Tuesday, February 7, 2017

STORY Darling, Drink Your Wine

Drink Your Wine, Darling by Susan Buffum

The setting sun glints plum-red as he twirls the contents of his glass, mesmerized by the flashes of light in the liquid, lost in reverie. How many times has he sat here toasting the end of another day with Victoria beside him sipping her wine, watching the evening birds darting through the trees all flutter and twitter?

“Drink your wine, darling,” she murmurs, giving him a gentle nudge with her elbow.

“I was just thinking about the night the Harpers had that huge fight last summer. What a ruckus!” He shakes his head. “I’m glad we’ve never fought tooth and nail like that. Just little skirmishes. That’s all we’ve ever had. Forty-four years, Vickie, and no one’s ever called the cops on us.” He lowers his glass, staring down into the wine. It’s almost chameleon-like in its ability to mimic whatever it comes up against because now it looks bluish-purple held so close to the navy blue shirt he’s wearing. It’s a button down shirt, not a t-shirt. Victoria has always liked to see him dress up for dinner—nothing too dressy, just a button-down shirt, slacks, no tie, no jacket. And she’ll put on a simple little dress from her closet where she has about two dozen of them. That lady sure knew how to get the most from her wardrobe using different accessories with her dresses to give them a different look. She’s always been good about keeping within the budget. He on the other hand has always been more extravagant with his spending, something he now regrets because the house is full of stuff he really doesn’t need. Yet, she has never complained. “You know that brown pot I bought in Peru?” he asks, turning the glass around and around in circles on the small mound of his belly. He really isn’t obese, just ten or so pounds overweight. “I finally got around to donating it to Goodwill. I got sick of looking at the damn thing. You’ve been right all along. It really is the ugliest pot every created. I don’t know what possessed me to buy it.”

“Darling, drink your wine.”

“You know what my biggest regret is these days? That we never had any kids. I regret it, but at the same time I’m sort of glad it didn’t happen for us. You know Pete, that guy I used to work with? His wife Rita? They had, what? Five kids? I ran into him when I was buying this bottle of wine. He looked at least fifteen years older than me. If I remember correctly he’s about five years younger. Two of his kids are still living at home, and a third one’s trying to move back in with her two kids by two different fellows. They’ve all got issues. Looked as if he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months. Kind of made me glad the good Lord never blessed us that way, but He sure did in other ways. It left us plenty of time to do all things we wanted to do, didn’t it? We sure have done a lot of things, Vickie.” He lifts the glass and holds it so that it blocks the last of the sun as it begins to slip below the horizon. “Beautiful night,” he murmurs. “But it’s getting kind of chilly out here now. What do you say we move inside? Want to go lie in bed and watch something on TV? Not that there’s much worth watching these days. If I want to see people being loud and obnoxious I can just take a peek out the den window at the Harper’s house. Plenty of loud and obnoxious going on there.”

He makes a little grunt sound as he rises from the chair. “Come on, old girl. Let’s go inside and get comfortable.” He pauses at the kitchen door to let her precede him into the house from the three season room where they’ve been sitting since finishing dinner. He can’t help but admire her slim form. It’s always made his heart swell with happiness that he chose her and she was agreeable to marrying him. She’d been quite popular in high school. He’d been the bookish sort. Sports had made him wheeze. And he’d had those stupid glasses back then, the ones that kept sliding down his nose. But, she’d liked him anyway. He’d been the luckiest guy in town the night he’d asked her if she wanted to go for a soda after the basketball game and she’d smiled and said that would be lovely. It had been lovely. Every date with her had been lovely. She was lovely. Yes, he was a lucky man. He’d won her heart. She’d already had his from that very first time  she’d smiled at him in the hallway between classes their sophomore year. He didn’t know why it had taken him until halfway through senior year to work up the courage to ask her out.

In the bedroom he sets his glass down on the bedside table then eases his feet out of his loafers. When he turns, he sees Vickie lying on the bed. She gives him an enigmatic little smile. She’s wearing her hair like she used to wear it. He likes it like this. A pageboy. Makes her look thirty years younger. “TV or just a little…” He shrugs. “This and that.”

“Drink your wine, darling.”

“I will, I will.” He frowns slightly. “Where’s your glass, honey? Must have left it behind. I’ll just go get it. Hold on.” In stocking feet he returns to the darkened kitchen, slips out into the three season room to retrieve the still nearly full glass from the little wrought iron table. Bringing it inside, he returns to the bedroom, walking around the bed, setting it on her bedside table. “There you go, sweetheart,” he says as he goes back around the bed, sitting on the edge and then turning sideways, swinging his legs up, reaching behind him to prop the pillows against the headboard so he can lean against it. “We’ve had a great life, you and I, Victoria. A really great life. I couldn’t have asked for anything more, you know?” He turns his head and smiles at her. “You’re happy, aren’t you?” In return she smiles. He likes how her smile causes a little light to dance in the depths of her eyes. “I hate to say it, but I’m tired, Vickie. Tonight I’m damn tired. There’s this weariness that’s settled into my bones. I can’t take these winters up north anymore. We should have moved south when we had the chance that time, when Sam and Diane wanted us to go. Ah, well.” He reaches over and picks up his glass. Beside him Victoria sits up and reaches for her glass. “A romantic candlelit dinner with my gal, a beautiful sunset, and now a glass of wine to toast my favorite Valentine,” he says. “Lady, I love you.”  He gazes into her eyes for a long moment, his heart aching with love.

“Drink your wine, darling,” she murmurs as she lifts her glass.

He touches the rim of his glass to hers and then drinks the contents down, giving a little sigh as he sets the glass down on the bedside table. He adjusts his pillows. “Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart,” he says as he lies back and closes his eyes.

“You want to call the ME and have him respond to this address? We found the resident inside. He’s gone. Looks like a suicide. There’s an empty vial of Oxycontin on the kitchen counter beside a nearly empty bottle of wine. Tom Harper, the neighbor who requested the wellbeing check says the guy lost his wife last fall. Guess he couldn’t live without her.” He turns to his partner who’s looking at the photo album that lies open on the empty side of the bed. “That his wife, you think?”

“Must be. She sure was a looker back in the day. Lucky guy.” He flips the album closed, nods to the untouched glass of wine on the bedside table. “You think someone was here with him?” he asks.

He doesn’t reply right away but finally says, “Yeah, I think someone was, but no one we can charge with assisting a suicide.”

They regard one another across the body on the bed, and then leave the room to go wait for the medical examiner’s van to arrive, neither one vocalizing the thoughts running through their minds. However, they both glance at the candles on the kitchen table, the unopened box of chocolates with the big pink bow, and the unopened card with the name Victoria written across the front of the envelope.

“You think he’s with her?” Pete asks as they step outside onto the front porch.

“I think so,” Joe replies as he lights a cigarette. “Yeah, I think he is.”

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