cussing at the Lexus SUV in front of him for driving so damn slow.
But, then I remember that it is Good Friday and he probably didn’t even go into the office today. Probably “worked from home,” meaning he just sat on the computer, maybe answered half a dozen emails and spent the rest of the time watching YouTube videos of old 80’s bands like Men at Work or Billy Idol. I always loved that he clung to that decade as if it weren’t so damned cheesy. He used to call it “retro.” Whatever.
Today I rode my bicycle over. Long ride, but I figured that I burned at least 650 calories. I only count calories when I think I’m burning them. Six hundred and fifty equals at least three glasses of pinot. I’m sweating though – a lot. It dribbles down the side of my face and onto the top of my lips. Without thinking, I tongue it up, tasting the salty warmth and closing my eyes. A woman in a tracksuit stomps by with a ratty looking Chihuahua at the end of a too-long leash. She raises her eyebrows and scowls at me.
I realize I’ve been standing across the street for too long. But, the thought of the long ride back to the duplex sounded impossible. I ran out of water 11 minutes ago. Why didn’t I just take the car? And then I know why. Neighbors might begin to recognize it. Wonder what that Volkswagen with expired tags is doing there at different times of day and night, parked, that dirty blond sitting there in the driver’s seat, staring.
The sunset shifts to rose and mauve and that pink that looks almost like cotton candy but not quite that bright. I realize that it’ll be dark by the time I get back. My stomach growls. I wonder what the brunette with a crop-top is making for dinner. It smells like meat. Something he’s so happy he can have at home now. I couldn’t cook it. When we were together he was stuck with kale soup or maybe spinach lasagna if I was feeling ambitious. I hated that he sulked about that. He hated that I could eat meat, but not cook it.
In the end we hated each other, really.
Now I was curious. That’s all – plan ole curiosity killed the . . . no, not killed. Just maimed. I instinctively finger the inch long scar along the inside of my left arm, just above the crease of my elbow. I wince, feeling the slice as if it happened just now. Not almost a year ago, in that kitchen, at 8:33 p.m.
I shake my head, refocusing my eyes to the present. The sky is now turning blue-grey and I know I should begin the journey home. I absently wonder what I have in the refrigerator for dinner. Leftover chow mien from three nights ago. Probably not any good anymore. Not that it was particularly good when it was delivered. For a suburb of San Francisco, you’d think there would be better Chinese take-out.
I breathe in deeply, spying the neighbor’s lawns for a hose. I know I need some hydration before beginning the long road home. Well, long road back to the duplex. I was standing in front of my home – I just wasn’t welcome there anymore. The brunette crop-top took my place.
While I cycle back I walk through the timeline again. I try to remember when I first decided it was over. Because I said it first, right? I mean, I said, “We’re through” first. Because he had the nerve to accuse me of cheating. Cheating . . . the one thing since childhood I swore I’d never do. So, that means that I was the one who ended it – not him. Not his screwed up angry face, twisting those hazel eyes into vicious slants. I’d seen him angry before, but not like that, not at me. His ribbon mouth pursed and seething. His five o-clock shadow somehow appeared menacing, like a villain in some Batman movie. The shadow and light playing against each other to cut his handsome face into the mask of an enemy. My enemy.
I swerve a bit, my vision suddenly blurred. Then I reach up and feel the hot tears clogging my view. I tell myself to think about something else. Think about the vegetable garden I’m starting in my tiny box of a backyard. Think about the wine tasting coming up tomorrow. I had to get myself together. Can’t have puffy teary eyes when that group from L.A. comes in. New money always thought they knew something about wine. They think because they can pronounce Viognier that they’re experts.
I decide to take the scenic route because the main road will be full of drunken wine tasters, kicked out at the 6p.m. closing time. I pass by the poll on Richards and Limerick Road with all the arrows pointing in different directions, a different winery painted on each one. I quickly contemplate just sleeping at the tasting room tonight. Much shorter ride than the duplex. But, then I remember that Clyde will be in early, and I didn’t want to explain my presence there, or worse, try to sneak out before he saw me and get caught. No, better to just plug along, despite the growing ache in my calves and thighs.
I ride past the dairy, smelling the pungent stink of cow manure. Disgusting, but I still love those goofy animals. They really are domesticated. Like big dogs or stout horses. And the calves are so adorable. I shudder, remembering the smell of roasting flesh from the house earlier. Damn, wish I could be a complete vegetarian like my mom. Never could commit, though. Mother was never as mad at me as the day she saw me in the parking lot of McDonald’s, greasy quarter pounder with cheese stuffed unceremoniously in my gaping mouth. When she pulled into the parking lot, eyes fuming, white knuckles clasping the steering wheel . . . well, I knew I was in for it.
Of course, I always knew I was a disappointment to my parents – Mom especially. She named me Aoife; a ridiculous attempt to appear more Irish. A few years ago I went to ancestry.com and found out that our family was mostly Welsh and German. Barely any Irish at all. But, Mother wanted to be that Irish family who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day like it was some religious holiday rather than an excuse to drink green beer, make-out with a random guy from Berkeley and throw-up in a sink at 2:22 in the morning. So, she named me Aoife and everywhere I went I had to provide the phonetic spelling just so people could clumsily spit something out that even remotely sounded like a name one would have in the 21st century – Ee-fa. Eventually I just changed the spelling to Eva. Another reason why Mom hates me.
I pause at the bottom of the last hill to climb. It was now fully dark and I suddenly wished that I took the main road after all. At least there were streetlights – drunken idiots behind the wheels, but there was light. Now I’m just depending on the faint moonlight from what looked like . . . like a waxing quarter moon. I decide to sweep my legs off the bike and walk the five speed up the hill. Cheating, but my lungs couldn’t handle the hard-pumping sporadic ride to the top. I wished I brought more water. Life lesson for next time.
And I knew there would be a next time. I knew that house had a pull on me. Like some cosmic migration, I was a salmon swimming upstream dodging sports fishermen and grizzly bears just to spawn and die.
No, not die. Just maimed. I cheated death, and will continue to do so.
“Don’t you just loooove wine country? I mean it’s like so fuckin’ quaint.”
I just nod my head a bit; not knowing whom exactly the skinny blond with sparkly earrings was talking to. The group from LA arrived thirty-two minutes late (he always hated that I could never round up numbers – had to be exact). They rolled out of a repulsive Hummer limo like a pile of wet rag dolls. I guessed that we were stop three on their winery tour.
We set up a large picnic table outside near the herb gardens for the tasting. They sat couple by couple, with three straggler singles rounding out the gaggle of thirteen. I plaster on my finest “genuine smile”, tipping bottles of Grenache and Syrah into expectant glasses, explaining why we call them “Cotes de Rhone style” blends. The sun shines tiny rings on top of everyone’s heads. Most of the conversation centers on their latest “projects” and “agencies” and “managers.” I’m sure they plop these Hollywood words out to impress us. Clyde is easy to impress, but only because he has nothing else really to think about than the lives of others. Which is a shame, I think. I told him once and thought it a million times - he’s a dead-ringer for that actor on the Supernatural show. The tall one . . . with the hair. Anyway, he doesn’t embrace the studly thing because he’s so oblivious to it. Clyde could probably nail every other desperate housewife who filters through the massive oak doors to this place, but he walks and talks like a puppy dog – sweet, cute, harmless. He asks questions and eagerly pauses to hear tales of scripts and callbacks. I remain on the other side of the table.
“So, Eva was it? Eva, tell us about the property,” demands the alpha male of the baker’s dozen. He leans back in his wooden chair, one arm over the seat of his Botox mate while at the same time curling his upper lip at me as if to say, “Eva, tell me . . . are you wearing underwear under that dress?” And, there’s something familiar about him. The kind of familiar like when you see the clerk from Trader Joe’s at a bar and you just know you know him from somewhere.
I look away as I pour some Malbec into a glass across the table from Alpha. “Paisley Brook was established in 1965. One of the oldest wineries in Sonoma County. The property once belonged to William Randolph Hearst. Eunuch Tritch bought the estate for $55,399 and it includes 42 acres,” I begin, only to abruptly stop when tipsy in a tunic sitting directly to my left states that the lead character’s name in Boardwalk Empire was Eunuch.
“No, it was Nuckie,” her tanned mate rebutted.
“That’s short of Eunuch, you retard!”
I flinch at the use of that word. So crass. What a daft cow.
Alpha ignores the tangent, keeping his “do-me” eyes glued to my face. I will myself not to blush because despite my disdain for all things “Tour Group from LA -2017” I have to admit that his wavy brown hair and sharp chiseled chin remind me of him and I hate that I’m thinking about him once again. I continue the memorized script of Paisley Brook Winery. “Mr. Tritch had three children, two boys and a girl named Paisley. She passed from pneumonia when she was only six, so when the grapes started producing he named the label Paisley Brook.”
Alpha shifts, leaning forward as if we are the only two at the table. His Botox mate barely notices, as she is busy admiring a silver and gold charm bracelet another Botox mate brandishes across the table. I wonder, since when is mixing gold with silver a trend? Course, what would I know of fashion trends? My wardrobe consisted of winery-wear (thrift shop sundresses) and every other time of day-wear (holey jeans, V-neck t-shirts, yoga pants and tank tops). Two men at the other end of the table burst into laughter. “I know, I know. Everyone’s on a bad acid trip these days. Hell, I’ve been pretty clumsy in the past. Tripped my way through college.” More laughter. I try to hide my flinch.
“Where’s the brook?” Alpha asks, successfully diverting my attention from his fully inebriated friends.
I pause, the unexpected question re-directing my usual story-telling. “It, well it dried up in the drought. El Nino my ass,” I add the last bit more to myself, not guessing anyone would really get my reference.
“Media really hyped that up, didn’t they? California needs forty days and forty nights,” he murmurs, as if we are sharing a private joke.
I pause again, stealing a lingering glance. Alpha raises his left eyebrow, which unnerves me for some reason. Like he thinks I’m reading his mind. Then Clyde announces that bubbly is coming – last glass of the tasting. The ladies around the picnic table squeal. The men continue side conversations about waxing and reality TV and the legalization of pot. Alpha will not remove his eyes from me so I scurry to assist Clyde in the back room with fresh tall, teetering champagne glasses (even though we can’t call it champagne since it’s made in Sonoma). I hear the conversation outside switch to evening plans and if there is a nightlife in Sonoma. Good luck, I think as Clyde and I emerge with round platters of sparkling gold and glass.
Twenty minutes later and the official tasting has ended. The group decides to stick around, foregoing the last winery to stay and drink the bottles of bubbly Clyde so expertly sold. He’ll get a nice commission this week. I manage to sell a case of Grenache to the Alpha. He leans against the counter as I ring him up. The others are milling about the gardens or seated by the unlit fireplace.
“Eva, you are good at your job. I hadn’t planned on buying any Grenache today.” He twirls his sunglasses with his left thumb and index finger, almost willing me to make eye contact. I just grunt an acknowledgement, keenly aware of his Botox mate just outside the door. Seriously, did she not see this?
“You know, I’ve been here before – with a former colleague,” he drawls. I nod briefly. “Yeah, he would actually talk about the wine, the scenery . . . the gracious hostess.”
I breathe in and out. Okay, so we’re playing, “let’s-flirt-with-the-help-while-wifey-is-10-feet-away.” I will myself not to roll my eyes.
“Have we met?”
He smirks and takes another sip of wine. “Not exactly. But I think I know a lot about you. When we made plans to come up here, well . . .” he pauses and squints his eyes. “Well, I just had to come in and see for myself.”
Before I can come up with any plausible response to that, he switches gears. “So, what’s the damage?” he asks, pulling out a leather wallet from his back pocket.
I contemplate a moment, “It’s $388.89.”
He continues that stare. “Do you get commission, Eva?” His voice is too low.
I finally look his way. He smells of the outdoors and his lips are too red. “I do.”
“How about we round it up to $400 and you throw in that half bottle of Syrah?” he nods his head toward the line of tasting bottles. I scrunch my eyebrows. That was a new request. Then I look at the clock. Only a few minutes left before we close up. I’d have to dump these or take them home. I didn’t like to do that because I always drink too much when I do. I’d probably end up giving them to Clyde and I cringe whenever he just pours all the partials into one, messy blend.
“You can have all of them. I’ll end up pouring them out anyway.”
His red lips curl up into a ribbon grin. “Now, that’s a deal, beautiful.”
It isn’t until he carries the two cases out the door and toward the limo that I notice he left his business card on the counter. Alpha’s name turns out to be Ward Leens. He’s a talent agent. I let out a harrumph – figures. But I pocket the card anyway.
Twenty-five minutes later Clyde and I are walking with the group, herding them politely to their waiting vehicle. Mr. Leens winks at me before placing a hand on the small of Botox mate’s back, leading her into the dark cave of a limo.
“I’m so done,” I murmur through clenched teeth.
“Tell me about it,” Clyde responds, tilting his hand back and forth to the group as if he were on a float in a parade.
As the limo kicks pebbles, heading down the long dirt lane to the main road, we turn to the tasting room and get to work on clearing up for the night. I handle the register as Clyde washes down the tables and counter. “So, get some good sales at least?” he asks, his back turned to me as he scrubs the coffee table near the unlit fireplace.
“Some. Hey, you didn’t give away all the partials, did you?” Clyde asks, turning his head over his shoulder.
“Ahh, yeah actually. Why you ask?” I reply, trying to converse and count the till at the same time. I fail and sigh as I have to start over.
“Damn. She was right.”
I scowl, wanting to ask clarification but not wanting to lose count. I don’t have to though, as he provides explanation without prompting. “One of the wives was bragging to some other one about how her husband is expert at doing that. Says he always manages to sweet talk near closing time at tasting rooms.”
I stop my counting, staring at the wall beyond the register. Clyde says something else.
“Eva?” He’s now standing before me on the other side of the counter. “Hey, did you hear me?”
I shake my head. “Ah, no . . . yeah. I mean no, what?”
“I said, next time save them for me. I love my blends!” he grins, playfully jabbing my shoulder.
I’m an idiot, I think, reaching into my pocket. I pull Mr. Leens’ business card out. Flirting? Right . . . I toss it into the garbage can before starting the count again.
“Your blends are disgusting, Clyde.”
“F U, Eva.”