We took a day or two off.
Mary found a place in a vineyard, with big high ceilings and cornice molding and a marble bathroom and a porch that looked out over the harvested vines, and if I could spend my life with all of you it would be there, in the late afternoon, drinking wine, and scratching the dry ground of our souls for a common root — some thread of conversation that, once watered, blooms out and marks itself with laughter.
Soon after settling in we toast each other. After 30 years, you look at your old friend, and your lover, and you know each other so well, you apologize for the lack of mystery.
“Still love me?”
Some old friends stop by. It’s not casual. In this day and age it takes months of planning just to get together, and this encounter has taken weeks to fix irremovably on the calendar. We were all newlyweds and young parents together and there is a bond so strong that Mary’s eyes twinkle. We spend the evening feasting and falling into a conversation we could have had three decades ago, when we were neighbors and making each other’s coffee in the morning.
“I love those people,” Mary says later, Uber-ing home across some wine country dirt road at high speed, “I can still talk about anything with them.”
We eat bliss food and watch television and fall luxuriously asleep. I have a cinematic dream about a road that can’t be scaled; the bus falls back down the hill into the river, and we see the bubbles rising up around us, but we survive to dance at someone’s wedding.
Mary sleeps in. I write. The mayhem of the world screams at me, but it’s my day off and I shout it back, because we’re going to have lunch together. A big-eyed young mother takes our order with a smile that Mary and I can’t help complimenting. I think heaven will be a restaurant, in part, because when a young woman feeds you, and smiles at you, how could that not be heaven?
A man with a Cherokee flute sits down next to us. He is venerable, with a long, dignified face that belongs in 1873 somewhere, at a cabinet meeting giving solemn advice to President Grant, but I notice his Cherokee flute is made of PVC pipe painted brown and it is not worthy of him. After conversation across the room, I ask him if he would like to join us, and he confesses, among other things, “I never thought I would live this long.” He loves this particular winery. He lost his wife. He loves this place so much he shows us around, and his devotion to his haunt touches me, (and Mary). We try to prove our farming credentials to the owner, but I am caught off guard by farming questions and I sense my own vanity. I’m getting older, more prone to understand my weaknesses, but it still takes fifteen minutes to forgive myself.
We find an antique shop in town, and it feels target rich. The books and the currency and furniture are venerable. I want to buy everything, even some weird True Confessions magazine. It feels like some confession of failure by our ancestors, but I purchase, instead, a scary, dark-handled hand rake. It looks positively medieval by Southern California standards, and I urge myself out of the shop, because I could justify tin advertising signs, and wooden bread bowls, and silver shillings, and just about everything, so, we…
..find ourselves in a charming little brewery bistro. The waitress is pretty, and efficient. “Romanian,” Mary guesses. After ordering, I try to confirm. “My wife thinks you’re Romanian. She’s Greek. She knows.”
“Estonian,” she says, smiling.
“They’re gorgeous,” Mary says.
We laugh, and then I notice that Mary is listening intently to the conversation of the family behind us. This is not like her. She turns to them. They begin conversing. They were in Las Vegas during the rampage this weekend.
“But you weren’t at the concert,” I observed.
“Yes we were.”
The immensity of that event took us all in. I wanted to know as much as I could and they seemed anxious to tell their story. When you talk about close encounters with death, there’s a touching unity to remembering we’re all still alive. I wanted to give them a hug, but I’m a realist, and I didn’t. (Giving them a hug now, here..)
Mary and I arranged for an Uber ride home. Our driver was a guy named Waheed, from Pakistan. He had four children. Mary told him he looked too young for four kids, and he started in on a long story about young marriage, and loving the United States, and paying the price for it among the zealots in his country. I didn’t hold back too much. I lamented Islam. He didn’t seem to mind. I tipped him well.
Mary and I, back in the hotel — diets be damned — enjoyed almonds and chocolate and wine and crime documentaries. We talked about the business, and the family, and we concluded that even if we get just a small glimpse of the drama God is writing for us, it’s a pretty good story, even it’s terribly difficult to understand. I thought about the old man, lonely for his wife, and I fell asleep dreaming of my wife’s beautiful brown shoulders.