Fiction: Smell/Elixer

Those two words are Write At the Merge’s prompt for this week. For a change I knew exactly where I wanted to take this one: back to Carlo & Alison.


Photo by Luke Stearns, via Flickr

Alison and her husband sat in the basement, sorting the overflow of three decades. They worked quietly. The weight of a thousand unspoken hurts piled between them, utterly transparent, utterly insurmountable. She wished for music, for talk radio– anything to keep her mind from dancing ever closer to the conclusion that her marriage was over, and had been for years before she realized it.

Amid the piles of memorabilia and forgotten holiday decor, the past seemed very near. It began with news clippings about prizewinning wines and tiptoed backward: Jeremy’s fatigues, the box of personal belongings that had accompanied his body home. She still wasn’t ready to open it. Instead, she shoved it aside and reached into a deep crevasse the box’s removal had revealed. Her palm brushed against rough wood. She pulled the box out, and her hands stilled. “Carlo,” she said softly. “Look at this.”

He turned. She slid the lid off the top. Inside a single bottle of wine nested in shredded newspaper. Its handwritten label proclaimed Everlasting Love, 1973. “Is that…?” His voice was tinged with awe.

“I think it is,” she whispered. “I thought they were all gone.”

He took the box from her and lifted the bottle. They had made this wine together, from start to finish, in the first year of their marriage, back when they still lived in New York, when life was lived hand to mouth and James Summerhill hadn’t yet begun to think about finding a partner in a winemaking venture.

“Do you remember the nights we spent in the basement, babysitting this vintage?” he asked.

The smile opened every vein in her body, flooding them with heat. There had been much more than babysitting wines to that week. She could smell it now, that distinctive combination of yeast and grape and basement and desire. “I remember.” She brushed at his hair. “Your hair was black as night. And your eyes…” She swallowed. “It was like they saw right through me.”

Carlo took her hand. It felt warm. Strong. She had forgotten how much she liked holding his hand. “We were good together in those days,” he murmured.

How was it possible for memory to recreate a smell so perfectly? The desire in his eyes set her nerves to singing. Five minutes ago she’d been contemplating the end, and now… She dropped her gaze and saw something that made her gasp. “Oh, Carlo.” She touched the crumbling cork, which had begun to darken as wine soaked through it, allowing the aroma to swirl around them in bewitching tendrils.

Carlo surveyed the age-damaged seal, and a tiny, mysterious smile played on his lips. “Well, there’s only one thing to do now,” he said. Taking her by the hand, he led her out of the room, to the bar in the main part of the basement, and pulled down two glasses.

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