My chair clings to my back, icy, metallic. The ivory table speckled with cookie crumbs and red wine rings. No bottles, no vases, nothing else on that table but the sticky residue.
My ears buzz with whispers of no one home, as if this was happening minutes ago as eyes shut tight felt the dripping walls, not flickering in 9pm waxiness but with something long and blinding, pushing against an indoor sun.
Shivers increase. The winds howl and I shout to the neighbors. I feel the chafing rawness slide around my tonsils. My body cannot move, only shake, shake, shake.
Clangs, metallic hums, blasts, and warped pipes slam against walls and plaster. More hums. Jets of heat from below, wrapping around my legs like tentacles. My hand moves right after what seems like years of immobility and clasps a china mug. Liquid: deep brown. Coiling trails of steam. Hints of cherry, mahogany. Scalding. It enters me. The bouquet ends; the chocolate and burnt edges evaporate upon contact: the taste of familiarity. The coffee isn’t coffee to me. I close my eyes again. To shut it all away. To stop this from continuing.
* * *
I open my eyes again. Now — there is a vase of flowers, roses, dark dark red, a week after being bought. Now — a half-bottle-full of Merlot. Sides of the bottle sticky, from sloppy glass pourers. I glide my fingers along the label, discolored, with trails of rose and fuchsia near the alcohol percentage and the map of central California. The neck still befoiled and disheveled from hasty unwrapping and uncorking. I sniff the wine. It reeks of tannin, black currants, plums; my tongue curls around the rim of the bottle. I catch the dried resin. I breathe in and then tilt the bottle sideways. I lean back. More plums go down and a faint burning as the liquid slides down my throat. It tastes like it did at 9pm.
* * *
9pm. I wanted some fresh, pungent Gruyere then. The smell wafting throughout Borough Market in London — full of stalls, endless stalls of hawkers shouting discounts on shellfish, asparagus, marmalade, salami, or mustard, or everything molding into one another. But the cheese stands, wilting under the rare August sun, brightened each color. The yellows, the oranges, the whites, and the blues of the European collection of soft, crumbly, smooth, brick-like dairy products. They’re stacked in towers; in ziggurats; in small, black, plastic sample tubs. One stand, coined the Greedy Goat, demanded that I “Go on — Be Greedy!” I snatched pieces of Gouda, and spread Brie onto digestives. Meandering around these avenues of olives, paths of prosciutto and pastrami, boulevards of brie allows me no regrets.
My mouth salivates over the cheese I pretend to lay on my tongue, spread on these crackers, break into crumbles, the salty edges of the skin reach deep in me, to my veins. I shiver now from the yearning, the solitude of the room I’m in with the still cold-backed chair, the twisty wisps of heat, the forgotten coffee, the plum-y Merlot. All to be transported to London and the bustle of Borough — where after my foray I would taste the creamy head of a cask ale and eavesdrop on Cockney after-work coarseness and bask in the dingy 100-year-old dimness and dust of the next-door pub, roads surrounding it and separating it from the cheese avenues and vegetable rows.
* * *
Ales like this can only be drunk in Scarborough. Tall, amber, and glistening beneath the barhound’s light. The lukewarm glass stands on the counter in various states of fullness — depending on the time, depending on the cask offering. Gabble and laughter always gallops around this basement deep in the bowels of the town as the almost-winter freezes the hedgerows. My mind retains the fuzziness I come to expect near the end of a pint, at the end of the large-screen 90-minute fight between reds and blues, Man-U vs. Chelsea, slops of lager pounded on tabletops, onto blackened floors. Drams of whiskey slamming onto the victors’ tables. Shouts and anthems off-key, belting around, rattling the windows. Each second, a new person. Each minute, a remembered face, amber skin-tones in the dimness. Each evening, the same for seven years — each song with the same intention — each cheers from the same, damn team.
* * *
I order a whiskey for myself, this time aware though it is 2005, and that I will enjoy it. I watch the ‘tender as he hovers the glass beneath the suspended bottle; an instant and then the Bushmills falls down my throat burning and causing me to even wince at it. Sharp, smooth, tawny and syrupy — like honey almost. I turn to the TV, at the red team bounding and celebrating as the captains exchange shirts. I continue walking toward the TV. I walk through the screen, glass like metal streamers — a portal to a patio.
* * *
I’m in that room again, the dining room with that table of roses and wine. The bottle is still clutched in my hand, but that hand is in front of me — as is the body and face, legs, chest, hair, all of it, sitting in that cold-backed chair, the heat curling around my legs. The wine in that bottle begins to bubble in my stomach, a revolt, the swirling of a maelstrom, churning the ship sailing over it. I run to myself and tear the bottle out of my grasp so that I wouldn’t drink any more of it. The bottle feels like molten lead, a sink faucet full of hot water. I look at myself. My eyes hold fast beyond me. The noiselessness pierces my eardrums where the shouts of the pub and the cheese sellers in London used to live. I talk to me — ask what is wrong. I don’t answer. I’m sitting and wondering about markets and soccer games and 9pm.
* * *
So I forget myself in that room and return to my main goal: I walk into the kitchen and make some coffee.