A Bad Bottle of Rioja


They were in his studio apartment near O'Hare.  The air inside was cloying and made them sniff and cough.  A lemon-scent candle he bought for the occasion was proving to be a bad choice.  In the kitchen she took a slow sip of wine. He caught himself staring at the way she distended her mouth, the way it was refracted through the glass.  She set the glass down on the chopping block and pursed her lips.  Got a bottle of something else?  Well, no, he said.  She sighed.  It was his suggestion to have her over to cook a meal together.  He had a twenty-dollar roast sweating in the sink.  They were drinking his bottle of wine, a Spanish red that tasted like metal.  You should buy reserva, she said.  This rioja is un joven — it's not mature.  He started to joke — what, like you? — but didn't say it.  She was wielding a knife.  She sliced vegetables and tossed them indifferently into a pan.  He suggested they forget cooking.  Come on, we'll go to a restaurant.  He was dressed in a clean white shirt and black slacks.  She had showed up in a sweatshirt and jeans.  It can be an informal place.  No, she said, that doesn't matter.  We can't go anywhere anymore.  She opened her mouth wide into the rim of the glass.  That cute overbite which had always turned him on was now something fearful.  She hesitated, squinted her eyes, and drank.  He saw her upper lip stiffen, her eyeteeth emerge pointed and sharp.  God, let's try to make do; it's raining out there.  She pushed her hair back tight against her forehead and stared into the cupboard.  Maybe if we let the wine breathe, no?  No.  He could see she was sick of kitchens, and perhaps even sick of men.  He was not playing well as the starved lover.  So how do I cook it?  Tell me.  Show me.  I love you.  Again and again he pressed her.  He always did that and then said he didn't mean to.  She was strained, he knew that, rebelling against a tyrant at home.  Like him, she was also hungry, but for freedom, not dinner at his place.  Unlike him, who was single, she felt the strain of duplicity.  She had reached a point.  He knew it, but was blind in his persistence.  She tore open the utensils drawer.  Okay John, she said, sure John, as if you can't — here's how to do your goddamned roast.  She jabbed and twisted the meat making small gaping triangles she plugged with garlic.  Next you coat it with salt, some water, and even more freaking salt.  She slapped and pounded the roast until it was coated in a white, saliva-like froth.  Prep it this way, see?  He could taste the wine coming up halfway, burning his throat.  Okay, got it.  Then he was silent.  Words couldn't help anyway.  She slammed the roast pan into the oven, and another jet tore into the night sky on takeoff.  The apartment trembled.  
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